Why Plan?

Harvest Practices


Single Tree Selection

photo illustrations: Shari Hawley

These illustrations show two of the primary ways to harvest: single tree (or selective cut) and clearcut. If your management plan calls for aesthetics or recreation that requires forest cover, you should avoid doing any clearcuts.

You’ve likely heard the adage that failing to plan is planning to fail. This is especially true of your forest management plan. Conducting a timber harvest or other management activity without a plan won’t necessarily make your harvest a failure, but it's pretty risky.

These next steps are likely to require the assistance of a forest professional. Before you take any action, carefully consider the advantages of working with someone who is specifically skilled in forest management, timber harvesting and timber marketing.

The How-to's of a Management Plan

A management plan describes your property, goals and a schedule of activities for the woods or portion of the woods. Generally the larger the acreage and the more diverse the woodlands, the more detailed the plan needs to be. If you’re like most forest owners, you have a limited amount of time to devote to forestry work. A well thought out plan will help you set priorities for the work that needs to be accomplished.

The Who, What, When, Where, Why and How of Your Management Plan:

1. Map of your Property — This is the 'where' of your plan. Make sure you mark the legal boundaries, natural features like streams, coves and caves and include any signs of human disturbances.

You may also want your map to include details about the major kinds of trees and the size of trees on the wooded portion of your property. For planning purposes, it's often helpful to treat a large or diverse forest as several unique parcels or woodlots. These divisions may separate large or mature timber areas from those areas having only pole size timber or an old field that is just restocking. In forestry terms, a group of trees that is relatively uniform in size/age or soil type/ topography is called a stand.

It is helpful to know some of the basic terminology used in a timber cruise. Individual trees are typically measured by diameter at breast height or dbh. This measurement is taken 4 1/2" up the tree from the ground. There are measurement sticks and calipers that calculate this measurement. Or you can measure the circumference around the tree and divide it by 3.14.

Timber volumes can be expressed in cords, cubic feet or the most commonly-used term board feet. Volume measurements attempt to estimate the number of square feet of 1” thick boards (board feet) which can be sawed out of a given log or tree. Technically a board foot is a unit of wood measuring 144 cubic inches. A 1-inch by 12-inch shelving board that is 1 foot long is equal to 1 board foot.

photo: Sara Thilman

Core sampling is a common method used to accurately identify the age of a tree. In addition to counting the tree rings, it also gives indication of growth spurts or stunts often due to weather conditions.

2. Management Goals and Objectives — This is the ‘why’ section of your plan. This can be a few short sentences about your goals and expectations from your forestland. If you complete the activity worksheets Prioritizing your Objectives and Family Resource Inventory, you’ve got most of your bases covered.

Include any pertinent details that may dictate forest activity. For example, if you plan on using income from timber to offset tuition costs for your youngest son, include this and the year he plans on starting college. Even if you plan on working with a forestry professional, it's up to you to communicate your goals and objectives. In turn, a professional will tailor their advice to best meet your needs.

3. Management Activities and Timeline — This section, describing the what, how and when is the meat of your management plan. Using the corresponding map, you will specify your management goal or priority and a course of action for each woodland parcel or stand. See the case studies section for examples of different landowners’ priority and the management activities recommended.

Determining the right management activities to accomplish your goals is as much art as it is science. That is why you should work with a natural resource or forestry professional.

Timing of Forestry Activities
If you have trees ready for a commercial harvest or plan on conducting timber stand improvement, you need to time your harvest according to a couple of factors. The first is weather. Harvesting operations should be carried out when the least damage will be done to soil and water. In Kentucky, harvesting should take place during the driest times of the year, usually between July and September. Avoid the spring if possible. This is growing season for trees so they’re more vulnerable to damage. Extremely wet weather also poses a hazard. If you’re contracting with someone to do the logging, be sure to specify, and include in the contract, alternate provisions for poor weather conditions.

Economics of the timber market is another important harvest consideration. Timber markets are highly variable, since they are related to economic fluctuations like interest rates and consumer preference. Timber harvest can be delayed if prices are low and resumed again when market values rise. If you choose to work with a consulting forester, they will advise you of market conditions and the best times to harvest.

4. Who Will Conduct Management Activities?

Harvesting Timber Yourself
If you have some forestry experience you may choose to harvest timber yourself. Be wise about this though. Logging was recently ranked as the most dangerous occupation in the country, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Harvesting timber even with reliable equipment is very labor intensive. Don’t jump into a large scale operation. Plan on cutting a few trees over the course of many years, rather than harvesting all of the desired trees at once. Smaller-scale logging can be carried out with horses, mules or small tractors, which can cause much less damage than large equipment.

See the preharvest page for more information about alternative harvest methods that are available for small-scale operations. Even with these lower impact methods, you still need to follow Land and Water Protection Measures to protect the surrounding trees, soil and water.

HIGH GRADING — A harvesting technique that is detrimental to the long term health and value of your forest. High grading removes only the biggest and most valuable trees from a stand, leaving a residual stand of trees in poor condition or poor species composition. Historically many forest stands in Kentucky were harvested this way. In order to increase the productivity and integrity of our forests, a more enlightened approach to harvesting is necessary.

Do-it-yourself logging requires do-it-yourself marketing. Marketing involves preparing a timber sale notice, making it available to various bidders, and preparing a timber sale contract. Not all sawmills are willing to buy small lots of timber. Don’t make the mistake of cutting your trees first, and then trying to find a buyer, as logs can be considered a perishable commodity.

Harvesting timber yourself can be satisfying and financially rewarding. It is a good feeling to know you remain in control of your forest resources. Landowners who have harvested their own timber say that it is a learning process. Some offer the suggestion of working with a small-scale operator first maybe an experienced friend, neighbor or specialty harvester like a horse logger to learn the ropes. Your local state conservation district or service forester may be able to help you make these contacts.

Who Can Help With My Timber Harvest?
It is important to note the difference between a logger and a professional forester. A logger cuts down trees, cuts them into logs and transports them to a processing plant. A logger is primarily focused on how to extract timber from the forest. Since many loggers take a cut or percentage of the yield, they are interested in maximizing the yield and minimizing the costs. At times, these short-term objectives may be in conflict with your long-term goals.

photo: Sara Thilman

By contrast, a professional forester is trained in all aspects of forestry and forest management. Their training is in the applied science of reproducing and growing a forest in order to fulfill stated management objectives. A forester can help you assess your current forest and develop a plan to reach your future goals. A forester can be a necessary middle person between you and the logger. If it is necessary to hire a logger to harvest timber, it is important to have a professional forester work with you to assure the management practices performed is in line with state requirements and most importantly, the goals you set.

The Kentucky Forest Conservation Act requires that every commercial logging operation in Kentucky have a trained Master Logger on-site and in charge at all times. Don’t be afraid to ask a logger to see his credentials.



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