Is My Timber Worth a Million Bucks

Part two of a series on how to develop a land management plan, create your own timber inventory and eventually have a successful sale. See Part 1.

It is time! You have done everything right by creating a solid land management plan and taking advantage of all “outside” money that could help you achieve your objectives. Wildlife, especially wild turkeys, are enjoying your investments. You are already “cashing in” by enjoying quality hunting opportunities, but some timber is prime for harvest. You need trees in various stages of growth in your forest and the only way to do that is to remove older trees, which also returns some cash to your portfolio.

Rob Cotiaux, a past recipient of NWTF’s Roger Latham Award and licensed forester in Maine, assists landowners in managing their properties, and he shares how to approach a timber sale. He works with Northeast Natural Resource Management, a company covering most of New England and New York, helping landowners manage for wildlife habitat.

“Landowners can, on their own, get local timber values by calling a forester or visiting log buyers in the area,” Cotiaux said.

Another option is researching timber values online, by locality. Maine, for example, publishes yearly timber value compilations, usually with the average value listed, he added.

“Most folks overvalue their timber,” Cotiaux said. “They say, ‘Well, John over there sold his for (x amount of dollars). Most likely, John had a professionally written forest management plan that improved the wood quality and tree species over time.”

Many factors go into setting regional value. In some areas, Cotiaux explained, the pulp wood market might be depressed. Mills might have inventory on hand or, as in late 2021, pine prices were sky high due to the booming construction market.

“It is all based on economics, and it’s important to watch markets closely,” Cotiaux said, noting that prices for wood such as saw timber or veneer are based on quality, and accurately assessing quality can be difficult for many landowners. “For example, just because it’s a black walnut doesn’t mean it’s furniture grade. Not all cherry is good cherry. Some black walnut may be good for a few gunstocks and that’s it.

“Most landowners think they have millions of dollars in trees. Most, however, don’t know how to judge quality, a veneer from a cull for example. I see that all the time.”

A Pro’s Eye and Experience
Besides helping a landowner discern great from mediocre, a professional forester can get the land ready for cutting.

“It’s worth the time and money to allow a professional to handle the marking of the trees to be sold, locating property lines and then actually bidding the wood to loggers,” Cotiaux said.

Among the value-added expertise they bring to the woods, foresters can determine the right time to cut so ample seed is left for reforestation. They can also monitor a cutting to ensure local harvesting laws and regulations for water quality and other considerations are followed. And they work to ensure the land is left according to the management plan’s objectives.

Such things are doubly critical for landowners who may be “absentee” and unable to keep an eye on the work.

“For example,” Cotiaux said, “if an objective calls for a crop tree release cut for mast production, are the trees left on site in the recommended amount and were they ‘released’ on three crown sides? Are seed trees left for pine seed release? Were trees scarred by poor logging practices?”

Maximize Profits
When it comes to cutting, most loggers generally know from experience how the local wood will saw out at the mill, estimating the price per cord, price per thousands of board feet, or price per ton. That is generally how they base their bid and final purchase price to the landowner.

To use a real estate analogy, they are like a buyer’s agent, looking for the best deal for themselves. A landowner hiring a forester to help with the sale has enlisted a seller’s agent.

Landowners “in the know” might get an acceptable value for the wood, but professionals who understand quality and keep up with current markets will help get the best result.

“You need someone who can market every useable piece of your timber if you want to maximize your profits,” Cotiaux said. Every area has mills that specialize in different things, he added, citing mills that were cutting ash as quickly as possible in 2021 due to destruction by emerald ash borers.

When it comes to hiring a forester, Cotiaux advises shopping around.

“Any reputable forester and logger will take you to places he or she has worked on in the past,” he said. “Don’t just shop price; look at the range of services provided, which can include anything from plans, selling timber, installing roads, creating food plots, navigating Natural Resources Conservation Service requirements, treating invasive plants – which may require licensing in some states – and addressing watershed issues and regulations.

“Being penny-wise can be pound-foolish when selling timber,” Cotiaux said.

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