To Sell or Not to Sell

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Published on: May. 22, 2012

Conservation Department foresters receive many questions from landowners. The most common questions are about selling timber, including:

  • Are my trees ready to sell?
  • How much are they worth?
  • Can you recommend a good logger?
  • How do I make sure my land isn’t messed up in the process?
  • What do I do after the sale?

Here are a few questions to answer when you are considering selling your timber.

Consideration #1: Why do you want to sell your trees?

Often, people consider selling their timber for financial reasons. While this may be one good reason to begin looking at a timber sale, there are many natural signs that indicate the need for a timber sale. These signs may include:

  • Scrawny trees with small canopies competing for sunshine and survival.
  • A certain species of tree may be dying in mass quantities, hinting at disease or pest issues, which are usually made worse by overcrowding.
  • A natural disaster has destroyed portions of the woods, leaving trees on the ground that can be sold.
  • One kind of tree is aggressively taking over the woods, creating undesirable wildlife habitat.

Any of these reasons could indicate that your woods would benefit from a targeted thinning.

Consideration #2: Are your trees sellable?

Depending on local markets, many loggers will not be able to sell trees smaller than 12 inches in diameter. Timber buyers prefer trees much bigger. If your trees are smaller than this, then you should consider removing them yourself, marking them for a firewood cutter or paying a contractor to cut them as part of a timber stand improvement. Another thing to consider is the size of the area needing to be harvested. Sales less than 20 acres may be difficult because of having a lack of volume to harvest. Loggers have fixed costs involved with getting their equipment to a property, so if only a small acreage of timber is up for sale, or it is very far away from a buyer, it may not be sellable or may only be sellable at a very low price.

Possibly one of the most frustrating things to consider when thinking of selling timber is access to the trees. Unfortunately, situations arise where large quantities of excellent timber simply can’t be harvested because to do so would show complete disregard for the land, equipment and safety of the loggers.

Consideration #3: How do you want to sell your trees?

 If you decide your woods need a timber harvest, and the timber is sellable, the next aspect to consider is how the timber should be sold. There are two basic ways that timber can be sold. The first is a lump sum sale where a given number of marked and measured trees are sold to a buyer for a given price as bid by the buyer. This is the most commonly suggested way to conduct a timber sale so that the buyer and the seller know exactly what is expected of them.

The second way to sell timber is on a shares basis, or sale by unit. This type of sale means that either the landowner will receive a certain price per board foot sold (A board foot is the standard measurement of wood volume.), or they will receive a given percentage of the income generated from their trees being sold to a lumber mill. The buyer and seller of the timber agree on a price or percentage up front that they feel is fair for the trees being removed from the woods. The income is generally based on the tickets received from the lumber mill when logs are delivered. This method is recommended when there is something unknown about the trees being sold, such as storm-damaged trees, poor quality trees or when the sale is risky for the buyer. No matter what kind of method you use to sell your trees, you should always use a written contract and agree upon specifically indicated trees to be included in the sale.

Qualities of a Good Timber Harvest

Cutting trees is the most valuable tool in a forester’s toolbox to improve forest health and vigor; however, if done improperly, it can degrade the woods and take many generations to recover. Harvesting trees will always look messy for a few years afterward, even if it’s done right. But there are things to watch for to indicate excessive and unnecessary damage. It will likely rain sometime during a logging operation. This is not a problem if logging roads and trails are properly planned and built. Continuing logging operations when the ground is very soft can result in large ruts and erosion. Generally, ruts more than 6- to 8-inches deep means that the ground is too soft for operations. Another common issue is damage to trees that are not being harvested. Cutting down trees is a difficult and dangerous job. You should expect a certain amount of damage from falling trees or by bumping trees as logs are dragged from the woods. While this is inevitable and unavoidable, this can and should be minimized by careful logging techniques. A good rule of thumb is that no more than 10 percent of your leave trees should be damaged. The best way to tell if logging is being done right is to visit the woods often during logging, look for excessive damage and communicate with the logger about any concerns you have.

Timber harvesting is not over when the last log leaves the woods, or at least it shouldn’t be. The point of doing any sort of forest management (whether it is harvesting, doing timber stand improvement, woodland prescribed burning or even replanting) is to improve habitat and tre quality for the rest of that forest’s life. One way to protect the quality of the woods is to make sure the soils stay in the forest where they can continue to support the growth of trees, plants and shrubs. After logging is finished, the trails and landings necessary for getting the trees out of the woods may need some help healing to keep them from becoming a permanent scar on the land. Some may be just fine to leave to heal on their own, while others may need best management practices implemented to prevent erosion. This can include installing water bars, culverts or other water diversion structures to divert water off the trucks trails and landings. You could also spread wheat, clover or other native herbaceous plant seed so that the bare dirt can find some cover from direct rain and so there will be some roots to hold the soil in place.

Also look at what has been left to grow in the forest to become the next stand of trees that will dominate the woods. Sometimes harvesting has only removed a portion of the trees that need to come out, and there still are unhealthy, poor quality trees left standing. If too many of these are left, you will have a forest filled with crooked and dying trees. It may become necessary to cut out the remaining poor trees as part of a timber stand improvement. Even though a harvest may look messy for a while, if you leave good quality trees and good soil for them to grow in, you will set the stage for a thriving future generation of trees that will be faster growing, more disease and insect resistant, better for wildlife and more valuable in the future.

Removing trees from the forest is a simple process as old as the settlement of Missouri itself. However, it can be very overwhelming because of the lasting impacts the harvest can have on the land.

For More Information

Landowners who have more questions can contact the Department of Conservation for assistance or request a free packet on timber sales by calling 888-564-7483 or visiting callb4ucut.com. A Missouri consulting forester can be found at missouriforesters.com.

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