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Make money off your timber while improving your property

Decisions made regarding forest lands  now will effect the timber, wildlife, water quality and esthetics long into the future. It takes a tree about 70 to 100 years to grow from seedling to a fully mature tree in the Inland Northwest, and today’s decisions will not only effect the current stand of trees, but also the next generation of trees, which can carry the impacts of decisions even further into the future.

The land manager should consider the whole forest ecosystem when developing a management plan or harvest plan for the forest they temporarily control. Managing solely for maximum timber returns now can  negatively effect timber returns in the future, as well as having an impact on current systems.

The forest ecosystem is comprised primarily of wildlife, plants, soil and water but these general categories can be infinitely subdivided into an ever-increasing web of interconnections, such as varieties of plants, soil layers, surface water systems, ground water, wildlife habitats, etc. Each of these components can be affected by various management activities such as which trees are cut, which trees are left, equipment used, road layout and much more. It is therefore imperative to develop a management plan to guide your management activities. There is a reason that entire university degrees are offered for Forest Management; it is an extremely complicated business and the impacts of forest management are both profound and long lasting.

I recommend landowners utilize a professional forester and/or land manager with good credentials, to provide a management plan and administer harvest or forest improvement activities. At the same time, I believe it is imperative for the landowner to have a general understanding of some of the principles and techniques involved in sound, responsible forest management.

Given that my background both educationally and in work experience is in both timber management and ecosystem management, I tend to manage the forest as a whole entity and, of course, I believe this is the best way to do it. While this approach rarely yields the highest net profit possible, in monetary terms, it does provide the most long term benefits.

At a minimum, a land manager should have the following goals in mind when making a management plan for a property: 1) Leave the best trees to provide for the best possible seed production for the future forest. 2) Remove poor quality or diseased trees and those around the diseased trees which will be susceptible to attack from whatever pathogen is at work. 3) Provide for wildlife habitat and 4) Protect surface water quality. As a general outline for forest management these goals will guide you to a high quality forest environment.

The trees of a forest are generally classified as the dominants (those receiving light from the top and sides, co-dominant (those receiving light mostly from above) and the suppressed trees or understory (which receive little light or only intermittent light as the trees above blow in the wind, etc).

It is a common misconception that the various trees in a forest of different sizes are of different ages, but this is not generally true. Except for the very obvious seedlings and saplings, most of the understory, co-dominant and dominant trees are about the same age but have had different physical histories or have different genetic capabilities. A typical forest stand of trees will probably have started their lives at about the same time, as a result from some previous stand-replacing event such as fire, insect or disease outbreak, logging or clearing for long forgotten agricultural use. There are some trees which will be of a different species category and require less light to grow which will grow up under the canopy of the dominant stand species. For instance, if a wildfire burns through an area and opens it up, then there will be a succession of plant communities which will occupy this area and which will change as the conditions change. The first plant communities to colonize an open area, the pioneer species, tend to be grasses and forbs (although noxious weeds will eagerly invade these niches too), then brush will take hold and eventually shade out the grasses and forbs, then the tree species which need and thrive in full sun will take over and eventually shade-tolerant trees will begin to grow up underneath. (The offspring of trees which need full sun cannot grow under the shade of the parent trees.) So, most of the sun-loving tree species of all the varying sizes are probably about the same age but have different genetic capabilities and in the original race to establish dominance they lost out, doomed to live in the shade, put on very little growth and just barely eek out a living.

One of the best things a manager can do for his forest is remove genetically inferior trees, and leave the best dominants and co-dominant trees, well spaced out about every 25 to 50 feet (depending on species and situation on the ground) and remove all the other trees, whether merchantable or not. This improves the ability of the seeds from these higher quality trees to take hold and grow well, it improves the aesthetics and usability of the land, and increases the growth of the leave trees which can be harvested in the future when their offspring have grown up into an understory and are ready to be thinned. It is important to mark the trees to be left after a harvest and not leave it up to the logger. This helps to minimize losing trees which you want left through mistakes or miscommunications. Remember, once a tree is cut it can not be put back up!

Leaving a variety of tree species, some dead trees or snags, and some clumps of trees here and there, as well as some irregularly shaped openings, is critical for wildlife habitat. Protecting surface water by retaining heavy forest cover along streams, ponds and wetlands, as well as preventing equipment from driving through or too close to these areas, is critical. Set up a boundary around these water bodies, clearly marking for the loggers that this is a Riparian Protection Zone and should be treated differently from the rest of the property. While timber could be removed from the RPZs the timber should be removed from the area without equipment and no more than about 30 percent of the timber should be removed from these areas. It is of primary importance not to allow a lot of increased sunlight into the area or to allow sediment to flow into the water bodies.

Roads should planned with erosion control in mind and designed in such a way as to minimize the actual length and density of the roads. In other words, plan your main roads well and then plan the skid roads in such a way as the loggers can access the timber with their winch cables and drag it into the skid road. Try to prevent equipment operators from driving all through the property to access the logs with the skidder or skid type equipment, which will drastically increase compaction of soils. Although it is harder for the operators, it is much better for the land to minimize the number of skid roads and drag the timber with a long cable from the forest to the skid road and then to a landing.

Done correctly, a completed timber harvest should look aesthetically pleasing, be more usable, have provided for wildlife and water quality. You will have left the best trees for future seed crops; these trees are the most aesthetically pleasing and will protect the ground and be a valuable source of timber revenue in the future. It will be easier to walk through and enjoy your land, wildlife and livestock can graze under the trees which will be open enough to encourage grass and brush growth underneath them and there should even be increased views. The streams, ponds, or wetlands will still be shaded and water temperatures will not increase, or the water bodies will not be as prone to drying up over time. Wildlife habitat will probably have been improved as most species of wildlife cannot utilize overly dense forests and fire danger should be significantly reduced as well. It’s more than possible, when making money from your timber, to improve your land as well.

 

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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.

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