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Author Topic: General harvesting question  (Read 1088 times)

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Offline Engineer

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General harvesting question
« on: July 31, 2017, 02:43:11 pm »
I have a general question about tree harvesting that I'd like some advice on, or maybe just opinion.  My parents own some 27 acres of land which I expect to inherit sometime in the next 20-30 years (they're in their late 70's).  The land abuts mine and I think I want to keep most of it and make their homestead a smaller parcel.   The land is typical New England upland forest - a diversity of hardwood growing on shallow soils over shale ledge.  To my knowledge, the land has never been logged.  Judging from old stone walls and fences, it was probably sheep and/or cattle pasture 100 years ago.  Most of the harvestable timber is fairly large for this area - generally up to 26-28" DBH, consisting of mostly red oak, white oak (and subspecies, such as chestnut oak), soft and sugar maples.  There are also a few sizable black birch, ash, beech and shagbark hickory. 

All of these large trees add up to a substantial tally of viable sawlogs, but it is also having a visible effect on the understory.  There's nothing of value growing.  The woods is devoid of succession species, except for short-lived ones such as white birch, striped maple, aspen, hop hornbeam and shrubs like witch hazel.   I am afraid that if I have the property logged traditionally, I will open up so much space that it will turn into a giant mess of weeds, brambles and honeysuckle, and it won't be of any value in the future.  I also have no need for the dozens of cords of firewood it would result in, even though we both burn wood, that much would simply rot before we could get to it.

I also realize that most buyers don't want to buy five or six logs, they want a truckload.  But it's not economically feasible to drop a few trees, skid them out to a landing and then call it quits until next year.  I still don't have a sawmill and even if I did, I wouldn't want the oak (don't like it for lumber) and a lot of this is probably veneer quality anyway.  Plus my dad is not a big fan of mechanized logging, his woods is pristine with only small network of narrow trails running through it and he would like to keep it that way, and so would I. 

So the question after all this is:  what do I do?  It needs to be opened up, but very selectively.  The logs have value but who will take two or three trees worth of logs every year?  My biggest priority would be minimizing disturbance, followed by maximizing value.  Habitat is not a concern, the neighbor just clearcut (and I mean down to the dirt) 10 acres last winter, and it is solid weeds and brush.  We lost 5 acres of red pines in October of 1987, and the area is still almost entirely white birch and ferns with very few future crop trees visible.  It's like a big park.  I guess I just don't want to make a big mess and then have to live with it for the next 40 years.

Offline celliott

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Re: General harvesting question
« Reply #1 on: July 31, 2017, 06:41:13 pm »
Sounds like it might be a good job for a guy who skids with horses. Easy to move in and out, not high production but the higher value timber will make up for that.
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Offline mike_belben

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Re: General harvesting question
« Reply #2 on: July 31, 2017, 09:26:40 pm »
What do you have for equipment available to you?  How steep is it?  Are you and your father competent enough to fell timber that big?

On the bright side youve atleast covered step 1.. Realizing it needs a cut.

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Re: General harvesting question
« Reply #3 on: August 01, 2017, 01:36:17 am »
Another thought is you don't HAVE to harvest if you don't want to. A White Oak has a lifespan of maybe 300 years. If you have nice sized ~100 year old ones there, that's cool, and they could still be there in another 200 years.

Now at that point you have probably reached a "mature' forest, and as those dominant trees start to die off they leave clearings where regeneration is going to occur, with light tunnels opening up in the canopy, and encouraging new seedlings to come up. But under the canopy of a mature forest can be a pretty barren looking place as so little light reaches it.

That would basically reach a "pre-human" state of the forest, and it will be mostly large trees, with scattered clearings that are regenerating.

Now you also have the option of harvesting some trees, and that of course changes the dynamics of the forest in some way. Deciding if it's good or bad depends on your aims. Aesthetics / revenue / wildlife / conservation are all different aims, and people might balance them differently.

Also you will want to understand the dynamics of your particular forest type and how your actions will affect it. There are situations where you can selectively pull out single trees, and expect a similar tree to grow. Others times the conditions you create with the selective harvest are not conducive to the regrowth your want. Different (shade tolerant) species regrow in the small openings you have created. Oak and Pine are species that establish best in the open (a large clearing). But if you take just one mature Oak out of the forest, and some more shade tolerant tree takes it's place. You still have a forest, but you have subtly changed the dynamic of how it's growing, and over time the mix of species will change.  Worst case scenario is you end up "High Grading", which means taking out all the desirable trees, and leaving only the rubbish. Recovering from that can take a LONG time. This is where local knowledge of your forest types comes in. I know the succession and conditions for most of our local trees, but they are very different species and climate.

