Danville man helps private landowners manage their forests

October 20, 2004|JOHN T. DAVIS

With all of the highly publicized disputes over national forests in Kentucky, you might think that most of the state's timber is government-owned.

But you would be wrong. More than 90 percent of the forest land in the state is privately owned.

"Private landowners are responsible for providing management of wood products, habitat for wildlife, water quality, areas for hunting, nature walking ...," said Christopher Will, a Danville resident who as a consulting forester helps landowners deal with those responsibilities.

Will operates Central Kentucky Forest Management as a sole proprietorship of which he is the only employee. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in forestry from the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Foresty in Syracuse. After working for 13 years in the forest products industry, mostly in the area of log and timber procurement, Will started his own forest management business in 1999.

"The business was created with two objectives in mind," Will said. "To provide private timberland owners with a timber sales process that protects their interests and to provide forest management services that allow landowners to manage their forests for the long-term and in a sustainable way."


A plan is needed

To protect the value of their forest land, property owners need to plan ahead, Will said.

"People don't really think about forests in terms of management until there's need or some question about selling timber," Will said.

"The most important thing people can do would be to develop a forest management plan, which can be quite simple or complex depending upon their goals and objectives."

A management plan should be completed even before property owners consider a timber harvest, Will added.

To develop a plan, the consulting forester meets with the landowner to determine his goals and objectives for the land. Then the forester collects data on the forest's health, tree species, age and density (number of trees per acre) of the trees, and timber quality. After he has collected the data, the forester can make recommendations on such courses of action as thinning the forest, making openings to improve wildlife habitat, planting trees or harvesting trees.

"If an objective is to improve deer habitat, you can remove some trees to encourage growth close to the ground to provide forage for the deer," he said. "Or you may want to increase the forest area by planting old pasture with tree species."

If the landowner is looking to sell some timber, Will is able to appraise the value of the timber for the landowner rather than as is done in most cases, having the purchaser establish that value.

Will said having the timber buyer set the price is like asking, "How much would you pay for my house? ... That may be a dangerous business strategy."

If the timber is valuable enough, Will said, a consulting forester can solicit bids from several timber-buying companies to make sure the landowner receives fair market value.

"Once a contract is signed, I also do oversight of the timber harvest to make sure they follow the terms of the contract," Will said. "I do that through oversight, and I also require a damage deposit.

"I'm very selective about who I invite to bid openings. I want to have someone who has the reputation and experience to do the job right."

Most common method is "cut on share"

Most timber in Kentucky is sold without the use of a consulting forester, Will said, and the most commonly used method is "cut on share," in which the landowner receives 50 percent of the revenue generated at the sawmill.

Will encourages his clients to sell their timber on a lump-sum basis, in which the landowner receives the full amount of money at the time the sales contract is signed.

There are several advantages for the landowner of using that method, he said. The landowner doesn't have to constantly monitor the logger to make sure he's getting 50 percent of the proceeds, and there is also a difference in the way the sale is taxed.

In most cases, Will said, a lump-sum sale is treated as a capital gain, which usually has a lower tax rate than cost-sharing.

"A lot of people don't realize that until they've already done it and they're sitting in front of their accountant," he said.

Another service Will provides is timber trespass appraisals.

"Sometimes landowners or loggers may not have complete information on a boundary line," Will said. "That's the best case scenario. The worst case is that loggers may see something they want across the boundary line and cut it down."

By having a forest management plan and updating it periodically, landowners can make sure that cases of timber trespass do not go unnoticed. When a trespass has occurred, Will can determine damages by measuring the size of the stump, and he also can give expert testimony in court on behalf of the landowner.

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