In search of the money ‘tree’

Jun. 15, 2013 @ 05:51 PM


I wouldn’t necessarily recommend investing your entire retirement nest egg in pine trees, but forestland does have the potential to provide a nice return. Well-managed timber tends to increase in value (depending on market conditions, of course), and can provide loads of enjoyment to the owner in terms of hunting, hiking, picnicking and more.

Your County Extension Center is one of several agencies that provide information and support to forest landowners. Probably the most common question we receive is “When should I sell it and how do I get the most money?”

It is certainly a valid question, but admittedly not my favorite. I’d much rather talk about the benefits of thinning and prescribed fire, and how such practices benefit not just your bottom line, but also habitat for wildlife and native plants.

But when it is time to sell, it pays to tread carefully. It is a transaction that most landowners conduct once or maybe twice in a lifetime. And while the timber industry is largely peopled with ethical, honest, hardworking individuals, the landowner is at a clear disadvantage due to inexperience.

Often the inquiry comes from those of you who have acquired family land, and your first call should be to the local Forest Ranger (i.e. Division of Forest Resources). If a management plan was ever created for the property, they would likely have a copy, and that will prove helpful in determining if the trees have reached maturity.

If no management plan is available, you might ask the Forest Ranger to come and visit. He or she can help you determine whether it would be more advantageous to sell now, or to wait a few years.

If you decide to proceed with a sale, your next assignment is to find a registered consulting forester who can assist you. There are many that work in this area, and I suggest you interview three or four to discuss what services they can provide and how they will be compensated (often a percentage of the sale).

As indicated above, the consulting forester will charge a fee for their services (e.g. soliciting bids, marking property lines, monitoring the harvest, etc.). Research shows that they earn it. Their efforts typically help the landowner receive a better price, and the land is left in a more productive state for the next generation of trees.

It may be tempting to ignore that concept of “the next generation of trees.” After all, we’re talking about a crop with a 40-year cycle. And replanting takes time, money, and careful planning. But if there’s even a small chance that you or your loved ones can reap the benefits, you’d be wise to consider making the investment.