By Jim Griffith
Many timber owners value their timberland and enjoy hunting or hiking on the property as they wait for their living investment to reach its maximum potential. For many landowners, visiting their timber property is a get-a-way from their main business, which is often unrelated to forestry, and allowed them to purchase the property.
In these cases, landowners may find themselves saying, “I know my business, but what do I do with these trees?” It’s a statement and question I often hear, not just from absentee landowners but also from full time farmers who are preoccupied with caring for their livestock or row crops. This is when it pays to employ the services of a professional forester.
Professional foresters know the timber business and are trained to manage timber stands to grow them to their maximum value and then market the timber.
There is no one answer for the question, “What do I do with my trees?” Depending on the owner’s preference and priorities, there are multiple management options to be considered even for the same stand of trees. This is why timber management is more of an art than a science, although there is plenty of science included in the decision making process.
A property I just looked over had old growth pine sawtimber scattered throughout a stand of young premerchantable pine pulpwood. The landowner is concerned with maximizing his income from the property. The trees are an investment for him, and he wants to manage them accordingly.
This stand needs to have the older, larger trees removed from the stand. They are going to grow very little from this date forward, adding little value to the investment. Not only are they not adding to the investment, they are hurting the overall continued growth value of the younger trees in the stand by taking up water, nutrients, light, and space. This was an easy decision. The trees were mature and they needed to be removed. Other reasons for management, like aesthetics, wildlife, or future development might call for other management decisions.
The same property included another completely different stand of growing timber. This stand had been cut about 20 years earlier and was allowed to grow back naturally. It was chemically sprayed to keep the hardwood competition under control and allow the pine crop to grow. It’s now a good stand of pine pulpwood and chip-n-saw. It is, however, a thick stand of pine in need of thinning to allow the better crop trees to put on more radial growth, which will produce more dollars per acre in the long and short run.
The previous stand required a select cut operation to take out the older mature trees. The second stand needs to be select cut to remove the smaller inferior trees that are not growing but are competing with the higher-value trees that will be harvested in the future. The deformed trees that will never make more than low value pulpwood need to be removed as well.
Another stand of trees on this same property consisted of pine planted in an old field. Early on the trees had a survival issue which left too few trees on the site to reach crown closure. This resulted in limby, sharply tapered pines with a lot of volume but little value. In fact, they will never be anything but pulpwood value, mainly due to the lack of lower limbs dying off, creating knotty wood that will always prevent it from becoming a solid wood product down the road.
The last timber stand on the property was a small stand of trees that had grown back on their own after a harvest. With natural regeneration, trees often either come back too thick or too thin. In this case, the trees came back too thick. There were a bunch of pencil whips in this stand. Even though the stand had been burned a few times, there were still too many trees competing for water and nutrients. The stand will require some precommercial thinning to ever amount to any value. Unfortunately, this is a dead cost to the landowner, but it is the best management strategy to produce a viable stand. It is certainly better than starting over from scratch.
Jim Griffith is general manager of the Georgia Farm Bureau Timber and Real Estate Companies.
Georgia Farm Bureau News – August 2008