The State Forest Timber Sale Process
By John Friedrich
There are numerous steps and phases in creating a state forest timber harvest. A state forest timber harvest generally starts with a tract inventory. A tract is the basic management unit on the state forest where site specific management decisions are made. Tracts are generally 50 to 150 acres in size, and are contiguous landholdings with boundaries that follow physical features such as roads, streams, etc., or property lines.
Tracts are visited on a periodic basis to assess overall condition. Many tracts on state forests have records dating back over a half century showing the change in forest condition and past management impacts. The tract inventory is the primary tool in the assessment as it provides information on the composition and condition of the trees on the tract. A grid of inventory plots is established across the tract. Trees within each plot are measured and their condition is assessed. In addition, the inventory forester will take note of and record other information, such as overall condition of the forest, wildlife encountered, forest regeneration, and features.
This inventory information is then analyzed for a variety of factors. For example, by comparing the stocking level (the amount of area occupied by trees usually measured in basal area) to standard central hardwood stocking guides, it can be determined if stocking is getting too dense. When the density of trees gets high, competition for light, nutrients and water increases. Under high stocking, trees are stressed and high mortality is occurring or soon will occur. A check of species composition may also show large numbers of tree species that are susceptible to insect attack (such as ash) or drought stresses (such as yellow-poplar). Or it may show a non-native tree species planted to reclaim an old field that is rapidly declining (such as red pine). Stocking, tree species composition and age structure helps to determine if any management activities should be considered.
Landscape and regional level conditions also come into consideration when planning management activities. Federal inventories of the forestland in Indiana show a maturing forest. In the past half century, the amount of forestland in Indiana considered mature sawtimber has risen from half of the acreage to almost 80% of the acreage. In the meantime the early successional seedling-sapling stage of forest has declined to 7% of the forest acreage, down from being a quarter of the forestland a half century ago. A recent article in Forest Science highlighted this lack of diversity in age and structure in forests in our region as a result of human influence. This has consequences for future plant and wildlife diversity. Ruffed grouse, one well known bird that is highly dependent on early successional forest for brood rearing and cover, has declined from a very common forestland bird three decades ago to being on the verge of extirpation from Indiana. With an increased emphasis on age and structure diversity and a maturing forest, more early successional forest is being created in the last decade using group selection openings and small clear-cuts. The current level of group selection openings and clear-cuts being created annually on state forests is around 450 acres per year with an average size of just under 3 acres each. This comes to about 5% of the annual acres harvested, or about 0.2% of the total state forest acreage.
Planning a timber harvest not only includes looking at the big picture, but looking at site specific considerations. One of those considerations is rare, threatened, and endangered species that have a known occurrence in the area. This data is gathered from a review of the Natural Heritage Database which stores information on known occurrences of species and communities. The requirements of these species can vary. Some may need holding off of management. Some may not be affected by any management. Others may benefit from significant management.
Another consideration is looking at features that occur in the area. This includes natural features such as streams. Riparian zone considerations regarding water quality and biological diversity guide management activities near streams. Cultural features are manmade items and sites such as structures and roads. Management activities would take into account the presence of any cultural features.
Once all the information has been gathered and analyzed, a recommendation on management needs for that tract is created. This recommendation is included in a report called the Tract Management Guide. This guide summarizes all the site specific information listed above as well others that are considered such as the history of the tract, soils, recreational uses, and invasive species issues. Within the Tract Management Guide, recommendations include everything from letting the tract grow, controlling invasive plants, doing timber stand improvement, improving roads, managing recreational uses, protecting sensitive areas, conducting a timber harvest or any combination of these activities.
The draft management guide is then posted on the Division of Forestry website for public comment. The goal of this posting is to determine if there is any site-specific information known by the public that was not considered in the guide. Certain sensitive information about some cultural sites and sensitive plant/animal species is left out of the website posting to avoid providing location information that could facilitate unlawful collection or similar activities. Once the comments are reviewed for any relevant information that would require consideration or changes, the guide is finalized.
If management activities are recommended in a guide, those activities can then be completed. If one of those activities is a timber harvest, work on that harvest can be completed. Once a harvest is considered ready for sale, a review is done to ensure all the steps and considerations have been covered. The logistics of timber removal and hauling are always major considerations of the review. Once the sale has been cleared to proceed it is ready for advertising.
The timber sale is generally advertised three ways. First sale notices are sent out to around three dozen licensed timber buyers in the area. Second, the sale is listed in legal ads in two area newspapers. And third, the sale is posted on the Indiana Forestry Exchange website. This advertising may result in some buyers looking at the sales on the ground. Other buyers may be content with just reviewing the sale notices.
To ensure a fair market value, bids for state forest timber sales follow the standard government practice of requiring sealed bids. Bids for sales must be received by the date and time of the bid opening listed on the sale notice. These bids can be delivered in person or can be mailed in as long as they arrive in time. At the prescribed time the bids that have been received are opened. The highest qualified bid wins the timber sale. A bid may not be qualified if it arrives late or the bidder is not licensed. Timber sale contracts include provisions to follow established forestry best management practices.
Once a timber sale contract is executed and a sale payment is made, a bidder may begin harvesting timber per the conditions of the contract. The harvest operation will receive periodic checks to ensure compliance with timber sale contract conditions such as ensuring only designated trees are harvested. Once the harvest is completed timber stand improvement work may follow in order complete management work. The tract will then be set to grow for many years.
The process to sell timber on a State Forest is more complex than for private landowners, but many of the same principles apply. Woodland owners should have a forest inventory conducted and a management plan written by a professional forester. The forester should mark the timber sale, conduct the sale using the sealed bid method and follow up to ensure compliance with the timber sale contract.
John Friedrich is a Property Specialist with the Indiana Division of Forestry. John’s career with the Division of Forestry began in 1984 as Timber Specialist at Jackson-Washington State Forest, where he later became Property Manager. He assumed his current position in 1993 and has since taken on many additional duties including property accounting administration.