Timber Harvesting: 13 Things (2024) You Should Know

Landowners engaged in timber harvesting have an opportunity to both manage and utilize natural resources that are at their disposal.

When you participate in timber harvesting correctly, you’ll not only generate revenue, but you’ll also improve the health and productivity of your forestland.

Emphasis on the word correctly in that last sentence.

If you don’t understand the correct way to harvest timber, keep reading.

We’ll discuss the process of timber harvesting, the best practices, the need-to-know regulations, the benefits, the risks, and everything in between.

Let’s get started.

1. What is timber harvesting?

Timber harvesting is the process of removing trees from a forestland for commercial purposes.

These purposes include lumber, paper, and fuelwood.

Millions of acres are harvested annually, and this practice allows landowners to both maintain their forest land while making a living off of it.

2. What are the benefits of timber harvesting?

Timber harvesting has the following benefits for landowners:

bulletRevenue generation

One of the biggest benefits of timber harvesting for landowners is income.

Selling timber helps to generate revenue, especially if the property already has mature and high-quality timber.

bulletForest management

Timber harvesting is a necessary process whereby landowners thin out overgrown and diseased trees.

This promotes the growth of new trees and improves the overall health and productivity of the forest.

When foresters don’t cut back some of the weaker growth, the more robust trees aren’t able to thrive.

bulletWildlife habitat improvement

While removing trees may not seem like it would improve a habitat, it can actually create openings in the forest.

This allows wildlife like deer, turkeys, and songbirds a place to live that wouldn’t have otherwise existed.

bulletCarbon sequestration

Carbon sequestration is the process by which carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere and held in either solid or liquid form.

This can be done naturally or artificially.

Timber harvesting is a natural form of carbon sequestration as trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

When foresters maintain healthy and growing forests, they can mitigate the impacts of climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

3. What are the risks associated with timber harvesting?

Although there are significant benefits to timber harvesting, there are some risks and challenges that all landowners should keep in mind.

Knowing these will allow you to make informed decisions about your land.

Here are the potential drawbacks of engaging in timber harvesting.

bulletEnvironmental impact

When it’s not done correctly, timber harvesting has the potential to disrupt natural ecosystems and damage the environment.

Soil, water quality, and wildlife habitats are all at risk.

If you’re considering using your land in this way, you must take the proper steps to protect your land and the wildlife that lives on it.

bulletLegal compliance

There are regulations (both federal and local) that govern timber harvesting.

You must obtain the correct permits and follow best management practices in addition to paying taxes.

bulletMarket volatility

Timber prices can fluctuate.

Even when you know this, it can affect your ability to consistently profit from your timber harvesting efforts.

bulletSafety hazards

Timber harvesting involves heavy equipment and machinery.

This equipment must be managed safely because of the risks and hazards it can pose to workers and bystanders.

Overall, we recommend consulting with a forestry professional and planning carefully before a timber harvest.

This will allow you to make the smartest decisions for the environment and the safest choices for everyone else involved.

4. How can you plan a timber harvest on your property?

Are you ready to start the process of planning a timber harvest?

Here are some steps that you can use to guide the process.

When in doubt, don’t hesitate to contact an advisor.

They can help you fill in the gaps.

bulletStep One: Assess Your Forestland

Understand your forestland as it is.

What is the age, quality, and quantity of your timber?

Are there any potential environmental or legal constraints that exist?

bulletStep Two: Set Your Objectives

Ask yourself what your goals are when it comes to timber harvesting.

Do you want to generate revenue?

Manage your forest?

Improve the habitat of wildlife on the land?

Perhaps all of the above?

bulletStep Three: Choose a Harvesting Method

Research the appropriate harvesting methods that you would like to pursue.

This will depend on your goals, timber type, and site conditions.

The most common types of harvesting are clear-cutting, selective cutting, and shelterwood cutting.

bulletStep Four: Select a Harvesting Contractor

The right harvesting contractor is a valuable resource to you.

You want someone who has expertise, equipment, and insurance to perform the harvest safely and efficiently.

bulletStep Five: Obtain the Necessary Permits and Approvals

Often, federal, state, and local agencies will require you to have permits and approvals for timber foresting.

Make sure you research what permits you need and go through the proper steps for these approvals.

Examples of agencies to check with include the Department of Natural Resources and the Environmental Protection Agency as well as your local zoning board.

bulletStep Six: Develop a Timber Sales Contract

Create a timber sale contract that outlines the terms of your harvest.

This way, you know the payment schedule, harvesting method, and post-harvest responsibilities in advance.

If there’s ever an issue with any of the partners you’re working with, you’ll be able to refer back to this contract for clarity.

bulletStep Seven: Implement Best Management Practices

There are best management practices for timber harvesting that will ensure optimal outcomes.

These practices include:

  1. Minimizing soil disturbances
  2. Protecting water resources
  3. Controlling erosion and sedimentation

bulletStep Eight: Monitor and Evaluate the Harvest 

To ensure you have a successful harvest, you must monitor your outcome.

Evaluate your harvest outcome and check to ensure you are following best practices.

If something didn’t go as planned, reflect on how you can change it moving forward.

What additional checks can you put in place to be more successful next time?

When it comes to timber harvesting, planning carefully or working with professionals can ensure optimizing of this resource.

5. What are the different harvesting methods?

There are three common harvesting methods that you should consider.

The one you select will depend on three factors: your goals, timber types, and site conditions.

Here’s what you should know.

bulletClear-cutting: This method removes all trees in a designated area.

It’s suitable for regenerating even-aged stands of trees or creating openings for wildlife habitats.

That said, it may cause significant and unintended environmental impacts.

