Forestry assistance

Have a forest? Thinking of a timber sale? Need some help? It’s out there. However, many forest owners don’t quite know where to begin their adventure in forest management. Fortunately, it’s not too difficult to obtain quality assistance.

For several reasons, hiring a professional forester to work for you is the best route to go. Forestry has many more dimensions than simply a timber sale. And, timber sales have many dimensions that most forest owners may not think about. With the potential for thousands of dollars in value, not to mention the non-monetary values, it’s worth the effort and investment to hire a forester. 

Most of Michigan’s more heavily-forested counties are served by a Forestry Assistance Program forester who is housed within County Conservation Districts. These foresters can schedule a free site visit and help guide forest owners to the type of assistance that might be needed. For forest management expertise, hiring a consulting forester is usually the best route taken. The Michigan DNR’s Forest Stewardship Program (FSP) manages an on-line directory of consulting foresters that are certified to write forest management plans for the FSP. These plans can be cost-shared through the FSP. 

Professional forestry services and assistance programs can also be found through the Michigan USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). The NRCS has another list of “technical service providers”. Some of these federal cost-share programs may be of interest to forest owners. The Michigan Tree Farm Program is another excellent entry-point for management assistance and can offer forest certification status, which can help market harvested timber. 

A consulting forester is an independent professional that works directly for the forest owner. Typically, a forester has a university forestry degree and at least several years of experience. Membership in the Association of Consulting Foresters (ACF) and/or an SAF Certified Forester (CF) is an excellent credential. Additionally, the state of Michigan is currently in the process of upgrading the Michigan Registered Forester program. 

Both the Michigan Society of American Foresters (MSAF), a professional forestry group, and the forestowner based Michigan Forest Association (MFA) also have information about consulting foresters. 

Working with an industry forester can also be a good option for many forest owners. These services come at no cost and there is no contract obligation to sell timber to a particular forest products company. Unfortunately, there are few of these foresters in Michigan as industry forests have been sold to investment companies. However, there remain a few good souls bumping around the northern Lower Peninsula. 

Sound a bit confusing?  Yes, perhaps, as there are a range of options. However, the best place to start might be with a neighbor or the conservation district forester. 

Managed forests provide more of all outputs than unmanaged forests, from timber to environmental services. Yet, making the connection between your forest and just the “right” forester can sometimes be challenging. Most forest owners value their forests for a wide range of reasons and the idea of management implies a perceived degree of risk that often prevents owners from exploring their options. Meanwhile, benign neglect typically and gradually erodes the very values owners hope to maintain. 

Often, it’s the fear of getting rooked by loggers that keeps many forest owners from considering a timber sale and getting involved with good forest management. In reality, there are few criminal loggers but the news of “timber-sales-gone-bad” travels fast and persists for a long time. Nevertheless, forest owners do need to be cautious, especially when considering the high monetary values of many forests. A professional forester that works for you will be the best insurance. Joining groups, such as the Michigan Forest Association, goes a long way in learning about good forestry.   

With timber sales, the most unscrupulous practices fall into one of three groups: trespass (theft), deception and failure to pay. Trespass is the cutting of trees that don’t belong to the logger. Sometimes this happens intentionally, but most times it happens accidentally or through negligence. 

Will the sales pitch from a friendly face at the door translate into a satisfactory job? A creative set of deceptive practices can fool the forest owner, and nobody likes to be fooled. Most forest owners lack the experience to engage a logger. Fly-by-night operators will take advantage of this. Unscrupulous loggers might overcut a timber stand, take unmarked trees, purposely scrape trees and then call them “damaged,” or remove species they are not supposed to. The list goes on. The term “select cut” might be used to disguise the practice of high-grading or “take the best and leave the rest”. Again, here is where a forester will help protect you from such practices. 

Lastly, payment can be a gray area for forest owners. How does one know if the offer that’s on the table is a fair one? Timber prices, or stumpage, are not consistent values that can be published like the price of corn. It doesn’t work that way for many good reasons. Timber sold on bids, administered by a consulting forester, is the surest way to obtain the best value, in both monetary and non-monetary terms.   

Keep in mind that most loggers are honest businessmen and their business relies on a good reputation. Most loggers work on slim margins, manage huge monetary investments and operate under increasingly strict regulations. They are good people and integral parts of our communities. In most rural areas, they represent one of the most important economic drivers. 

Regardless, a good timber sale contract is the best way to guarantee good communication between you and the logger. Most “horror stories” result from misunderstandings that should have been clarified in a contract. Working with a logger requires a level of responsibility and accountability from the forest owner. A forester working on your behalf is the best way to assemble a good contract, manage your forest in the manner in which you choose and maximize all the benefits for both you and society.    

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