Thursday, January 31, 2019

Seven Fat Cows 2.6: Rick's Dilemma

Rick’s dilemma was that he did not know very much about managing wood lots and even if he did he would not have time.

He knew he could count on the two farmers to ride herd on wood cutters. The problem was managing the woods that were growing on the land of absentee owners.

Drinking coffee with a retired forester who lived south of Eaton Rapids filled in some of the gaps on woodlot management. Some trees just need to be cut: Trees with bad form, widow-makers, dead trees, senile trees, trees with low-value wood that are shading out more desirable species.

On the other hand, there are some trees that will continue to grow in value and serve as seed sources for valued species: Oak, Sugar Maple and Walnut with good trunk form, Niche players in tough spots and any kind of nut producing tree.

Some species benefit from clear cutting. Many of those species are pioneer species that are not shade tolerant. One of their adaptations is to produce a gazillion, vigorous root sprouts. Selective cutting of these species results in diseased trunks and substandard growth.

The forester’s very broad rule-of-thumb was to clear cut sites that are dominated by species with wood that rots quickly. He had seen too many cottonwood, aspen and soft maple that were booby-traps for the unwary. They looked fine on the outside and were hollow on the inside

The only species he considered suitable for allowing to grow beyond 24" diameter were prime black walnuts and oaks in the white oak clade. They had sufficient rot resistance that it was worth the risk to let them continue growing.

Some species thrive on selective cutting. They need a lot of competition to produce tall, limb free trunks but then need more light to gain girth and volume.

The forester also had advice on herding cats.

“You need a contract.” Bill said. “You aren’t the first guy to run into this and you won’t be the last.”

Rick asked, “What kind of contract?”

“You have been beating around the bush, but it sounds to me like you have a limited partnership/general partner situation. You have lots of stakeholders and you need one person to run the show.” Bill replied.

“What keeps the limited partners from cheating?” Rick asked.

“Ah, that is the easy part. The general partner holds the contract with the mill and the trucking company. The guy who cheats...his logs rot in the woods unless the limited partner wants to do a ton more work.” Bill said.

“How do you pick a good general partner?” Rick asked.

You don’t pick them.” Bill said with a wintry smile. “It doesn’t work if you pick them. It has to be the group of partners. The general has to be somebody they respect. There will be times when they don't like him or what he decides, but they have to respect him.”

Things were starting to shape up for Rick. It might be possible to avoid a train wreck if the neighborhood simultaneously ramped up the production of super-trees and “milked” the harvesting of existing timber so existing stocks lasted five years.

He figured the first year would be easiest as dead ash, fence rows and senile trees were harvested. After that, blocks of the lowest value “trash trees” to be cut in a checker-board pattern with a plan to have them last three or four years. Finally, selectively cutting the highest value parcels the last year as the super-trees started reaching stove-wood size.

Next Installment


  1. A few things to consider: your general partner needs to be a leader because if your neighborhood protective association doesn't have one you are hosed. On the wood business, all winters are not the same. Also since you just did a write up on green wood you know seasoning time is necessary preferably at least in covered piles although dropping trees just after they leaf out and waiting to buck them until the leaves wilt can speed things up especially for small trees that will not be split. Your copice wood should grow fast enough to fill in in five years but I doubt it will logs that will hold a fire for hours. The medieval copices and hedges were often used as bundles (fagots) and peasants didn't usually keep fires beyond cooking.

  2. Agree with Howard on the leader's quality.

  3. A good consulting forester is golden. One of the best in my area is a landowner who educated himself and spent a bunch of time in timber with me. He began doing tree planting projects, and is now marking and selling timber, plus supervising timber stand improvement jobs. He is impeccable at tree identification and timber scaling. He has built a solid reputation with timber buyers and seems to have boundless energy. I would like to say I made him, but I just showed him a few of the ropes and he ran with it. He is making many landowners happy.

  4. Dying and downed trees benefit the entire ecosystem.

    Removing the source of composted nutrients for future trees seems short-sighted...

    1. I agree to a degree. I leave some dead trees standing for cavity nesting birds.

      I have been surprised at the dearth of beetles in my brush piles. I expected far more of them.