- What? The services independent consulting foresters offer may include management plan development, timber sale administration, permitting, timber marketing, inventory and appraisal, property mapping, forest management advice, coordination of contractor services, and other tasks.
- Why? Why it’s important to invest in a trusted consulting forester: Working with a forester who knows the local logging companies, means they can help you make sure you are working with a good logger who will take care of your land, protect wildlife habitat, and look out for your financial outcome. Once a logger has been contracted, a consulting forester will continue to check in with the logging company as a job progresses, to make sure they are meeting their deadlines and are taking care of the land so it can remain healthy.
Hiring a consulting forester can seem like a big commitment as a landowner, when in reality, if you are planning a sustainable harvest, it's one of the best choices you can make to benefit wildlife habitat, protect your natural resources for the long term, and provide increased profitability from your timber. To help us understand the unique role a forester can play for landowners, we interviewed Stephan Tomlinson, a prominent forester in Northern Alabama, to hear about the work he does for his clients, how market conditions are affecting their choices, and everything in between.
WoodsCamp has been working with a local team to build a list of trusted consulting foresters so landowners like you can connect with someone who will help you achieve your goals. These independent foresters share a stewardship ethic of “caring for the land”, while maintaining a focus on protecting your interests in a timber harvest.
We asked Stephan how working with a consulting forester would benefit a landowner.
He shared with us a story where a local landowner brought him a contract which had been developed by a logging company. This was a contract which was not favorable to the landowner—they would have lost a significant amount of money if the contract had gone through the way the company had constructed it. Stephan recognized the contract was not beneficial to the landowner and found a way to get the landowner out of the contract and into a better relationship.
“I have some clients who I do everything for them on their land - I plan harvests, I manage their boundary lines, I engage a logger, supervise their harvests, and make sure the work is being done in a way that protects their land for the future too.” Other clients may only want a single specific service, such as advice on planting or making sure their boundary lines are clearly marked out. Regardless, working with an independent consulting forester gives a landowner expert advice they need to make the right choice for their land.
Working with a consulting forester who knows the local logging companies means, they can help you make sure you are working with a trusted logger, who will take care of your land and maximize your profitability on your sustainable timber harvest.
“There are essentially three categories of logging companies. The first are people who are going to take advantage of you. They’re going to cut every corner they can and not take care of your land—they are solely interested in profit. The second group of people , for the most part, are going to take care of you—they may cut a few corners here and there, but they will still do a decent job and leave your land in good shape. The majority of companies fit in this category. The third group are people who are going to be incredibly protective of your land and make sure there is as little disturbance as possible.” Working with a consulting forester who knows the local logging companies means they can help you make sure you are working with a trusted logger. Stephan also recommended talking to other people who had contracted with specific logging companies to find out more about their experience. Once a logger has been contracted, Stephan continues to check in with the logging company as a job progresses to make sure they are meeting their deadlines and are taking care of the land so it can remain healthy.
“A foresters training is based on how to maximize the growth of trees,” Stephan says. This training is invaluable when it comes to also deciding how to plan a harvest so you are harvesting trees at the right time, to maximize their value. However, the anticipated market does not always match the projected growth rate for trees. In other words, just because you have a harvest planned, does not mean it will be the right time in the market for it to happen. What happens then?
The markets in northern Alabama are currently very depressed. Stephan explained this was due to several factors, the most important being access to deep water ports. When the housing crisis happened in 2008, the forestry industry also took a large hit. Once the economy recovered, there was once again a market for forestry products—but it was focused on coastal areas. The Gulf coast, east coast, and west coast all have a market for forestry products, meaning that landowners can have a harvest on their land and have it purchased by a local mill. Once the mill has a final product, being close to a deep water port means they are able to get their product to market more quickly and for a lower cost—driving demand for forest products.
Northern Alabama is too far from the coast to take advantage of the improved market. As a result, the markets in that area have not seen the same recovery and the mills are not actively processing as much product as they used to. For a landowner, this means that while their trees may be ready to harvest according to their long-term management plan, the local mill may not be able to pay a price that makes the harvest investment worth their while.
For landowners who have long term goals and have been waiting to do a harvest, this can be frustrating. “Usually I recommend they wait on their harvest—it’s a long term thing, and waiting a few years won’t damage the value of the harvest too much, plus if the markets improve it will be better for them.” Stephan continued to speak about a situation where a mill had not filled their quota and they reached out to him to see if he knew anyone who may be interested. Because he has a number of clients who he knew were delaying their harvest, he was able to help connect a landowner with the mill. This was a win win, because the landowner was able to have their harvest completed with a higher return and the mill was able to fill their quota.
There are times when landowners will need to turn a harvest around quickly though—regardless of their long term goals. Perhaps a financial situation has changed. In these situations, working with an independent consulting forester will make sure you are as close to your goals as possible. They may be able to negotiate a fair price for you and keep your land healthy at the same time. “If a landowner isn’t going to make money from it, I usually won’t recommend they do it,” Stephan said, “It doesn’t make sense to make a recommendation for them that won’t be profitable—and I won’t recommend they do something that won’t make them money in the long run.”
While the above post focuses primarily on Stephan’s point of view, we have been working with a local team to vet consulting foresters so we can provide landowners like you, with the same ethics of “caring for the land”, while maintaining a focus on profitability. Some Consulting Foresters may charge an hourly rate for consulting, but most are looking to form a longer term working relationship and may be willing to help you with some initial advice and defer costs until you agree on some work together. This could include investing in a management plan, paying a commission to your forester on your next timber sale, or even setting up an annual property management arrangement. The key is to find someone you trust, and the cost will be more than worth the peace of mind you get from increasing both the value and health of your forest over time.
Want help connecting with a local trusted consulting forester? WoodsCamp can help!
Book a call with Mary for more information, or to set up a time for a visit with a forester.