Article #117, March 2007
By Bill Cook
Got a forest? Thinking of a timber sale? Need some help? It's out there.
For several reasons, hiring a professional forester to work for you is the best route to go. Forestry has many more dimensions than simply a timber sale and timber sales have many dimensions that most forest owners may not think about. With the potential for many thousands of dollars in value, not to mention the non-monetary values, it's worth the effort and investment to hire a forester.
One good tool to find consulting foresters is a web-based directory maintained by Michigan State University (see below). More locally, Conservation Districts employ foresters that serve as good sources of information. Regionally, the DNR has a handful of service foresters to assist private forest owners. In some cases, foresters also work for large mills, conservancies, cooperatives, and other organizations that work with private forests. Foresters come in several breeds, with variable sets of skills, and provide differing levels of professional service. Pick one that suits you, just like you might select an investment counselor or medical doctor.
Managed forests provide more of all outputs than unmanaged forests, from timber to environmental quality. Yet, making the connection between your forest and just the "right" forester can sometimes be challenging. Most forest owners value their forests for a wide range of reasons and the idea of management implies a perceived degree of risk that often prevents owners from exploring their options. Meanwhile, benign neglect typically and gradually erodes the very values owners hope to maintain.
Usually, it's the fear of getting rooked by loggers that keeps many forest owners from considering a timber sale and getting involved with good forest management. In reality, there are few criminal loggers but the news of timber-sales-gone-bad travels fast and persists for a long time. Nevertheless, forest owners do need to be cautious, especially when considering the high monetary values of many forests. A professional forester that works for you will be the best insurance. Joining groups, such as the Michigan Forest Association, goes a long way in learning about good forestry.
With timber sales, the most unscrupulous practices fall into one of three groups; trespass (theft), deception, and failure to pay. Trespass is the cutting of trees that don't belong to the logger. Sometimes this happens intentionally but most times it happens accidentally or through negligence. Most commonly, trespass occurs when property lines or timber sale units are not well defined. It's usually a good idea to have a familiar relationship with your neighbors and keep them informed. Alternatively, timber sales can purposely cross boundaries to the benefit of cooperative neighbors.
Will the sales pitch from a friendly face at the door translate into a satisfactory job? A creative set of deceptive practices can fool the forest owner. These practices may be the most feared, as nobody likes to be fooled. Most forest owners lack the confidence to engage a logger. Fly-by-night operators will take advantage of this. Unscrupulous loggers might overcut a timber stand, or take unmarked trees, or purposely scrape trees then call them "damaged," or remove species they are not supposed to, and the list goes on. Again, here is where a forester will help protect you from such practices.
Lastly, payment can be a gray area for forest owners. How does one know if the offer that's on the table is a fair one? Timber prices, or stumpage, are not consistent values that can be published like the price of corn. It doesn't work that way for many good reasons. Sometimes, loggers will take more wood than they pay for, even when the stumpage price is good. They might under-report volumes harvested. With pay-as-you-go or "scale sales," scale slips from mills might be switched to show lower values from the mill, which would mean less stumpage to the forest owner with the logger banking the difference. Shady schemes can be difficult to distinguish from those that are legitimate.
Keep in mind that most loggers are honest businessmen and their business relies on a good reputation. Most loggers work on slim margins, manage huge monetary investments, and operate under increasingly strict guidelines. They are good people and integral parts of our communities. In most rural areas, they represent one of the most important economic drivers.
Regardless, a good timber sale contract is the best way to guarantee good communication between you and the logger. Most "horror stories" result from misunderstandings that should have been clarified in a contract. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Working with a logger requires a level of responsibility and accountability from the forest owner. A forester working on your behalf is the best way to assemble a good contract, manage your forest in the manner in which you choose, and maximize all the benefits for both you and society.
MSU Extension consulting forester list: [http://forestry.msu.edu/extension/extdocs/consulfor/consult.htm]
Conservation District foresters: [www.michigan.gov/documents/MDA_FAPDirectoryFY05_111959_7.pdf]
DNR Service Foresters: [www.michigan.gov/documents/dnr/IC4113A-ServiceForesters_182746_7.pdf]
Michigan Forest Association: [www.michiganforests.com]
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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 email@example.com 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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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