But what this means is that if you want to harvest and regrow White Oak it may be best to do a small clear cut, or at least a series of small clearings through the forest. Take out both the desirable trees, and the rubbish, and then you reset that small section to how it was 100 years ago (abandoned pasture). You get enough logs to make the harvest worthwhile, but you aren't looking at 27 acres of "scorched earth". Give it 10 years and those clearings are regenerating and starting to look like a forest again. You can go back in and remove some more sections. Eventually you get through the whole block, and the first parts harvested are now looking good for your Grandchildren.

The full clearcut does look pretty ugly for a while, which is a valid reason for not going there (Aesthetics). It takes a while for the forest type trees to re-establish, and those weeds and brush are often the first stage. They act as a nursery for the new seedlings. But that might be 10 years of "ugly"  before you get saplings coming up out of the weeds, and 100 years before you get back to what you have now.

Now other forest / tree types you can selectively harvest single trees, and get regrowth. Just depends on "things".
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Offline TKehl

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Re: General harvesting question
« Reply #4 on: August 01, 2017, 08:23:27 am »
What I’m missing after reading this is, “what is the goal”.  Are you aiming for regeneration?  Developing a mixed age stand?  Extracting some value? 

How many total acres are we talking about?

I don’t know your market, but my hunch is that small acreages in the NE with big timber bring a premium with the timber intact from the value of the wooded walking paths.  People feel like they are transported to fairy tale land as closed canopy mature forests are rare anymore.  Like you said, "a big park".

You also have opportunity to raise woodland herbs and mushrooms in the shade.  There is also a market for witch hazel leaves.

As for onsie twosie logs, I have agreements with several local farmettes to take down good trees that die for the wood.  I do all my work with a farm tractor, pickup, and trailer and only when the ground is solid.  I also don’t pay for the timber, but do try to pile brush and also open up paths as necessary.
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Offline mike_belben

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Re: General harvesting question
« Reply #5 on: August 01, 2017, 01:05:10 pm »
I think i would select the very best veneer logs for crop trees and release around them.  Also culling the undesireable species.  The crop tree seeds this patch and a guarantee of highly venerable traits is sown immediately around it.  The low grade stuff you cut will coppice and bush in a little but you will get your oak sprouts too.  The bushiness will force the fastest growers of your oaks to reveal themselves.. Shooting straight up.

  Every so many years you go in and do a little hack and squirt to keep invasives out.. But i wouldnt consider the shade intolerant species useless.  They are gonna help keep your epicormic branching down and your oak stems seeking up.  Meanwhile, the parent tree you released has enjoyed an abundance of water, light and nutrients from the lack of competition and the brush piles you left there to break down. 

I spoke a few hours with a state forester on the phone a while back.. Who spent most of his life trying to change the way forestors mark sales.  Basically his thing was dont pull the fast growers if you can afford not to.  If its a forest for your posterity, harvest the low grade and grow the high grade until its in decline.  Collect perfect specimens and sell those tree encroaching on them, or defective themselves.

Offline Crusarius

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Re: General harvesting question
« Reply #6 on: August 01, 2017, 04:18:13 pm »
I like that. Unfortunately around here most ppl will have the property logged right before they sell. So they get greedy foresters take everything good and leave the property in shambles.

Pretty sure that happened on my property. The last forester I had come in marked what he wanted then I went and walked the property and told him not to come back. he only marked the good stuff and then tried to tell me I was only going to get $1300 check and he couldn't sell the spruce so he was going to charge me 1500 to remove it.

I am glad I made the decision I did.
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Offline Corley5

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Re: General harvesting question
« Reply #7 on: August 01, 2017, 07:54:51 pm »
I recommend contacting your local university extension office, conservation district or DNR for a forester.  Meet with him/her, tell them your goals for the land and then take a walk through the woods.  A forester that's not involved in timber procurement will give you the best advice.  There may even be $$$ available or other incentives for forest management plans etc.
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Offline thecfarm

