If you’re a landowner with a lot of trees, and you’re looking to sell some of that timber, you probably have a lot of questions. You may even feel unsettled about the process. Whatever your reason for selling, it’s not uncommon to feel tension about negotiating a large purchase or having a company with chainsaws and heavy equipment working in your woods.
Rest assured, it’s reasonable to feel this way.
After all, this is a decision that most people never encounter. And you’re not alone if the process feels complex and confusing. You know there’s a lot on the line. After all, if you hire a builder that doesn’t do a good job, the work can always be fixed. But when it comes to removing trees, mistakes are permanent.
At Stoltzfus Forest Products, we’ve been helping people like you navigate this journey for over [?] years, and we’d like to share with you some things we’ve learned along the way—things we feel you should know before you sign a timber contract.
1. You’re making a big decision.
You might already be feeling the weight of this decision, but it’s important to realize that there is more at stake than figuring out how many trees you should cut down and which company you should choose to do the work.
It’s true — trees are crops that can be renewed (even if it takes decades until the next harvest). But it’s also true that removing trees will impact the nearby plant and animal life. Done well, removing trees can lead to long-term benefits; but done poorly, the effects can be devastating. For this reason alone, it’s good to remember that you should be selective about who does the work, and that you have to consider more than just how much you can get for your timber.
2. Harvesting timber responsibly takes knowledge, skill, and integrity.
We’ve all heard stories of the old days, when logging companies stripped hillsides bare. Thankfully, the industry has come a long way since then. As a society, we are all more conscious of how each part of the environment affects the other parts. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that removing these large, living organisms needs to be done skillfully to make the smallest impact possible. Here are some of the important pieces of the logging puzzle:
- Tree selection. Long-term care of your land requires wisdom in choosing which trees should be harvested and which should be left. It would be environmentally irresponsible to cut all the best trees and leave only the defective trees or the undesirable species. Doing this might increase the current price of your timber, but it would leave your woods with nothing useful for the future—perhaps ruining it for a generation or more.
- Land care. Cutting down and removing large logs requires heavy equipment that can cause compacted soil and erosion if proper steps are not taken. Degraded soil leads to water runoff and stunted growing conditions, making it challenging for an affected area to recover.
- Care for remaining trees. Even when care is taken, as standing trees are felled they can damage nearby trees—snapping off branches and scraping bark from trees that are being left for forest health. But carelessness or a desire to rush through a job can cause extensive and unnecessary injury to surrounding trees. These injuries can affect the future health and the long-term value of trees that are left behind.
- Trespassing. Property lines are rarely well-marked in wooded areas. Removing trees that aren’t on your property can bring serious legal and financial penalties. These can affect you as a property owner even if you aren’t directly involved and even if the action is done from ignorance.
- Danger. It goes without saying that logging can be dangerous. We all know the damage that falling trees and branches can do. Done correctly, many risks can be avoided. Yet with heavy equipment and falling objects, you can’t afford to have just anyone working on your property. As a landowner, you could be held liable for the injury of workers unless proper steps have been taken.
- Job completion. Harvesting timber doesn’t stop when the last log is loaded and the last truck pulls away. If steps are not taken to protect and restore an area, your land can suffer for years to come. Bare soil, ruts, and cast-off brush and branches all need to be addressed.
3. Because timber harvesting is complex, a skilled guide is indispensable.
The realities of timber harvesting show the value of having a skilled professional to guide and monitor the process. Since the process of selling and harvesting timber is highly specialized, and because there is so much room for serious error, you will be greatly helped if you have someone to guide you through the process from start to finish. Typically, there are two paths to finding such a guide—working with a third-party forester or working directly with a reputable timber buyer.
4. Working with a third-party consulting forester can be a path to success.
Whether you live in Pennsylvania or in one of the surrounding states, you may have learned that many landowners work with consulting foresters to sell their timber. For example, Penn State has issued a guide to landowners so that the average person can understand the process of harvesting timber. That booklet, like others, explains the value that a state-endorsed consulting forester can bring to a timber transaction.
When working with a consulting forester, a landowner typically chooses a forester and uses his services to guide them from start to finish. The forester will survey the land, choose and mark the trees that will be removed, and take other precautions before submitting the tract to a sealed bidding process. Once the landowner chooses a bidder, the forester will supervise the project until completion—making sure the project is wrapped up properly—and then receive the agreed-upon commission from the total sale.
Following this path has the advantage of working with a third party who is motivated to attain a good sale price for the timber while ensuring that the work is done responsibly.
While these are advantages of working with a third party, working with a consulting forester also has some limitations. For instance, regardless of the value of the timber, the forester will get a share of the sale price, reducing the amount available to the landowner. Additionally, when work is put out to bid, there is no guarantee of the kind of logging crew that will be doing the work.
5. Working directly with a reputable timber buyer can be the best of both worlds.
Having a third-party consultant comes with advantages—there can be a risk if a landowner sidesteps “the middleman.” Sadly, there are examples of sawmills taking advantage of someone else’s ignorance, or of logging companies quoting a price but then waiting a year for the timber to grow larger.
At the same time, there are advantages to working directly with timber buyers. When considering this route, the key will be choosing a company that you can trust. Many timber buying companies have in-house foresters who are as skilled and as committed to excellence as third-party consultants. They have also built and maintained a good reputation by following industry standards and dealing fairly with landowners.
By working directly with a company, without an intermediary, there will be no commissions to pay at the end of the process. Some timber sellers might feel that they must have a bidding process to get a fair price, but it’s often the case that working directly with a buyer can net a higher price than opting for a winning bid but losing some of it to commission.
Another advantage of working directly with a buyer is that you can decide who the crews are that work on your property. Working with a reputable mill or logging company means that you can be confident that your property will be treated as their own.
If you find and choose a company with high standards and a good reputation, you can be assured that the timber will be harvested properly, that you will be treated fairly, and that you will not have to pay a forester’s commission.
We hope you’ve found these insights helpful. We know that there are many things to consider when you want to sell your timber for a fair price and have it harvested responsibly. While most resources might suggest you only work with a third-party consulting forester, we believe that it’s not the only way to get a good price for your trees and to have your land cared for in the process. Learn More…