I am an associate professor with Washington State University Extension Forestry. I provide education and assistance to small-forest landowners in six Puget Sound counties.
I try to keep up with forestry news in the area, and I have been reading the KP News’ series on logging on the Key Peninsula. There are a few things that would bring greater clarity to these stories.
In the first article (“Logging Laws on the Key Peninsula,” January 2017), the case study presented really isn’t about logging or forest practices. Squatters clearing land illegally are quite different from a small-forest landowner using a professional logger to harvest timber to send to a mill and then replanting. The people in this story were not practicing forestry. As such, it should be a separate issue from that of forest practices on the peninsula.
The story in the second article (“Clear-Cuts Increasing on the Key Peninsula,” February 2017) gets more to the heart of forestry, but something seems very off to me in this story. For that couple to have been paid $4,000 an acre for 60-year-old trees is a travesty. Timber that age should have been worth at least $20,000 an acre, not $8,500, unless there was something really wrong with it.
The story also states that the landowner got 50 percent of the stumpage fee. Stumpage, the value of standing timber, is the mill value minus the logging and hauling costs. In other words, after the logger is paid to cut and haul the timber, all of the stumpage value should go to the landowner. Either something is missing from this story, or the landowner got a really raw deal.
Our job at WSU is to educate landowners on forest stewardship. When we do workshops on harvesting, our No. 1 piece of advice is to hire the services of a professional consulting forester. The logger’s job is to buy the landowner’s timber for as low a price as possible. The landowner should not expect his or her financial interests to be represented by that same logger.
An independent forester works solely for the landowner, and is responsible for getting the landowner the best deal possible. The forester will take care of the permits, inventory the timber, market the timber for the best price, work with the logger, draw up a contract that protects the landowner’s liability and ensures compliance with that contract, including slash disposal and reforestation.
A forester may work at an hourly rate or for a small percentage (e.g., 5 percent) of the logging proceeds. I have seen cases where loggers put pressure on the landowner to eliminate “middleman” costs and cut the forester out of the equation. In one example, the logger pressured the landowner to fire the consultant and accept $33,333 directly from the logger. The landowner stuck with the consultant and the winning bid for the timber was $150,000. Not only that, but had something gone wrong (fire, injury or death, forest practice violations), the landowner’s liability would have been protected because of the consultant’s contract ensuring the logger was solely responsible for his actions.
Only six counties in Western Washington support a WSU Extension Forestry education program; most, including Pierce, do not. There are other resources available, including the DNR Small Forest Landowner Office, which provides technical support and on-site consultations; the Pierce County Conservation District and the Pierce County chapter of the Washington Farm Forestry Association. These are great resources for landowners on the Key Peninsula.
Kevin W. Zobrist
Associate Professor, Extension Forestry
Washington State University