Clear-cutting is also inappropriate for all types of forests.

bulletSelective cutting: This method removes only mature or damaged trees.

It leaves younger and healthier trees.

This route is often best for timber harvesters who want to manage uneven-aged trees or promote the growth of valuable timber species.

bulletShelterwood cutting: This method involves removing mature trees to create openings for new growth.

However, some mature trees are left to provide shade and protection for young trees.

You may consider this option if you want to manage mixed-species forests or promote the growth of desirable timber species.

6. How should you choose a timber harvesting method?

If you’re at the very start of your timber harvesting journey, you may not know which of the three methods above will be the best fit for you and your land.

Here are the factors that you should consider when making this decision.

bulletSize of your forest

bulletAge of your forest

bulletQuality of your timber

bulletQuantity of your timber

bulletObjectives for the harvest

Still remain unsure?

Don’t fret!

Consult with a forestry professional.

They can help you make an informed decision.

7. How do you find a reputable harvesting contractor?

The success and safety of your timber harvest hinge upon having the right partner.

Arguably the most important of these partners is a harvesting contractor who specializes in tree cutting and lot clearing.

They do everything from recruiting and hiring agricultural workers and supervising the work of other farm laborers to furnishing tools for employee use and directing and transporting workers to the appropriate site.

Since they’re such a key member of your team, you want to ensure a solid fit.

Here are some tips to find a reliable contractor.

bulletAsk for recommendations

The best way to find a reputable harvesting contractor is to ask the people you know who already have one they like.

So, if other landowners in your area are harvesting timber, ask if they have a contractor they recommend.

If you don’t have any luck going that route, you can also ask forestry professionals or timber associations for recommendations.

This is a tried and true way to ensure you end up with someone who has social proof.

bulletCheck credentials

Contractors must have the necessary certifications, licenses, and insurance to perform the work you’re hiring them to do.

This can vary from state to state, but do some background research and ask them for their credentials.

You don’t want to get farther in the process and realize that they lack this information.

bulletReview references

When selecting a contractor, ask for references and then go through the process of checking them.

Call the number listed and have a conversation about the contractor’s track records.

Here are some questions you can consider asking their previous employers.

  1. Would you use this contractor again without hesitation?
  2. Were you pleased with the quality of work they did for you?
  3. How close was the preliminary estimate to the final contract price?
  4. Did work crews show up on time?
  5. Was the project manager on site every day?
  6. Was the supervision adequate?

bulletObtain multiple quotes

To secure the best deal in your area, reach out to at least three companies.

This will allow you to understand the services that harvesting contractors offer along with their price point.

Additionally, you may find that work better with certain personalities than others.

While lower price points often seem more favorable, it can often be worth it to spend a little bit more money to work with someone you are comfortable with.

bulletDevelop a contract

Always get a written contract that outlines the terms of the harvest.

This will make sure that everyone is on the same page, and that there are no uncertain terms to your agreement.

At a minimum, you should include the payment schedule, harvesting methods, and post-harvest responsibilities.

8. What are the post-harvest responsibilities of landowners?

The job isn’t over after you complete a harvest.

Here are some of the post-harvest responsibilities landowners have on their to-do lists.

Performing these tasks is essential to maintaining the health and productivity of your forestland as well as complying with regulations and best management practices.

bulletReplanting: Following a harvest, replant the area with the appropriate tree species.

This will allow the forest to regenerate and maintain soil stability.

bulletMonitoring: You’ll need to monitor the site for any issues, including erosion, invasive species, or wildfire damage.

Be sure to take proactive steps to mitigate any of these issues before they occur.

If something does occur, then it taking the steps to address it immediately is essential.

bulletTaxes: Be sure to report the income from the timber sale on your tax return and pay any applicable taxes.

If you don’t do this correctly, it can really hurt your bottom line when Uncle Sam comes to all!

Avoid putting yourself in this position.

bulletPlanning for the future: Don’t get complacent after a harvest.

The time to plan for the future is now.

We suggest creating a long-term forest management plan for your forestland, so you can understand how any potential timber harvests or other activities will impact your land or management system.

9. Is logging the same as timber harvesting?

Yes, both logging and timber harvesting involves cutting trees down.

However, timber harvesting requires higher standards.

Thus, anyone who hopes to do this on their land will need to follow federal, state, and local regulations.

10. Is there anything else I should know before timber harvesting?

Here’s a final list of tips and advice you should consider before timber harvesting.

bulletConsult with a state forester before a harvest.

They’ll help you set long-term goals and recommend ways to harvest that will support these objectives.

bulletMark the trees you would like to harvest yourself — or have someone trusted (who knows trees) do it.

To mark them, paint at the base of the trees, so you know that only the marked trees were cut.

bulletVisit your property frequently when they are harvesting your timber.

This ensures the accountability of the loggers and ensures they are following your specifications.

bulletMark your property boundary so the loggers know where your property stops and your neighbor’s property begins.

bulletDon’t allow logging right up to bodies of water as it can cause erosion and make the water less desirable for aquatic species.

Final Thoughts

Timber harvesting is a valuable way to manage your land.

As a landowner, it’s not only a way for you to generate income, but it’s also sustainable.

If you carefully plan how you harvest, you’ll be able to generate harvests year after year.

That said, it’s vitally important that you plan carefully, consider the environmental impact of your actions, use best management practices, and comply with local, state, and federal regulations.

By doing this,  you can achieve your objectives and promote forest health and productivity.

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Erika Gokce Capital

Disclaimer: we are not lawyers, accountants or financial advisors and the information in this article is for informational purposes only. This article is based on our own research and experience and we do our best to keep it accurate and up-to-date, but it may contain errors. Please be sure to consult a legal or financial professional before making any investment decisions.


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