While it is true that current markets for most timber species aren’t as good as they were a few years ago, landowners can still receive fair market value for their timber. Timber harvesting can also be a great tool for accomplishing a variety of woodland goals, including: improving forest health and wildlife habitat, building recreational trails, and producing income.
However, most landowners will only sell timber once or twice in their lifetime, and are therefore not experts in timber marketing or woodland management, including application of Minnesota’s voluntary site-level forest management guidelines. The good news is that there are resources available to help landowners make an informed harvesting decision while meeting forest management goals and getting a fair market price.
Use Professional Forestry Assistance
The duties for professional foresters include conducting timber sales so that forest stands are renewed with improved health and vigor, fair value is received for timber is received, water quality and rare features are protected, and wildlife habitat is maintained or improved; clearly, good people to talk to before having a timber sale. It is a good idea to check references for a forester before choosing one. You can find a public or private professional forester on our map of approved Minnesota Stewardship Plan preparers.
Consulting foresters are self-employed professional foresters who can, for a fee, provide a wide range of services, including timber harvesting, marketing assistance, contract preparation and timber sale administration. Fees for assistance are often based on a percentage of receipts from the sale. Additionally, some forest products companies provide professional forest management and marketing advice to woodland owners. Consulting and industry foresters can also help with developing a plan for the woodland. Some private consultants are listed at the Minnesota Association of Consulting Foresters‘ website.
The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Forestry Division offers timber sale assistance for private landowners, although it is important to note that capacity for this assistance is limited. DNR foresters can provide a forest management plan, assist with the timber sale process, and give you advice on how to establish trees on the site after the sale. Some Soil and Water Conservation districts also provide forest management advice.
For a 13 percent fee of the actual sale price of the sale, a DNR forester may conduct a timber appraisal, denote trees for harvest, estimate volumes, and assist with the bid solicitation process and timber sale contract preparation (staff availability permitting). Foresters can also measure and record the timber harvested to ensure the landowner receives the full value of the cut trees. There is an additional fee of $2.00/thousand board feet or $50.00 per scaling visit.
It is important to note that there are advantages to working with a private consultant versus a DNR forester when conducting a timber sale on private land. Specifically, DNR foresters are not able to assist with administration and supervision of a sale for private landowners. However, DNR foresters are always a good resource for general “dos and don’ts” advice on sales, including general forest management advice, contract provisions and other items.
Have a Plan
Landowners should always begin with a forest management plan. A plan prepared by a professional in consultation with landowners is critical in achieving a sale that is good for both the land and the pocketbook. The plan should be geared to meet landowner goals, and contain information about what the land looks like today and what’s envisioned for the future, management and protection of forest health, wildlife habitat, water quality, rare features, and other important items.
The highly recommended “gold standard” would be a forest stewardship plan covering your entire forested property. Development of a stewardship plan is a worthwhile investment that will pay dividends for many years to come.
However, if you choose not to have a stewardship plan prepared for your whole property, it’s critical to at least have a plan prepared for the sale area as part of the pre-sale appraisal process. A timber harvest is a complex interaction involving forest ecology, markets, and other factors. It can have short and long term consequences for the land and landowner. The timber appraisal is a detailed harvest plan for a specific area and contains an estimate of the amount and value of the timber to be sold, how the timber will be harvested, and how to get young trees back onto the land after the timber sale.
Have a Contract
A signed, written contract between the landowner and the logger is critical. It protects both parties from misunderstandings caused by miscommunication. A well-written contract will establish the rules, such as what will be harvested, how, and when. It should incorporate relevant provisions from the appraisal such as forest management guidelines, landing areas and road locations. See a sample timber harvest contract here.
Advertise the Sale
Unless there is a very small amount or value of timber to sell, a good way to ensure the best price is to offer it to potential buyers through a bid solicitation. This procedure uses competition through the free market to determine the price. It is important to set up and advertise the bids properly in order to foster fair competition. The bid solicitation should contain all the information needed by potential buyers to assess the timber for sale and any items that will impact harvesting costs.
Select a Buyer
Price is an important consideration in determining who will do the harvesting, but certainly not the only one. Another important consideration is the quality of the logging job. A reputable logger with a good track record is preferred.
There are ways to assess a logger’s ability to deliver a quality job including using a private consulting forester’s recommendation, obtaining references from other landowners, and/or requiring proof of membership in the Minnesota Logger Education Program (MLEP). Additionally, some loggers have chosen to become certified “Master” loggers. Minnesota Master Loggers voluntarily participate in third-party audited certification of their business and harvest practices.
Monitor the Sale
No matter how carefully the timber sale contract is written, there is no substitute for inspecting the harvest operation. A pre-harvest walk with the logger is invaluable. Once the harvest begins, the landowner or forester should visit the area frequently to make sure the harvest is proceeding according to terms of the contract and to discuss questions that might arise. Unless there is a flagrant violation of the contract, a simple discussion with the logger in charge of the operation usually will resolve issues or clear up misunderstandings. Caution: Do not endanger anyone by getting too close to an active operation. Always make sure the operators on an active timber harvest sale see all visitors before approaching machinery.
Professional foresters are the best resource for making sure all the timber sale “bases” are covered from start to finish, from measuring and valuing the trees, to making sure sale boundaries are clearly marked to the final scale.
Marketing Timber from the Private Woodland, U of MN Extension. This publication describes how private woodland owners can market their timber.
Thanks to Charlie Blinn and Eli Sagor of University of Minnesota Extension, Dave Chura of the Minnesota Logger Education Program and Mimi Barzen, Gary Michael and Andrew Arends of DNR for their contributions to this article.