Speaking the Language
After you’ve found the right forestry professional to guide you through the timber management and sale process, it’s time to learn how to speak their language. Below is a list of basic terms that will help you communicate with the professionals working on your timberland.
A forester is someone who has earned a Master’s degree in forestry and has registered with their state to practice forestry. Within the forester profession, there are several distinctions, two of which are important here: a consulting forester is a professional who works directly with private landowners, representing them to the timber industry (mills, brokers, loggers) in the same way a lawyer represents a client to the legal industry (courts, judges, defendants/plaintiffs); a non-consulting forester is the term given to professionals who work for timber companies, and in general they do not represent individual private landowners. While there is some cross-over, understanding these distinctions will help you know who’s who when entering into the professional tree industry.
Timber Buyers (Brokers)
Buyers and Brokers are people who buy timber, but they do not necessarily have accredited education or training in the timber industry. They can work independently (as middle-persons) or directly for mills. Consulting foresters are usually well-connected with buyers, and are able to negotiate with several at one time in order to get the most value for your timber. Dealing with timber buyers/brokers directly can potentially be dangerous for landowners because buyers/brokers are not legally or financially obligated to give an accurate appraisal of the timber. Foresters, however, are required by law to give you a proper appraisal.
Based on the age and size of a pine forest, the trees can be categorized into one of three general categories (there are several more, but these are the ones you must know to communicate with your forester).
Pine Pulpwood (PPW)
Pulpwood trees are between 6 and 9” in diameter at breast height (DBH). They are the young adults of the tree world, and are harvestable after 14 to 21 years of growth. Because they are worth the least value of the three timber products, most timber management plans only harvest pine pulpwood during thinning (see below) years. Once harvested and sent to the mill, Pine Pulpwood is turned into–you guessed it–pulp. This pulp is then used to make most of the paper products we use on a daily basis.
Pine Chip-n-Saw (CNS)
Chip-n-Saw trees are between 10 and 13” in diameter at breast height (DBH). They are the middle-aged adults of the tree world, and are harvestable after 21 to 35 years of growth. As their name implies, Chip-n-Saw trees are usually chipped for mulch or paper pulp, but occasionally are cut for lumber.
Pine Sawtimber (PST)
Sawtimber trees are over 14” in DBH, and are considered as the most valuable of timber products. They are harvestable after 30 to 50 years of growth. Not only do they provide the most wood due their large size, but Sawtimber trees are cut for lumber, which is more valuable than pine pulp.
Your forester will use these terms (among others) to communicate many statistics about your trees and land. Board-Foot A board-foot is a unit of measurement used to describe the amount of useable wood product. One board-foot is 12” by 12” by 1”, or 144 cubic inches.
Diameter at Breast Height, or DBH, is the unit of measurement that foresters use to describe the size of the tree. As indicated by the name, DBH measurements are the width of the tree at breast height, or 4 ½ ft above the ground.
A standard cord is a unit of measurement used to describe a stack of wood measuring 4’ by 4’ by 8’, or 128 cubic feet. Standard Cords are used when measuring Pine Pulpwood and Pine Chip-n-Saw.
A ton of wood is 2000 lbs. of wood, including the bark. Tons are used when measuring Pine Pulpwood and Pine Chip-n-Saw.
A tract is a section of your land. When a forester creates a management plan, they divide your land into multiple tracts. These can be any size, ranging from less than an acre to several hundred acres. In general, actions are performed on entire tract at one time. For instance, in a given year, you may fertilize all the trees in Tract A, but harvest all the trees on Tract B.
Your forester will use these terms when referring to the various actions you can take in managing and harvesting your timber.
A clear cut means that you cut all the trees in a given tract. More often than not, clear cutting is only performed on Sawtimber tracts, after multiple thinnings (see below) have been performed.
Cruising timber is what foresters do when they walk through your timberland and make measurements in order to estimate the quality, size and maturity of your trees. Foresters will cruise your land in order to make a timber management plan. Selective Cut (or Partial Cut) Selective Cut is when only some of the trees in a particular tract are cut down.
Thinning is the strategic removal of some of the trees in a given tract in order to promote the growth of the remaining trees. Thinning a tract every five or ten years can be a source of regular income, and it improves the rate of growth and health of the trees that are intentionally being grown for Chip-n-Saw or Sawtimber. Most healthy management plans will include regular thinning.
Like other commodities, the value of timber products fluctuates given the season and status of the economy. Your forester will have privileged information about the market price of your timber, and will advise you to make decisions about your land based on this information.
For more selling terms, stay tuned for the next installment: “The Complete Guide to Selling Timber – The Sale.”