Selling Trees and Timber: Questions and Answers

Many landowners ask this question: “I have ‘X’ amount of acres in forestland and the trees appear to have value, should I sell them, what should I do with them?”

To help you make a decision about selling your timber, ask these questions:

  • Have the trees reached a size and age for their “peak” potential maximum value?
  • What are our goals for our forest and will removing the trees meet these goals?
  • What will the forest look like several years after the trees have been removed?
  • What laws and regulations cover removing trees?

Your forest may be valuable by many definitions. You may see this value in dollars, or other intangible benefits. Whatever value you place on your forestland, use the services of a professional forester. The cost of their advice is minimal compared to the amount of responsibility we all have in contributing to the environment, economy and society by the management of our forestland.

Determining value

Trees can be valuable several years before the tree reaches a maximum size. Allowing a tree the time to reach a mature size will allow you to obtain a much greater value for the timber. For example, a Loblolly Pine can be sold as early as 15 years of age. However, at this young age, it is only valuable as pulpwood, a low value category. Allowing the Loblolly Pine to grow for 30-40 years, with proper management, may more than double the value of the timber.

Get professional advice

If you're approached by a timber buyer trying to purchase a young stand of timber, get professional advice from a forester before making a decision. A private forestry consultant or personnel from the Virginia Department of Forestry can provide this information to you. Depending on the type of timber and the status of the timber market, you may obtain the best value from your timber by harvesting it young. In other cases, it may be more beneficial to allow the timber to mature in order to get the full potential for future timber value.

Have a plan for your land

Determine what your goals are for your forest before making a decision to remove timber. Often, landowners who sold their timber based on the price regret their decision. The intangible benefits of a forest, for hiking, biking, hunting or aesthetics, can be more valuable than the price tag that a buyer puts on the trees. If these benefits are important to you, you may want to consider managing your forest to provide these intangible benefits. If you know what you want from your property, you will be better prepared when you're approached to sell your timber.

Appearance of the land

Before harvesting, consider the appearance and condition of the land after the trees have been removed. The sight of a barren area, after trees existed on it for decades, is appalling to some people. Like a crop of corn that is replanted the following year, a forest should also be replanted to provide a product for the next generation. Generally, landowners do not reforest because of the expense involved, and that they will never see the money or benefit in their lifetime. Others may not reforest because they feel nature will renew the forest on its own. Reforestation is essential to ensure that forest products are available for future generations.

After the timber harvest

The advice of a professional forester is recommended for reforestation. Some sites have good quality soil and have the potential to produce a highly valuable forest by regenerating naturally. Most areas, however, have moderate to poor soils and will require planting trees to produce a productive, high value timber. Allowing a poor site to reforest with natural seedlings is unproductive for the land and leaves little potential for a future income to the landowner.

A forester will be able to determine the potential of your site to produce valuable timber either naturally or planted. If you decide to harvest your timber, seek advice from a professional forester to reforest and follow their recommendations. After your land has been harvested, any time lost in reforesting will add to the cost necessary to prepare and plant trees on your land, lost time that could be growing used for growing the seedlings.

Landowners can receive financial assistance through cost-share programs sponsored by the state. These programs can help pay a percentage of the cost to reforest. If you are considering having your forest logged or have recently had some land logged we can visit your site and give you appropriate recommendations.

Laws and regulations for timber harvesting

The landowner, the logger and the timber buyer must follow the laws and regulations during timber harvesting. These guidelines, the Water Quality Law and Best Management Practices, are made to protect the soil and water resources on your property. Unnecessary destruction and abuse to these resources will greatly affect the future production potential of your land and others within your area.

The Water Quality Law protects streams by:

  • requiring the use of that culverts or bridges to cross a stream,
  • requiring that loggers stabilize heavily impacted areas by establishing vegetation and installing water diversion structures, and
  • leaving an undisturbed 50 foot buffer zone on both sides of the stream.

By following the law, loggers will minimize the impact that logging has on a stream.