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Re: General harvesting question
« Reply #8 on: August 01, 2017, 09:36:13 pm »
The stone walls are there because someone was clearing the land. I really doubt just for pasture. I have land that used to be cut for hay. My Father can remember the old guys cutting it with scythes. And have to remember most of those horse drawn mowers had short cutting bars too. There are BIG rocks all over the place and the land is very uneven. There is no way it could be cut for hay with the equipment we have now.
I had my land logged. It needed it. BUT it changed the way it looked. At one time someone could blindfold me and put me in the woods and I would know the way out. Now it looks so much diffeant.I did have about 5 acres not cut. Maybe I should of had more not cut. But I had pine that was an easy 3 feet across. My Father and me cut this land in the summer months with a 40hp tractor. Slow,but it worked. We changed the way the woods looked. Cut down about 10 of them and it looks ALOT diffeant. Really opens up the woods and other stuff starts to grow. I kinda miss the way it looked when I was growing up.
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Offline mike_belben

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Re: General harvesting question
« Reply #9 on: August 01, 2017, 11:03:52 pm »
Final cuts before a transfer and high grading are the standard here too.  Correcting it on my own property will take the rest of my life. But, if not I than who?


There are definitely cost shares through USDA and the forest service, that are hardly ever applied for.  You enter into a management plan and then carry out the plan then get reimbursement based on their payment tables.   Call your USDA service center and ask to get a call back from whoever the administrator of forestry management cost share plans is. 

Offline Engineer

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Re: General harvesting question
« Reply #10 on: August 02, 2017, 09:29:34 am »
My goal on this property is to keep it in the family, but manage it properly.  There are some trees that I will want to harvest for lumber for my own personal use (mostly maple and beech, a few white oaks) but the rest of the oak I would like to sell at some point.  I just don't want to do it all at once and change the character of the property.  Kind of a "harvest only what you need" mentality.  My concern (and maybe it is unfounded) is that these large-canopy mature trees are limiting the potential growth of the understory - I don't know if  that's a bad thing.  I suppose that I could use some of these parks and preserves, where everything is a mature tree and nothing grows on the forest floor but ferns and mushrooms, as an example of what this place will look like. 

Ideally I could find a log buyer who would give me market price for small quantities of oak - no more than a couple large trees worth - maybe an independent mill with a specialty market, like many of the guys on this forum.  I have the equipment to harvest and skid logs out to a landing where they could be picked up.  I have no desire to sell firewood and no desire to clear any more land than I absolutely need to. 

Offline mike_belben

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Re: General harvesting question
« Reply #11 on: August 02, 2017, 11:00:56 am »
It helps to understand the entire picture.

The top dollar will be veneer export which must be cut when the sap is low (winter) so they dont dry too fast and crack while in the container baking in the sun.  They must be hauled in fresh, no sitting in the dirt for 3 months. The big paycheck is to he who hauls logs to terminal and loads them in a container full to the top.  Summer log prices drop considerably if you are selling to an exporter.  For example i can get 70cents/bf for winter poplar but only 40cents for summer cut.  So keep that in mind and ask that question when on the phone seeking out your buyer.

Realistically the exporter will probably be buying logs from various mills who are yarding for him, in order to make full loads quickly.  Some of these foreign orders are huge.  50 containers, that sorta thing.

To get your best money on a few sticks at a time domestically, you'd have to be selling your logs to a veneer mill and they may not buy from the general public, so get that figured out.  Next rung down the ladder is a sawmill who buys it to resell..  Theyre "yarding."  The closer a mill is to a port the more likely this can be.  With lower transport costs to port, payouts to the seller have more wiggle room to be generous.  And the more of the process you perform, the more you pocket.  Obviously the cost of a buyer sending transport comes out of your cut and the scheduling will be less to your convenience.

The timber is definitely in your favor..  Big high grade wood is the best material to be in if you are a small slow guy, it is still profitable to be a hand faller dragging one butt cut with a donkey and parbuckling it onto the car trailer.  Making money in pulpwood?  That requires lightning fast operation.  I cant break even in pulp, it costs me money because im too slow.   Otoh, chairing a veneer butt is like landing a tree on your quad, so know your skillset.  Youll want to be competent in GOL, humbolt, stump jumping, dutchmans, siswheel etc to tackle veneer thinning.  I mean, we are talking about the pinnacle of east coast forestry.  Its not a small thing to screw up.  If its over your head, you need a logger buddy or some serious study and practice.



Time is on your side, the trees are still up, turning sunshine into money, so you can afford to move slow on the decision process too. Find your buyers before you gas the saw.  Pick an average sized example log for phone calls and get out your notebook.  Find all the mills in the range you are willing to drive and also look at the intermodal map.  Heading towards ports should be a warmer market in general.   Call far and wide, it doesnt cost anything to call.

