I admit, I am a little partial as a registered forester and land broker, but I do truly believe timberland ownership can be one of the best and most rewarding investment options. Below are five helpful tips for any owner of timberland.
Determine Your Ownership Objectives:
It is important to know why a landowner has invested in timberland real estate and communicate that clearly to his/her advisors. Ownership objectives vary widely among landowners and most folks own land for a combination of reasons. There are usually one or two primary objectives for owning. Examples may be income from the sale of timber; recreational use like hunting, fishing, or riding ATVs; conservation of wildlife and habitat; family legacy; or investment for future higher and better use. Each of these objectives will require unique management activities to increase the probability the objectives are realized for the owner.
Create a Forest Management Plan:
It is hard for anyone to hit a target if they do not have something to shoot at. A forest management plan is a critical document for any owner of forestland. Typically prepared by a professional forester after consultation with the landowner, the plan serves as a guide for the management of the land, typically a 10-year horizon. Components of the plan may include property description, forest stand type map, forest stand descriptions, management prescriptions for each timber stand over the planning horizon, a timeline or schedule of activities the landowner should expect, and a log section where the landowner can keep notes on their activities. Having a plan and following it will increase the chances the owner’s goals are met.
The ownership of timberland comes with liability and risk like any investment. It is important for the owner to understand those risks and mitigate them as best as possible. Major risk to the loss of timber include fire, wind damage, insects, and disease. Each of these risks can be reduced using good forest management techniques with professional assistance.
Landowners can have liability exposure from trespassers and recreational users depending on the laws in their state. It is wise to understand those liability issues and protect against them. Liability insurance policies are available to protect landowners from accidents that may occur on their property. It can also reduce liability if property boundaries are clearly marked and posted to deter trespassing.
Take Advantage of Incentive Programs and Tax Benefits:
There are many incentive programs available for the owners of timberland. Owners should consult with their consulting forester, state forestry representatives, their local extension agent, or their local USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) office to determine what programs are available and how they may be able to benefit. These funds may offset the cost of reforestation, property improvements, wildlife management practices like prescribe burning, plantings, or other activities.
Most states have reduced property tax programs for owners of timberland. The programs tax the property based on its current use rather than market value. In areas where timberland is near urban areas, this can be a substantial annual savings for landowners.
It is also equally wise to have a tax professional and/or an attorney that is well versed in timberland to advise on annual income tax return and estate tax issues. A great resource for landowners is www.timbertax.org. This website has information on a wide range of tax topics relevant to forest landowners.
Seek Professional Assistance:
Timberland is best optimized with the assistance of a professional manager.
For many landowners, the best source of professional assistance is a consulting forester. The consulting forester is a trained professional that works on behalf of the landowner making sure the landowner’s objectives are met and their best interests are represented. They can assist with the preparation of forest management plans, timber marketing and sales, reforestation, silvicultural treatments, wildlife management, and hunt lease management, to name a few.
This assistance can greatly enhance the growth and value of your trees at maturity. Professional foresters have knowledge that can shorten the time to maturity for timber, improve species composition of your timber stands, and the quality or grade of lumber produced from your timber when sawn. The forester can make recommendations for treatments that can be done by the landowner or by private contractors that improve the owner’s timber stands during the rotation period.
The service of a professional should more than pay for itself for most owners.
About Chris Miller:
Chris Miller is the Operations Manager for American Forest Management’s Carolinas region and has been with the company since 2005. As a licensed real estate broker and registered forester in both North Carolina and South Carolina, he practiced as a consulting forester for 12 years prior to focusing on land brokerage full time. Miller specializes in the sale and acquisition of timberland, agricultural, recreational and conservation properties.
About American Forest Management, Inc.:
American Forest Management, the nation’s largest land management firm, offers a suite of services including land and habitat management, real estate, timberland inventory and sales, environmental practices and technical services. Headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina, American Forest Management serves clients across the country with 49 regional offices and oversees more than 6.5 million acres of land. For over 50 years, it has been the industry’s leading company, coordinating land transactions valued at over $3.2 billion. For more information, visit americanforestmanagement.com.