Seek forestry expertise when selling timber

Michigan forest landowners should hire a private, consulting forester to plan and administer a timber sale on their property when they are ready to harvest timber.

On occasion, forest landowners in Michigan sell timber from their property during their course of ownership. While the reasons for harvesting may vary (to create more growing space for trees; the need for income; to improve wildlife habitat, etc.), the process of marketing timber remains essentially the same. However, considering that most private landowners only sell timber once or twice in their lifetimes, it may benefit landowners to seek professional expertise in arranging to sell timber from their forestland.

While some limited help may be available from the public sector in answering questions about the timber sale process, such as Michigan State University (MSU) Extension, conservation districts and others, none of the public agencies can get directly involved with putting together a timber sale for a private landowner. Fortunately in the private sector, there exists professional forestry expertise that private landowners can utilize to help plan and administer a timber sale.

One of the best sources in the private sector is a consultant forester. Consulting foresters are independent, self-employed individuals who are not employed by any sawmills, logging contractors or other type of wood industry. The job of a consultant is to help forest landowners sell timber or accomplish other forest management activities on a paid-for (fee) basis.

When a private landowner contracts with a consulting forester to sell their timber, the consultant will perform all the tasks associated with marketing a timber sale. That starts with discussing the landowners ownership goals and extends through cruising the woods, marking the trees for sale, advertising the sale to multiple buyers, providing a written sale contract for the landowner, periodically inspecting the site during the harvest and addressing any other details to wrap-up the timber sale.

By using a competitive, sealed-bid process, consultants can help landowners attain maximum value for their timber. Most consultants typically charge a commission or percentage basis based on the value of the timber sale while others may charge on an hourly basis.

While some sawmills, logging contractors and other wood industries in Michigan employ professional foresters who can assist private forest owners, they cannot act as a total independent agents such as a private forestry consultant can for a landowner. These types of industry foresters can still offer some very useful assistance to landowners – but not quite the same range of services when it comes to selling timber through a competitive bidding process.

When considering a consulting forester, landowners should inquire about their qualifications and education before agreeing to hire them. Most consultants have four-year college degrees in forestry or similar natural resource disciplines. Another qualification is to ask the consultant if they are a certified forester through the Society of American Foresters or a registered forester through the State of Michigan.

In addition, landowners should ask about previous clients, work experiences and timber sales that they have performed in the area (i.e. references). Finally, since every consultant’s qualifications differ slightly based on upon their education and experience, landowners should try and select a consultant that they feel can best accomplish the ownership goals for their forest land. For example, if wildlife habitat improvement is a major goal for their forest landowner, then select a consultant who has experience in habitat management along with their forestry expertise.

Whether a private landowner chooses to use a consultant or not, it bears to keep in mind that many forest landowners may not have sufficient forestry expertise or business acumen to really do an adequate job and avoid any problems or pitfalls associated with the timber sale process.

Since many landowners in Michigan live “downstate” and do not reside upon their forested property in the northern part of the state, it may also be difficult to monitor the timber sale and logging operation once it begins. Therefore, landowners need to determine if a consulting forester is a better choice when it comes to selling timber than trying to do it on their own.