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Don't expect your sawyer to guess which trees to cut Don't expect your sawyer to guess which trees to cut

Get it in writing

I really should fire my forester or, more honestly, I should have listened to my forester but since my forester is me… I certainly have no one to blame! If only I had taken my own advice! If only I had listened to me!  

Over the summer I initiated a logging job for the sole purpose of opening up my forest to make it more conducive to horses, more enjoyable to walk around in and more esthetically pleasing. Of course, I also wanted to encourage good wildlife habitat, protect water quality and make a little money too. To accomplish these goals I knew exactly how I wanted the property logged; I had a prescription if you will but I made the mistake of assuming I could convey it accurately to the guys doing the work on the ground. My plan was to thin the forest from below or to take all the smaller trees and leave the biggest and best, nicely spaced throughout the property.

The most important aspect was to remove all the “dog hair”—the small, closely packed, genetically inferior trees, which are suppressed from lack of light. These trees make it nearly impossible to walk through much of the forest and the smaller cedars will make great fencing. Then remove many of the mid-story trees (those which receive sunlight only from directly above them, or filtered light) and also, remove some co-dominant trees (those receiving light from above and partly from the sides and which are larger/taller than the mid-story trees) and finally remove a few dominant trees which are the largest and tallest (receive light from top and sides because they stand “head & shoulders” above the rest). 

I also wanted to create some micro-niches for wildlife, diversity and aesthetics, such as two or three trees together in a clump with a dead tree among them, an old dead rotten tree the critters were already using, with a couple live trees providing shade and cover on the sides for cavity nesters, roosts for turkeys, good habitat for squirrels, etc...  Leaving clumps of trees here and there will  also provide additional habitat as cover for various animals and even for my horses, as well as adding an important natural look to the property. The overall idea is to end up with the biggest, most healthy trees, nicely spaced about thirty feet apart with some interspersed small clumps throughout.

So, my silvicultural prescription planned, I marked a small patch of woods as an example and I conveyed the plan to the timber harvest company which would do the cutting, skidding and slash piling, and haul merchantable logs to the mill. I spoke with and explained the details and overall goal to the owner of the company and the sawyers who would actually be doing the cutting. It all seemed so cut and dry if you will but there are so many things to consider when it comes to choosing which is the best tree to leave in any given grouping of trees.  Which tree is best suited for the site, which tree has the least defects in it, which is disease free or has the least damaging disease to the residual trees, which one is the most valuable, which one will serve the wildlife the best, which one will provide the best seed into the future; this is how the decision making process for each and every tree can go. 

Given these variables and the individuals’ differing perspectives, the choices are quite subjective. The only way the land owner can be sure about his or her forester’s idea of the best trees to leave is to actually mark the timber. Despite knowing this full well, I failed to do this.

Now once a tree has been cut, it can not be put back up of course, but it is rarely ever a case the wrong tree was cut. This is because, as stated previously, there are so many factors and individual perspectives which go into the decision of what lives and what dies. Once the trees in a given spot are cut and on the ground, it is nearly impossible to second guess the decision process the sawyer used to make his decisions.

Needless to say though, sometimes the trees left and the ones cut did not match my expectations.

As it stands now, the easy areas have been logged, the merchantable trees have been taken to the mill, the money has been paid and has been spent but still the “dog hair” is left and the more difficult areas which have fewer merchantable trees and more difficult ground to log have not been entered. Though a couple of pieces of equipment remain, the crews have not been on site for about three months and the fall rains have begun. I am left to wonder if they are done or whether they will return to cut the “dog hair” as had been agreed upon and if they will then finish the areas as yet untouched.

So, I have begun to think… that just as a surgeon should not operate on a family member or friend, so a forester should not oversee the logging of his own property. I know that if this had been a client property, I would not have left so much to chance. I would have marked every acre of the forest personally and would have had a written agreement, clearly laying out how the job would be done. The contract would have specifically listed that the unmerchantable trees must be cut and skidded along with the merchantable timber. There would have been a time frame for the job to be accomplished within. But I chose to leave much of this to trust and a handshake; I left it to my belief that explaining how I wanted the land to be left would be done, primarily just as I intended.

Now it may yet turn out the job will be completed and in the end, the land will look much as I had hoped it would. I am quite hopeful of this and ultimately believe this is how it will end but for now, I wonder and worry. Mostly it reminds me how much I left the land open to being left in a poor way, how much I opened myself up to having the good trees taken while the bad ones, which need to go, could be left to choke out the good seed and which could end up costing lots of time and money to remediate. Again, I am not saying this is the case and I have faith the crews will return but it sure has gotten me to think and to wish I had done it as I have always recommended to others it be done.

So, again… I can not emphasize enough:Make sure you have a clearly written silvicultural plan with a clear priority of which species and classes of trees are to be favored, in which areas with a map showing those areas. Make sure that the trees are marked according to that plan and that the requirements of the job be clearly written in a contract and signed by the owner or manager of the company which will do the work on the ground.

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Author info

Michael White Michael White is a Realtor with Coldwell Banker - Sterling Society and a consultant for Northwest Group In-Land. He has a BS in Forest Resources & Ecosystem Management and specializes in land, ranches and homes with acreage.

Tagged as:

logging, timber

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