What is timber?

So, what is timber? Dictionary.com says timber is “the wood of growing trees suitable for structural uses.”

According to the World English Dictionary, timber is regarded as “construction material;” but they also describe timber as “trees collectively.”

If you notice, these are two drastically different concepts for the meaning of timber. On the one hand it refers to lumber or the “structural material” used in building or support. These are the bigger, more mature, trees that obtain the highest value from the forest. This definition of timber is exclusive to such trees as sawtimber and poles. It could also be hardwood crossties, plylogs or other solid wood products of pine or hardwood. On the other hand, the definition of timber refers to all of the “trees collectively” that are located in the forest. This includes the bigger mature structural trees as well as all other trees of any size and description. This definition of timber is all inclusive of any tree growing in the woods; big or small, diseased or solid, crooked or straight.

The multiple meaning definitions for “timber” can create problems not only in the semantics for those involved in the study of our English language and speech but in the real world for timber owners and loggers alike. I was told of a case years ago that happened right before I entered the gainfully employed work-force in 1980 that created a lawsuit in the timber rich area of southern Georgia between a landowner and timber company. It seems the landowner was selling timber on his property, and the timber company was buying ‘trees collectively’. But is there a difference?

The agreement to sell and purchase the said trees was titled a ‘Timber Deed.’ The description of the trees being sold by the landowner referred to ‘timber’ on the described property. From the landowner’s perspective, he was obviously selling the larger mature trees that would be converted to solid wood products at the mill, and he was paid a lump sum price for his timber. However, the timber company was buying all merchantable “trees collectively” on the said landowner’s described property. From their perspective, they paid for every pine and hardwood tree of every description situated within the sale area. Consequently there was a serious problem when the logger showed up and began cutting all the “trees collectively” on the property. A resulting lawsuit incurred.

As a result of this lawsuit, the company I worked for at that time had changed the way they titled their timber purchase agreements as well as the wording within those agreements describing the trees being purchased. Their timber deeds became Tree Sale Agreements and their clear cut lump sum sales included “all merchantable pine and hardwood trees” located within the defined sale area. I have seen other companies go to the further extreme of describing the trees they are buying as “all pine and hardwood trees and saplings of any kind and description.”

I often use timber to refer to all the trees in the woods “collectively”. I also hear landowners, especially old-timers, refer to their property having been ‘timbered’ (the trees harvested) at some earlier date. I hear wood materials used to construct a bridge or some other structure referred to as ‘timbers’. There are obviously numerous usages and meanings for the term ‘timber’. So “What is timber?” Well, timber can have completely different meanings depending on the eye of the beholder. And regarding an agreement to sell timber, like any good communicator, it is best to define your terms. For this reason, ‘timber’ is not the defining term for a timber sale of today. In a good tree sale agreement today, the specific description of the tree types being sold are clearly defined and described in the Timber Deed…uh, Agreement to Sell and Purchase Trees.

 

For more information on timber try these sites: http://www.gfagrow.org/ and http://www.treefarmsystem.org/.

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