Letter Re: Buying Rural Timberland

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Jim,
Here is a letter that I was going to write to a guy in response to an inquiry on what timberland was running for here in northern Idaho. It might be of interest to the blog readers.

In the northwest, when looking for a retreat most of us are looking for timbered property. We imagine tall big trees with a house settled down in the hallow or located in some vantage point and defensible. I have given a lot of thought to the idea that if I had the assets what would I be looking for in timberland, best bang for my buck so to speak. A stand of mature timber comes with some advantages and many disadvantages. Large timber on property allows good thermal cover and a good screen from a distance. It can pose some fire danger and in fierce winds it does not matter if the stand is dense or not--it can be very intimidating. With merchantable timber you will pay for the timber on the property. If the prior owner logs it, he logs it to his prescribed cut (i.e. taking what he wants, not what you would like to be there.) The end results being something other than the vision you had for your retreat. Once logged, large trees further become risks as they are now susceptible to wind throw, unless, the tree has been open grown for awhile so that wind firmness applies. The advantages of buying property without merchantable timber outweighs the disadvantages in my mind. You do not pay for a cruise to determine standing volume and thus pay the owner for that capital on the stump.The best case is the property was logged a while ago, allowing time to catch up and the regenerated seedlings to grow and the slash to decompose.

The ideal: Something that was logged 15-to-20 years ago. Hopefully, it would have been burned and planted. Ideally, trees that are 3-to-4 inches in diameter at 4.5 feet [from the ground], anywhere from 16-to-30 feet tall, with good healthy crowns occupying 40% or more of the bole. These trees would be in prime growing condition, if spaced properly, and could soon be usable. ("Soon" being in another 10-15 years.) This scenario, unfortunately for the retreat hunter, would be a rare case indeed. Most stands for sale are left with the poorest specimens of the trees that existed prior to harvest. These are left as seed trees. Usually, the lowest value species are also left. So, you end up with land full of slash, often choked with trees that are of poor genetics, and often not the best species to have growing on your land. What you have then is a lot of work in clean up.

Whatever area you happen to be looking in, it is always wise to become familiar with what tree species are present, where they grow best, etc. It can tell you a lot about the site. An example: In my area of northern Idaho, lodgepole and spruce with an absence of Red Cedar means you are in a pretty cold area. You should also be aware that certain species are susceptible to pests and diseases that can soon wipe out all your cover and future firewood. In the lowlands, with sedimentary soils, grand fir, here in northern Idaho will become infected with root rot and beetle attacks fairly easily and you will soon have a stand of gray snags before you know it.

Questions to Ask: Ask the local forest professionals. My recommendation would be to ask foresters with some of the larger private forest industries. These are individuals who have to deal with many different species across many different land types. They also know the best most cost effective way to handle forest pathology. They are normally more than willing to take a little time to talk to you. They are usually delighted somebody from the public would even ask their opinion. Personally, I would not advise asking the local forest service. These are folks who have developed into experts with appeasing irate environmentalists and dealing with bureaucratic paperwork---not practical forest solutions.

As for the money: A good rule of thumb for bare timberland (treeless) value, that timber companies would be interested in, is approximately $500 an acre. However, this is often bare land that is very remote with little or no access. Value, obviously, increases the closer to a paved or county road the property lies. Timberland assessors look at distance from mills, stocking (amount of the ground that is occupied by timber), species that the ground is stocked with (i.e. red cedar versus ponderosa pine, grand fir, or douglas fir), the age of the stand, and the amount of net saw (the amount of wood that is not defective or rotten.) Available timbered property that borders good drivable roads is in high demand in many areas of northern Idaho. Prices are being driven up almost unreasonably.

To find out how much your timber is worth, the easiest thing to do is hire a timber cruising firm to perform a cruise on the land. That service could run you a bare minimum of $400 for a small parcel or 20 dollars a plot with fees for calculations and office work, ( Just a note: $20 a plot is low end, and $35 would be along the lines of a premium service) with 1 plot per acre being a fairly intensive cruise for large parcels, but reasonable for medium to small parcels, or one plot for every 3-5 acres if the land is large and has a fairly uniform timber type.
[JWR Adds: If the property is more than 60 acres and the stand of timber is fairly uniform, then I recommend that you just ask for a "strip" cruise. This type of cruise only evaluates zebra stripes from the parcel, and the cruise report then extrapolates the total board footage. A strip cruise will still give you a good approximation of the value of the timber yet will cost a lot less money than a detailed cruise of the entire parcel.]

Lastly, if you are interested in managing your own forest land I would suggest a few more rules of thumb. #1) Timber always grows best when the canopy of one tree is not touching the canopy of another (i.e. closed canopy.) So, give them some space and room to grow. #2) All your Bambis, bear, and elk like open area's for feed with places of cover to run through and hide in--that is to say diversity, make sure they've got a little of everything so that it's inviting to them. And diversity does not mean to always leave the biggest trees. Biggest isn't always best. #3) Plan your open areas so that they are areas where you have good vantage and cover for yourself, for home defense, as well as the opportune hunting. May Christ Lift You Up - Eric in Northern Idaho

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This page contains a single entry by Jim Rawles published on October 21, 2005 5:13 PM.

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