Blog: R.E. Tales
(Hey, not every place is pretty...)
My training and expertise does not qualify me to judge timber yields or value, which goes up and down seasonally as markets rise and fall and as demand for certain species changes, so potential timber value, if any, is not something I can expertly advise people on. That disclosure over with, I’ll go on…
Do not ignore timber value. Years ago, one of my clients had a 350 acre woodlot and he took out two species, ash and cherry, and only those above 18” diameter at “breast height”. That’s a pretty big tree. Do you know what he received? $350000. That’s right, $1000/acre, which is more than he could have sold it for at that time, land and trees together. And his land was worth nearly as much after the harvest than it was before. Why? Buyers usually do not pay much attention to such things and since the woodlot was left looking nice, a typical buyer would be happy with it. There were still plenty of big trees left to admire, since only the two species had been taken.
On the opposite side of things there was a 100 acre woodlot outside St. Johnsville we had for sale - -until the owner decided to log it. He got a very different kind of logger. Loggers and foresters are not the same thing, keep that in mind. When the logger was done, it looked like God had been through it with a weed whacker. There were 30” deep skidded ruts all over. Slash was everywhere, hip deep in places. Once perfectly healthy trees, the few that were not taken, were scarred and bent by the skidders, disfigured and damaged beyond what time could restore. The place was a nightmare. And it would take 50 years before it began looking normal. Brush and briers were beginning to spring up. Since nearly every tree was taken, there was now enough light coming in to allow them to sprout.
You see, loggers are the professionals with the absolutely worst reputation, worse even than politicians, worse even than preachers and real estate agents. And for good reason. They have been known to ”not notice’ when, chainsaws in hand, they crossed over the line into a neighbor’s forest. They may have agreed to give you half of what they took, apparently honestly putting felled trees into two piles of equal size. Only one has the more valuable trees and your pile holds the culls. Or they may have just said that there was not nearly as much timber there as you thought, so your return was disappointing. Was this guy being honest? Or was he selling more and telling you about only part of it? Were you there, watching every load that went out? Don’t get me wrong, there are scrupulously honest ones too. But how do you know which is before you, talking slickly? If you don’t employ a forester to work for you at least ask for references and talk to the references at length. Find out how he left the property when he left? Was the slash all removed? Burned? Left in neat piles? Or left just wherever it fell? Were the skidder ruts filled in? How do they know they got a fair return?
If it is felt that real timber value exists on a place, my suggestion is to employ a professional forester to do an evaluation. In many cases, timber value has surprisingly little effect upon the price any given property may sell for. If you have owned a place for years and have not done any logging, it may be well worth the expense of having the timber resources professionally evaluated. A professional forester can evaluate not only the value of standing timber but also the health of the stands and make recommendations for improvements. If employed to find a harvester for timber, he will put it out for bids - but only among those firms he knows are reliable, honest, and will leave the forest clean afterward. And he will monitor the harvest to make sure only those trees he designates will be taken. He knows what value is there and will make sure you get your fair share. And he’ll make sure you are not left with a mess and a severely devalued property.
Let’s take the above paragraph apart some. If you have owned it for years and have never logged it, that does not guarantee you will have real value. If it was in woods when you bought it, then very likely. If it was brush, then maybe not. I went through a woodlot that was full of white pine, probably our more desirable species of softwood lumber. Trees were big around at the base, but then usually split into several vertical branches a few feet up from the ground. Those were not nearly so large. What happened? Daughter #2, the internet guru, did some research and determined this was due to a disease. I have since seen it in several stands, now that ai have learned to look for it. A forester might tell you to take them all down, chip them, and plant another species - then wait 25 years. Or he might know a pellet or plywood company that can use such timber.
I once hired a forester to separately appraise a property that I was appraising, then moved him to a woodlot I owned that I felt had potential for timber. Boy, did I learn a lot that day! The first thing I learned was that I didn’t know nearly enough. He’d look at one tree, one I felt was of dubious worth, and say, “That is worth $300”, then point out another that looked the same to me and say it wasn’t worth anything due to some disease. Then he’d show me how to recognize the symptoms. He’s show me one there that worth hundreds 2 months ago, but with the changing market for that species, he’d now advise me to let it grow. In general, it’s the hardwood species which ebb and flow in demand and price. He also suggested that I just cut down certain trees and let them rot, the idea being that they were just competition (for sunlight, for minerals, for space) for more desirable trees. Since that involved work and time and since I wanted to sell the place, I did not do these things. I hired him to help me decide how much I could get for the woodlot when sold. And I passed along his recommendations to the new owner once I found one.
Once I made a sealed bid on a property I wanted to buy. There was a field, an old home, some other buildings and lots of woodland. Bob, a friend was the successful bidder. Later on, he placed the woodland for sale with me. I had not even gone in it before, being chiefly interested in the buildings and open land. Gosh, the place was like a park! Big trees, no undergrowth, grass between the trees, a peaceful and beautiful space. Then he told me, “You know, I took out enough timber here to cover my entire bid.” Boy, had I screwed up by failing to recognize what value there was in that woodlot! His logger had done an exceptional job of leaving things neat and clean. I looked about and, yes by gosh , there were recently cut stumps. But they did not jump out at me like they would in a property left in a lesser condition. The now-harvested woodlot sold readily, too.
Buyers see a recent cutting with white-faced stumps all about and slash lying in your way everywhere and their minds begin to yell, “Rape”. So if you are going to take a cutting, plan to do so some years before you want to sell it. Then take the time to let the slash rot to nothing (or sell it for firewood) and let the stumps get covered with moss. Get the ruts filled in if the logger did not do that for you. Or be really smart like Bob was. He makes his living doing things such as this.
Some are merely amusing, some can be an immense help. All are interesting.
After 40 years, I've learned a lot, & acquired unforgettable experiences. Follow these long enough and you'll eventually get the whole book. (Names probably changed, for obvious reasons.)