Frequently Asked Questions:
How much are my trees worth?
The value of trees:
Trees have many different attributes that can be valued, and some forests are even invaluable, but from a legal perspective there are two primary considerations for the value of trees: Trees as timber or trees as part of the landscaped real estate.
Trees as timber:
First of all, I really need to address this question first, since I experience it several times a year:
“How much are the 12 Walnuts/Cherries/Oaks/Maples growing in my yard worth?” Answer: More than likely the best use for these are firewood, since it will cost you to have them removed. There are some exceptions to this, but they are rare. Keep reading!
The primary reason such trees are not of value is that sawmills realize such trees often contain steel fasteners that have grown into the wood over time. These imbedded objects cause significant damage to the mill equipment. Such objects are potentially lethal during milling operations. Workers have been killed by flying metal pieces which are a result of the steel or carbide teeth hitting these objects. Other considerations are as follows:
Quantity: There is an old woodsman’s saying that goes “One tree doesn’t make a timber sale”. The reason for this is that timber sales are production operations. The first requirement for a timber sale is timber: You need to have an appropriate number of trees to sell. A bare minimum number is approximately 60 trees. I have been involved in projects as small as 6 acres, but most sales involve hundreds, if not thousands of trees over 40 acres or more. For 60 trees to meet the minimum criteria of a timber sale, they better be premium in the following categories...
Species: Different species of trees have wood with different characteristics. These characteristics determine how the wood can be used. Each species of tree has a different financial value associated with it that is based on the demand of products that can be made from it. Different species of trees also have unique ways to re/generate, which may affect how they are harvested to ensure a sustainable wood product resource over time.
Size: It should be obvious to everyone that you can’t saw a 12” wide board out of a 10” diameter tree, just like you can’t saw a 16’ long board out of a tree that is 12’ tall. Product classes of wood such as sawlogs and veneer have minimum size requirements to make mill production practical and efficient. The diameter of timber trees is most often measured at breast height, or 54” above the ground. Generally, the larger a tree is, the more wood you can get out of it, the exceptions being addressed in the next category...
Quality: While it may be obvious to everyone that you can’t saw a 16’ long board out of a 12’ tall tree, it may not be obvious when even a 6’ long board cannot be sawed out of a tree that is 100’ tall! The reason for this is varying wood quality. Wood quality is affected by too many factors to list here. In most cases, a tree that is fully sound with very little taper, branchless until a height which is well up into the canopy with very few physical defects is worth far more as timber than a tree that is heavily branched, unsound, diseased, or has other defects.
Other value issues:
One of the most important values that is often not considered is the future condition of the forest after the timber is harvested. If the timber is [has been] mismanaged (e.g. wrong/too many/not enough/ trees are cut, residual trees are dinged up, best management logging practices ignored, cull trees fail to be girdled or removed, etc.), your woodlands may [have] become a financial liability!
Access to the trees, stem density, harvesting conditions and restrictions, market conditions and trends, fuel prices, and other issues also affect the value of trees as timber.
Landscape value of trees:
Trees and all plants growing within the boundary of the real estate property are part of that real property (when trees are cut into logs they are legally converted into personal property). In most cases, the value of the landscape specimens cannot exceed that of the parcel(s) they contribute to, since they are part of that parcel.
In some areas, there may be laws (typically local ordinances) that specify what a tree or plant is worth based on a replacement cost standard. Where there are no such laws, market factors for replacement cost may come into play. In areas where there are no obtainable local prices, or for situations that do not warrant a replacement cost appraisal method, the species, location and condition factors of the trees are the basis of landscape appraisals. In some cases, there are special factors that have to be considered and thus the appraisal value is adjusted based on those factors as well.
Most of the time, a tree that is clearly set in a maintained landscape is worth far more financially than it’s equivalent in a non-landscaped environment. In all cases, the appraisal of landscape tree values is a complex matter best handled by an experienced professional.
