How Much is a Tree Worth?

By R. Scott Brundage | November 2, 1998
From Missouri Conservationist: Nov 1998

You're just getting up from the supper table when you hear a knock at the back door. The man standing there introduces himself as a log buyer. He says he just happened to be driving past your farm and noticed that you have some big trees that he would like to buy.

Without forest management most forest owners have the chance to sell timber only once or twice during their lifetimes. Because they are not accustomed to dealing with logging contracts, board-foot measurement and current lumber prices, selling that timber can be a bewildering experience. You never are sure whether you are getting a fair price.

How much is a tree worth? It's a good question that ends up having a complicated answer. A tree's value depends on species, size and quality. The most valuable species are black walnut and white and red oak trees that have grown large enough to yield high quality veneer butt logs. On the other hand, hickory, cottonwood, American elm, pin oak, honey locust, river birch, box elder, blackjack oak and several other species are worth relatively little, particularly when they are small.

To make money growing timber, always favor your best species and trees and let them mature to their peak value. Remove lower value trees by logging, or by turning them into firewood after chemical or mechanical deadening. After all, why have a tree that is worth less than $5 shade out or crowd a tree that might someday bring you between $250 and $1,000?

Manipulating your forest to yield its maximum value is known as Timber Stand Improvement (TSI). In addition to selective harvest of trees, TSI includes pruning small branches on young trees and killing grape vines.

Don't think the effort required by TSI isn't worth it. I guarantee that the next time you visit your woods, you will find a grape vine or honey locust ruining a potentially good black walnut, or a hickory tree shading out a red or white oak.

With 25 minutes of work, you could change conditions to favor the high dollar trees. Your actions could eventually raise the price tag of a black walnut from $25 to over $1,000. That's not a bad return for less than a half hour's labor.

Studies have shown that proper forest management can double or triple the growth rates of trees. However, most landowners lack the expertise necessary to properly manage their forests. They want to do something but are in the dark about where to start.

The Conservation Department offers a wide range of services for private forest landowners. They can help you identify potentially valuable trees, show you how to improve wildlife habitat and the future value of your forests and, if your trees are mature, help you select the proper trees to harvest and reliable companies to do the work. Conservation Department foresters cover large territories, so contact them well in advance of your needs.

The forester will leave with you a number of informational brochures that provide advice about tree planting, timber stand improvement, wildlife habitat development and timber harvesting. Two Conservation Department videos, Improving Your Forest and How to Sell Your Timber, are available for purchase or can be checked out from your local library.

Private consulting foresters offer similar services on a more individualized basis. Since their services are based on a fee, they can spend as much time as necessary preparing a management plan or finding the right market for your trees.

It's estimated that more than 90 percent of private woodland owners in Missouri sell their timber without a forester's assistance, and most of these have never even had a forester in their woods to help them manage or improve their timber.

We started out by asking, how much is a tree worth? It will vary, but I can promise you that your trees will be worth a lot more if you get help from a trained forester.

This Issue's Staff

Editor - Tom Cwynar
Assistant Editor - Charlotte Overby
Managing Editor - Jim Auckley
Art Editor - Dickson Stauffer
Designer - Tracy Ritter
Artist - Dave Besenger
Artist - Mark Raithel
Photographer - Jim Rathert
Photographer - Cliff White
Staff Writer - Jim Low
Staff Writer - Joan McKee
Composition - Libby Bode Block
Circulation - Bertha Bainer