Small Scale Timber Harvesting: Part 1

Managing forested property to create the most optimal wildlife habitat possible is a common objective for many landowners. That management often involves a timber sale, giving you a chance to cash in on mature trees and create young forest habitat or wildlife-beneficial openings, features that help attract and hold wild turkeys on your property.

Figuring out the extent of your merchantable timber is important. Even if you don’t cut, knowing what is there and its potential value is useful when considering a sale to a subsequent owner.

Rob Cotiaux, a past recipient of NWTF’s Roger Latham Award, is a licensed forester in Maine and Vermont. He works with Northeast Natural Resource Management, a company covering most of New England and New York that specializes in managing client’s land for wildlife habitat.

“Most landowners aren’t managing just for trees and timber value, but more for wildlife and recreation,” Cotiaux said. “Timber value now is usually secondary on properties such as those NWTF members might own.”

Plan First

“A forest management plan written by a professional should be in place before any cutting,” Cotiaux said. “And, it can be done on properties 10 acres and up with little personal expense by having the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service fund a CAP-106 Forest Management Plan, CAP being short for Conservation Action Plan.”

Funding doesn’t have to end once the plan is finished. A well-written plan also outlines fundable goals related to promoting wildlife habitat and creating the type of landscape where wild turkeys can live and thrive. Crop tree release operations to improve the ability of selected trees to produce mast and fruits, improving water quality, mitigating wildfire risk, insect and disease infestation or invasive plant species are all examples of activities that could attract funding, at both the federal and state level. Many states help fund work for 10-acre and larger tracts, Cotiaux said.

Invasive species are “epidemic,” he said, degrading native habitat across the country, sometimes spread by poor planning and execution. “If you cut a stand before managing or removing invasive species, such as buckthorn, multiflora rose, autumn olive, etc., and you cut too much, you increase the residual invasive composition, reducing regeneration of native species like oak and pine,” Cotiaux explained.

“For sure, one can gather data and do their own plan. There are plenty ‘how-to books,’” Cotiaux said. “Nearly all landowners I deal with, though, have neither the time nor expertise to mold their objectives into a focused 10-year plan. They also don’t know where to get the money to do the things they want accomplished.”

Some foresters will work with landowners to create a management plan within the fee structure funded by NRCS, hoping that residual, fundable work related to implementing best practices for wildlife habitat and other improvements might flow their way as well.

A DIY Timber Inventory

So, get help and formulate a plan. There is room for hands-on work later, including developing your own timber inventory. According to Cotiaux, an inventory evaluates timber, species, its acceptability as growing stock ― white pine versus pin cherry, for example ― and its present and future potential. You also make note of invasive species, wildlife and wildlife tree species, understory composition, heritage trees and other considerations such riparian, or streamside, areas.

To do a simple inventory, Cotiaux uses a Biltmore Stick, a tool employed since the 19th century. It can estimate tree diameter at breast height (4½ feet). Backing off 100 feet and turning the stick vertically lets you estimate the number of 16-foot logs in the tree. “This is a simple tool, with easy-to-follow directions,” Cotiaux said. “Anyone can use it and it costs under $35.”

Cotiaux also uses a DBH (Diameter Breast Height), flexible tape to measure the tree. These cost $20 or less, he said. The basic objective is to estimate the number of 16-foot logs in a tree to the point where the diameter drops below 8 inches. For smaller trees 12 inches in diameter or less, or higher up the main tree stem, you can also assess the number of 8-foot sticks of pulp to the point where the top diameter reaches 4 inches.

Cotiaux tallies each tree by species and diameter, recording it in a logbook, noting things such as whether a tree is white or red oak, diameter, its usable height, and any quality issues such as crooked, knotty or a hole in bole (trunk).

Estimating the total board feet of lumber is where things get a little more technical.

Cotiaux uses an International ¼-inch Volume table, which calculates board feet based on diameter and the number of 16-foot logs. For example, a 20-inch diameter oak, with three 16-foot sections has 400 board feet of wood. If a person has three such trees on the tract, the total is 1,200 board feet.

Another, optional reference is the Doyle and Scribner volume table, which provides a simple tally of what is on the land, Cotiaux said. Cotiaux cautions that the number of board feet can shrink at the sawmill. Timber buyers, especially buyers specializing in oak or veneers, use yet another table to deduct for characteristics that diminish the actual estimated number of board feet. In general, crooks, sweeps and knots all detract from timber’s final value. Sometimes, too, a log has internal defects such as rotting heartwood. While a good logger or forester can detect most internal defects as soon as the log is cut simply by looking at the end or face of it, surprises do happen.

“I’ve seen all kinds of stuff fall out depending on how a property was used in the past,” Cotiaux said. “I’ve seen nails, even horseshoes come out of trees. They’re only going to pay on what they can saw out.”

Next in the series, look for “Is My Timber Worth a Million Bucks?” in the January/February issue of Turkey Call.

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