From the Forester
Most forest owners will find a need to harvest timber only once or twice in a lifetime. The outcomes of that decision will last a long time. Hopefully, the outcomes will be positive. Selecting the right logger is important.
Loggers are pretty shrewd businessmen. They have to be because they usually run pretty thin profit margins. A forest owner who wants to give away their timber shouldn’t be surprised when a logger takes them up on their offer.
Loggers are also pretty good at what they do. Their job is to convert standing trees into value-added forest products. The equipment is expensive, the sites sometimes very challenging, and the regulatory environment growing more difficult each year. Don’t be afraid of the large machines. A good job is more about the operator than it is the equipment.
It’s not uncommon for a logger to work with tens of thousands of dollars of standing trees. Equally important is the post-harvest condition, forest regeneration, habitat conditions, visual quality, and many other factors. Making the effort to protect your interest in the trees is similar to the effort taken for retirement funds, investments, home sales, etc.
For the forest owner, the key is to communicate to the logger what you wish to happen and, in some cases, how you wish it to happen. Not all forest owners are comfortable speaking this language. A forest owner will need a contract that they understand. Contracts can be confusing but at least make sure the document is signed and all the blanks are filled in. And don’t forget the income tax implications of a timber sale.
Hiring a consulting forester gets around this barrier and provides a number of other benefits, but that’s another story.
What should you look for in a logger?
The logger should be fairly local and have been working for a number years. These guys depend upon their reputation, so are more inclined to do good work than a fly-by-nighter. Have a conversation with a logger, the same that you might when looking for a doctor or investment advisor. If you don’t him, talk to someone else.
There are a number of certifications that can help identify the better loggers. A “Master Logger” has been through extensive training and is subject to third-party review. There are a handful of Master Loggers in Michigan and more in northern Wisconsin. The program is strongest in Maine.
A logger with current Michigan Sustainable Forestry Education credits is a participant in a forest certification program. Core training consists of 16 hours of forest ecology, best management practices, safety, and other content areas. To remain current, each logging crew must also have continuing education.
Ask about logger membership in associations, such as the Michigan Association of Timbermen and the Great Lake Timber Professionals Association. The Michigan Forest Association and Michigan Tree Farm Program are additional good resources. Conservation Districts will sometimes know area logging contractors.
You’re in a minority if you’re comfortable with all the contractual and ecological information associated with timber sales. For most forest owners, hiring a consulting forester is well worth the money (and it’s tax deductible).
If the thought of a timber sale scares you a bit, don’t let that stop you. Do your homework and you’ll discover the many benefits of a well-managed forest.
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Bill Cook is an MSU Extension forester, providing educational programming for the entire Upper Peninsula.