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Article #97, July, 2005
By Bill Cook

     A request for the dollar value of timber is the most common question that I field over the course of a year. It is a very good question but not easily answered for a variety of reasons. Stumpage varies with species, tree size, tree quality, stand composition, stand volume, landowner objectives, site access, market access, geographical region, season, weather, and a host of other factors. There is no "blue book" of stumpage values and they range from zero to over 1000 dollars per thousand board feet. A single timber sale might net tens of thousands of dollars for a landowner.

     The monetary value of standing timber is called stumpage. This is what the timber owner gets paid by the logging contractor. Trees are a source of raw wood material. The logger manufactures the trees into a product useable by a mill. The margin between stumpage and mill prices is where the logger makes a living, if possible.

     Stumpage values are tracked by a couple of services. They provide ball park estimates for certain commercial tree species and products. For example, sugar maple veneer logs command high prices. Scrub oak and ironwood pulpwood may not be marketable at all. Small volumes of wood are the most difficult to move commercially, unless the trees have exceptional quality.

      There are three basic products manufactured from trees, pulpwood, sawtimber, and veneer. Sawlogs and veneer have many sets of specifications, which can complicate pricing. Many sawlogs have grades, with somewhat regular price ranges. However, there are different scales for different species. Veneer specifications are often peculiar to a mill and quite market-sensitive.

      Most commonly, timber is sold in volume units of either cords or 1000 board feet (mbf). A cord is a stack of 8-foot logs, usually pulpwood, which runs 4 feet high and 4 feet wide. A board foot is the equivalent of a piece of wood 1 inch thick and 12 by 12 inches. Board foot volume is an estimate of the lumber inside a log or tree. It does not include all of the wood in a log or tree. Lumber excludes wood volume that gets slabbed-off at the mill or becomes dust as the saw blade cuts through the wood.

     So, how do landowners learn the value of their stumpage?

     Three basic ways will unveil stumpage values in a specific stand of timber. The recent sale of a similar stand close by might be a good indicator, especially if the timber sale was a fairly simple one, such as an aspen clearcut. Talk to your neighbors. Second, timber buyers offer free estimates and can often buy timber on the spot. The catch is that they work for a company, not for you. Also, one buyer may make an offer based on a different set of trees than another. This can be confusing to a landowner. Lastly, you can hire a professional forester to help guide you through the process.

     People familiar with timber values, or who aren't overly concerned about obtaining top dollar, will often use one of the first two methods. They work fine and many landowners are satisfied with the resulting sale. Word about reputable loggers travels well by word of mouth.

     However, most people are unfamiliar with forest ecology and timber values but want to receive top dollar and protect forest quality. A professional forester, often a consulting forester, fills this role. They work for the landowner and are familiar with area logging contractors and mills.

     A consultant will work with your objectives and prepare a strategic plan to get there. Timber sales are often a key element of a forest management plan. The consultant will work with both you and logging contractors to make sure a harvest follows the approved forest prescriptions. Always use a contract and know what should be in the contract.

     Most times, there are many facets to a timber sale. Which trees? What method of harvest? When? Why? What about roads and landings? Wildlife habitat impacts? Visual quality? Income tax implications? Keep in mind that the highest bid might not be the best option. Many times, a logger will make concessions that reduce the stumpage value, such as building a road or agreeing to a more challenging harvest practice. A timber sale can go along way to achieving a wide range of management objectives.

     For most people, a timber sale is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. If you're concerned about the future forest, then get the job done right. A timber sale is often a whole lot more than just cutting trees down.

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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 cookwi@msu.edu or 906-786-1575.

Prepared 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:  cookwi@msu.edu

Use / reprinting of these articles is encouraged. Please notify Bill Cook.
By-line should read "Bill Cook, MSU Extension" Please use the article trailer whenever possible.

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