Logs, sticks, bolts and chips

Wood is our most versatile and environmentally-friendly raw material. And, it’s the only renewable raw material.

Hundreds of items that are used every day originate from trees, at least in part. Loggers manufacture a variety of raw wood products from trees which, in turn, get sold down the value-added chain to produce an amazing variety of end products. The forest industry is diverse, complex and technologically advanced. It is also one of Michigan’s largest and most important manufacturing sectors.

The demand for various raw wood products depends upon the particular manufacturing process, along with many other factors; prices to the forest owner will vary accordingly. Loggers are experts at cutting what will bring the highest value and sorting products on the log landing.

Common product terms include sawlogs, veneer, bolts, pulpwood, chips, mulch and others. Each of these have specifications, some more precise than others. Pulpwood, for instance, needs to be sticks 100 inches long and, often, no less than three or four inches in diameter at the small end. On the other hand, veneer markets have widely-ranging and frequently-changing specifications depending upon what’s “hot” in the market.

Raw wood products have different measures. Pulpwood is usually measured by weight and then adjusted to a standard cord for payment. A standard cord is a stack of 100 inch sticks that is four feet high and four feet wide. Sawlogs and veneer logs are sold by the thousand board feet (MBF). Chips and mulch are sold by the green ton.

Estimates of products and volumes can be made for standing trees. However, there is less precision with estimating these volumes than with the cut products. These estimates will also vary depending on the type of cut planned: clear-cut, thinning or selection harvest. This process is commonly called cruising. Many cruising protocols and tools exist. Choices depend upon the cruiser and the particular circumstances.

A log landing is where a timber harvest comes together. A landing is an open space big enough for the operation of large machinery and a logging truck. Machines called forwarders and skidders collect products that have been manufactured in the woods. There are many configurations of equipment to harvest and forward timber.

The forwarder operator will deposit the products in different piles, based on the specifications for different mills. Log size, species and quality are some of the determining factors. Truckers arrive at the landing to collect a particular load for delivery to a mill. Sometimes roads need to be built or upgraded. Moving raw wood products in an efficient manner can be a logistical challenge, and is vital to the financial viability of a logging contractor.

Where healthy markets for raw wood products exist, sorting and optimizing dollar value is easier. Loggers are experts at this. However, in some parts of the state, certain markets do not exist, which does not allow a particular raw wood product to be marketable. Usually, markets for low-quality forest products are lacking, and the inability to sell a class of forest product reduces the ability to effectively manage a woodland. Regions of the state with robust markets also have more opportunities for better forest management and forest health.

For many forest owners, maximizing revenue is the bottom line for a timber sale, although short-sighted cash flow can sometimes be a problem. Other owners may also be interested in a variety of other objectives, such as developing a particular set of habitat conditions or increasing forest resiliency and health. There are many possible objectives and all of them can be enhanced by engaging the appropriate logging contractor.

However, the myriad of factors with a timber sale and a timber sale contract are daunting to most forest owners. Michigan State University Extension educators recommend hiring a consulting forester to help a forest owner navigate through the challenge of a timber sale and work to reach a desired future condition. Forest management and timber sales are usually more satisfactory, and profitable, when a professional forester is working for a woodland owner. These foresters also enhance communication between the forest owner and the logging contractor, which avoids many possible misunderstandings.

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