Timber harvest essentials

For landowners considering a timber harvest, one of the most important decisions is choosing which company will get to do the work. Anyone with a chainsaw and some experience can cut a tree, but to have the job done correctly — and to your expectations — you need to shop around.

Following are a few of the most important considerations when choosing a timber harvester.

Your property, and the timber on it, are valuable. The hunt for the right timber company should be taken seriously. Applicants for most jobs typically have their references checked.

“Most people will sell timber once or twice in a lifetime, so don’t get it wrong,” said Nathan Hall, a technician with the Kentucky Division of Forestry. “You may not have a chance to correct it.

“Talk to other landowners the logger has worked with and go look at sites they are working or have worked. Find a logger who will work with you to achieve your management goals,” Hall said, adding landowners should have documented plans and avoid “handshake deals.”

Consulting with a forester to help form a cutting plan prior to locking in a timber harvester is almost always a wise decision. State wildlife and forestry departments and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service are possible sources. The NWTF’s national forest management initiative, developed in partnership with the NRCS, may also offer assistance.

NWTF Hunting Heritage Center and Habitat Manager Travis Sumner advises landowners to make sure your harvester is insured.

“A timber harvesting company should be insured and bonded,” Sumner said. “A bond should be put up before the logger starts any work on the property. This will cover and fix any damage that occurs while the logging is taking place.”

A logging operation will have a long-term effect on your property and the wildlife. Once you’ve chosen your logger, properly executing the plan outlining the type and scope of the cut is imperative. Options range from clear-cuts to select cuts. All impact the landscape differently.

Some select cuts see the largest and, often, most valuable trees removed. If you’re indeed harvesting to create more food for wildlife, though, Hall suggests an intermediate harvest.

“This concentrates on removing trees that are less beneficial for wildlife and leave more hard mast trees like oak and hickory,” Hall said. “This will mean less profit now but better hunting and more profit later.”

Select cutting facilitates sunlight and nutrients reaching the forest floor where it can be absorbed by younger timber and plants in the understory.

Clear-cuts, on the other hand, result in a quicker growth of dense thickets. These improve bedding and nesting habitat for turkeys, deer and other game animals. A harvest plan can also mix methods, clear-cutting some areas while select cutting others. This results in even more diverse habitat. 

Watershed protection is a key concern throughout the timber harvest. Dislodged soil can easily be swept into ponds and streams. This affects aquatic life and overall water quality. Protecting the watershed is everyone’s responsibility, but the logger is the person that ultimately makes it happen. This responsibility should be discussed before the first skid road is created.

Stabilizing the soil is important after the harvest. All skid roads should be sown with a hardy grass to prevent erosion and water breaks should be created to divert water off the roads. Landing areas where logs are trimmed and then loaded onto trucks should also be reclaimed to prevent erosion.  

Timber harvests, if planned and carried out correctly, can benefit both the landowner and the native wildlife for many years. Plan thoroughly. Choose wisely.

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