I get contacted several times a year regarding timber theft. Usually it is involving loggers that for whatever reason have moved onto an adjacent property where they do not have permission to cut from a parcel they were legally logging. The loggers then cut and/or damage a few (usually less than a dozen) trees. More often than not, the logger was not able to see the property boundary - or they may have been using a fence because the landowner of the parcel they are legally logging told them the fence was the boundary, when in fact the fence was not the property boundary - or it was, yet there is more than one fence present.
These sorts of situations are almost always preventable by having a timber sale boundary line painted. However, on most timber sales without the use of a forester, this isn’t done. If your trees are gone and the logger hasn’t contacted you, you need to act quickly!
The first thing to do is talk to the logger in a calm manner and make him or her aware of the situation. They should apologize and offer to pay for damages at that time. If they don’t, make sure you let them know that you expect them to pay for the damages. Regardless of their answer, you should call a forester to visit the property so a damage value can be established before you make a “deal” with the logger. It doesn’t cost much to have a forester estimate the value of a dozen trees or less (in most cases). This way, you make sure you are paid a reasonable value for the damages.
Most of these small incidental trespass situations are settled between the parties because the cost of bringing a suit is higher than the value of the trees, but these situations vary substantially, so it depends on the specifics.
This leads me to the next point: prevention. You stand a smaller chance of experiencing a logging crew encroaching your land if you have your land surveyed and posted with “NO TRESPASSING” signs (the legal requirement for Michigan is 1” tall lettering and posting “conspicuously” throughout the property - not just the roaded sections). I would recommend using the signs that include your name and contact information on them so it is clear who owns the property. To prevent recreational trespass through prosecution, you need special signs to cover the loopholes in the Michigan laws. For more information about this, contact me!
When you have a case of clear trespass where someone has cut numerous trees on your property without your permission, you need to to consult with an attorney immediately. I would recommend seeking an attorney who is experienced with these types of cases or one who specializes in real estate law. You should consider hiring a forester under guidance from your attorney.
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Caveat Emptor! (Latin translation: Buyer beware!)
There are many reasons why someone would want to purchase woodlands. The first thing you should consider is what you intend to do with your parcel.
Costs, location, soils and other natural attributes, access, topography, bordering lands (neighbors), and other factors should be considerations in woodland purchases.
All real estate parcels are unique in what they offer for the landowner(s). Before you purchase land, you should check to make sure the land is conducive for the use you have in mind for it. Woodland parcels are NOT created equal. It is likely that one tree (or other given species of vegetation) will grow better on that parcel than another based on the site characteristics that are unique to the parcel.
Often I’m asked what type of land to invest in for long term potential timber income. My answer remains the same: High site index land for the timber species that has shown to have the most consistent and highest values over time, matched with being fully stocked in poletimber sized trees of that species. In Northern Michigan, that would be either Red pine planted in suitable management densities >5” average diameter or Northern hardwoods with a high percentage of Sugar maple and Black cherry >8” average diameter, neither having been cut for 15 years - at least - and without signs of having been previously high graded.
If deer hunting is your primary interest, you should be looking for land that contains premium deer habitat - resources that make up that habitat vary depending on the regional location of the land.
Your interests may not be deer hunting or timber production, but other uses, or a mix of uses - the key to getting the most out of your land purchase is matching your intended use or uses with what the land can offer.
A realistic idea of the costs and revenues associated with woodlands ownership is an important issue: What are the taxes going to be? Is it even feasible to manage the timber to receive occasional revenue from the land (hint: some trees cannot or should not be managed in a “selection” thinning process). Does that government tax abatement program I want to put the land in allow improvements to the land - what about other restrictions of the program - will there be other costs associated with this? These are all questions that should be answered before the land is purchased.
After the purchase price, taxes are the most obvious cost landowners face. There are ways to reduce them, but the foremost consideration is how the local taxation entity assesses the tax liability on the parcel.
Make sure you can access the land. Do not assume that you can use a private or even public right of way to access private land. The access may be controlled or restricted. Any restrictions need to be spelled out clearly in the title to the land. Although you may not be able to forsee all the characteristics associated with the land ownership, you should be aware of as many as you can be before purchasing the land. Feel free to contact me for further assistance in this matter.