Article #54, December 2001
By Bill Cook
Selling timber can be scary. It’s easy to do if you’re not particular about what happens to your forest. It can be more difficult if you think otherwise.
A forest is a complicated ecological system. Timber can be worth a great deal of money. Most people also place many non-monetary values on their forest. In all cases, timber and forests ought to be treated as any other high-value asset. Obtaining professional advice can be very helpful.
Before considering a timber sale, or any other major forest activity, a management plan should be in place. Such a plan is not someone else’s ideas that you’re supposed to adopt. Rather, it’s your own ideas that a professional natural resource manager has helped you put down on paper. A plan involves an inventory of your property, records your objectives, and offers suggestions on how to achieve those objectives. This requires expertise that most people don’t have.
A plan will jog your memory years down the road. It can be amended to reflect changes in wishes, forest conditions, or ownership. Among other things, a forest management plan can also provide federal income tax advantages and gain eligibility for cost-share programs. The cost of a management plan, itself, can be cost-shared.
Selling timber has many benefits for the forest and landowner. Harvested timber drives much of our economy. A healthy economy leads to good forest management conditions. A timber harvest will also do much to improve the quality of your forest. A harvest can encourage regeneration, increase the value of trees, enhance wildlife habitat, and improve visual appearance.
It all depends on what you’ve got and what you want to do with it.
Most folks are concerned about getting “ripped-off” or worried that their forest will be degraded. Actually, this rarely happens. But, bad news spreads many times faster than good news, and hindsight is always 20:20.
Nevertheless, it’s important to be wary. After all, chances are good that your timber has substantial monetary value to it. No need to be embarrassed with a polite dose of skepticism.
It’s usually a rash practice to sell your timber to the first person who knocks on your door. If you’re new to the concept of selling timber, like most people, take the time to learn more about it. The trees aren’t going anywhere.
Don’t be fooled with the argument that insect or disease problems require a rapid decision. This is rarely the case. Forest tent caterpillars, beech bark disease, and gypsy moths are not reasons to hurriedly sell timber.
A timber sale contract is always the best protection for you and the logger. A good contract will clearly explain expectations to everyone involved and prevent surprises that lead to misunderstandings, or worse.
Stumpage is the amount of money a logger pays you for your standing trees. Arriving at an agreed amount involves many factors. There are no “standard” values and prices are quite variable. A professional forester can help you find the optimum price for your timber, which may not necessarily be the highest bid. Tailoring a timber sale to your needs and matching the right logger to a particular job is important.
Finding forest management assistance can sometimes be a challenge in Michigan, especially with recent state budget cuts. However, keep at it. Work towards obtaining that management plan. After all, your forest has a lot of value to it, and not just monetary value. A healthy forest that meets your expectations is not likely to “just happen” by itself. It takes time and some intentional planning. And that’s a lot fun!
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Bill Cook is an MSU Extension forester providing educational programming for the entire Upper Peninsula. His office is located at the MSU Upper Peninsula Tree Improvement Center near Escanaba. The Center is the headquarters for three MSU Forestry properties in the U.P., with a combined area of about 8,000 acres. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 906-786-1575.
by Bill Cook, Forester/Biologist, Michigan State University Extension, 6005
J Road, Escanaba, MI 49829
906-786-1575 (voice), 906-786-9370 (fax), e-mail: email@example.com
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