"Hi, do you purchase red oak veneer?
Okay great, i own a stand in syrup county vermont that ill be starting to selectively thin this coming fall, so im shopping around for the most competitive buyer. Are you able to talk prices?
Oh excellent.  What species do you buy.. Or not buy rather?  Okay, what does your mill  pay for 22" veneer red oak?  What scale is that ma'am.  Okay so $1400 per thousand board feet doyle scale, delivered to your mill, is that correct?  Great, and what lengths do you buy.  10's and 14's okay.. How much trim.. Min 6" alright so cut 10'6 or 14'6 minimum, got it, any other lengths? Multiples?  Okay.   Now do your prices vary by season on these?  Alright.. do you buy them all year?  Do you pay any fuel surcharge on delivered loads? Okay.    foresee any changes effecting this market in the coming year.  Scarcity of logs or orders ending.. Anything like that?  (A lot of times this question gets you transferred to the owner/husband/father/manager, who i always try to make a relationship with)  okay great thank you so much, it sounds like we can do some business Carol, one last question, what days and hours do you buy logs and will you scale and cut the check same day?

I wont trust any who wont scale in front of me.  It is common here to buy mon - thursday and only cut 1 check per week on friday that the logger has to pick up.  You dont want to be blindsided by that if youre far away.  Also it doesnt hurt to ask if the more distant ones have anyone yarding for them in your area.

Shop around, but it takes time to determine who is treating you better.   Buyer 1 might have a great pricesheet, but your avg dollar per boardfoot can be low because they wont give that prime grade..  Oh, this ones got some pin knots that only i can see, its a prime C, not primeA.  Some places do you real good a few first loads then get stingy once youre a regular.  Then other places that dont pay so good on paper end up averaging more because they arent beating your logs up so bad on grade.. Or are willing to buy a smaller or shorter log.  I do best with a scaler who will "pull it back" rather than "drop it down"  .. Not that you can know over the phone but when you start selling, pay attention and talk about each log with the scaler, be friendly.  You are usually better if the scaler keeps your log in the higher grade (prime C instead of 1common for example) but buys the log for an inch less of diameter or a little less footage to acount for a defect, than to drop the whole log a grade.  For example, a 12footer with a little ringshake on one end.. One scaler will drop your 12ft log a whole grade.. Another might say im gonna take a gamble that the shake will clean up, ill give you prime C on a 10 footer.   That guy is a kind scaler who is treating you right.  The ones who wont speak to me, i dont go to again unless the avg price was great.. But it usually isnt.

If you dont want to be in the firewood business you will still be in the grade and tie business when selling the top logs and cull trees.  Know your tie lengths, theyre critical to make the sale.  Pulp pays about 10cents/bdft, tie logs about 30cents.  Cut to make as many ties as you can.. There will still be way too much firewood.   

And above all, do not neglect to consider stave buyers.  A white oak stave is a 3sided log that pays as good as veneer.  I sell 3 sided hickory to a handle mill for good money (and the rest to a BBQ.)  Red oak stave is used in bows and drums. 

Fastest way to find the best buyers is stop and talk to other loggers you pass by in your travels.  They know everything about the local market.  Its how ive gotten the phone numbers of the buyers who arent on google.  Hope that info makes you some money.




Offline TKehl

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Re: General harvesting question
« Reply #12 on: August 02, 2017, 01:59:35 pm »
The biggest question may be, is the timber still growing vigorously (adding girth)?  If a tree is still adding BF at a good pace, I’m going to let it even if it is a large “mature” tree.  If it is not growing, is it age related decline or competition related? 

If you want to have long term value, Mike’s advice on taking the low value first is spot on.  Each situation is different.  Sometimes it is obvious which tree has the lesser value (or potential future value), other times less so.  Species, quality, spacing, size etc. all should be considered.  For instance, I never thought I’d say this, but this weekend in an older mixed age stand I found a leaning, contorted, small Black Walnut with a rotten heart that I will take out in favor of a nice hedge tree it is rubbing against.  (Still kicking myself thinking, “am I really going to do that?   Really!?!”)

Also, if aiming at veneer (a good goal from what it sounds like in your situation), be sure to manage the lower branches and keep them trimmed. 

Mike, I like your one donkey comment.  Not too far off from my operation.   :D  Lot's of insight on buyers as well. 
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Offline mike_belben

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Re: General harvesting question
« Reply #13 on: August 02, 2017, 05:56:19 pm »
I am the donkey at my one donkey show.  All my mistakes are out of my own pocket so i try to adapt quickly!