Forest Cutting Plans
The Massachusetts Forest Cutting Law requires that a Forest Cutting Plan be filed to the Bureau of Forestry for any commercial timber harvest which exceeds 25 thousand board feet (MBF) or 50 cords on any parcel of land at any one time.
Forest cutting activities that are exempt from
the Forest Cutting Law are:
- Right-of-ways for public utilities and public highways.
- Farming, pasture, or pasture maintenance.
- Non-commercial use (less than 50 cords) by a landowner or their tenant unless cutting more than 10 cords in a wetland resource area.
- A change of land use from forest to some other use such as housing, etc. when permitted by town or city.
- Small commercial timber harvests less than 25 thousand board feet (MBF) or 50 cords. However, if you are not sure whether to file or not, file anyway because this will afford you protection from the Wetlands Protection Act.
An approved Forest Cutting Plan provides landowners with an exemption from the Wetlands Protection Act and the Rivers Protection Act provided the plan is followed especially in regards to stream crossings, wetland crossings, and harvesting timber in wetlands.
All abutting landowners are notified of the Forest Cutting Plan within 200 feet of the cutting area and whose property is not separated from the cutting area by a public road.
The Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program (NHESP) ensures the protection of rare wetlands wildlife habitat and high priority sites of rare species habitat. The Bureau of Forestry reviews all Forest Cutting Plans to determine if the proposed timber harvest falls within these areas. If the harvest is within one of these areas, NHESP reviews the Forest Cutting Plan to determine if the proposed timber harvesting will impact the habitat and suggest measures to lessen those impacts such as limiting the harvest to frozen ground in the winter. The Forest Cutting Plan is then modified to incorporate the appropriate mitigation measures.
Buffer strips are required along all public roads to maintain the visual quality of the landscape.
Filter strips are required along streams and other bodies of water where no more than 50% of the basal area (a measure of tree density) can be cut.
Erosion and sedimentation from timber harvesting operations caused by skidding and trucking of logs is controlled by using water bars, temporary bridges, culverts, and drainage ditches.
Slash is the treetops and branches that are left on the ground after a timber harvesting operation. The Slash Law requires that slash be disposed various distances from roads, streams, water bodies, and abutting landowners to minimize fire and other hazards. The amount of slash can be reduced for aesthetic purposes by utilizing as much as the cut trees as possible and by lopping all slash to less than two feet from the ground where it will decompose more readily. However, leaving some slash on the forest floor is necessary for nutrient recycling purposes and for wildlife habitat.
Timber Sale Administration
The most important decision landowners can make is when and how to harvest their timber. The best way is to have a Forest Management Plan first and use a consulting forester who will represent your interests rather than the interests of a logger or sawmill.
I know the current timber markets and fair prices for standing timber. Studies have shown that landowners can make a lot more money on a timber sale by using a consulting forester rather than by selling their timber directly to a logging or lumber company.
Proper thinning can double the growth rate of the healthier and higher quality trees while increasing the value of your forest and property. So it is important to remember that the objectives of any timber harvest should be to improve your forest and achieve your goals.
Nuts and Bolts of a Timber Sale
- Review Landowner’s Objectives and sign Consulting Forester Agreement.
- After making sure boundary lines are established, forester marks the trees to be cut. Any stream and wetland crossings are also marked in the woods at the point where the logging machinery will cross these areas to access marked timber.
- Provide Landowner with the tally of marked trees. This is the number of marked trees by species, diameter class, and total volume for each species. An estimated value of the marked timber is also provided with the expected bid range. Hike through the woodlot with the landowner(s) to inspect the marked trees prior to cutting.
- A Forest Cutting Plan is filed with the MA Bureau of Forestry and a copy of the plan is also sent to the local Conservation Commission. All abutting landowners that are within 200 feet of the harvest area are notified by certified mail.
- A “Notice of Invitation to Bid on Standing Timber” is sent to reputable forest products companies who are invited to a “Timber Showing” on a specified day and time where they can inspect the marked timber for sale. If interested, the companies submit sealed bids. Note: if the Timber Sale is small or consists almost entirely of low value timber, then it may be necessary to negotiate directly with a Timber Buyer rather than go through the bid process which may not attract any bids.
- Bids are opened and reviewed with the landowner. The high bidder (Buyer) is contacted, awarded a contract, and signs a Timber Sale Agreement. The Buyer provides a copy of their insurance certificate, a performance bond, and deposit. Balance of payment in full is received by landowner prior to the start of the timber harvesting operation.
- Consulting Forester supervises the timber harvest and ensures that the approved Forest Cutting Plan and the Timber Sale Agreement are followed. At the end of the job, Consulting Forester inspects the woodlot to make sure all terms were complied with, and if so, the performance bond is released back to the operator.
Timber Harvesting Considerations
After a landowner and a consulting forester select a licensed timber harvester to do the job, the most important factors for a successful timber harvest are:
- Avoid damaging the higher quality trees that will remain after the timber harvest. This is done by directional felling and operating the logging machinery with care.
- Minimizing the amount of slash which is the treetops and branches that are left on the ground after the timber harvest is completed. The amount of slash can be reduced by utilizing the small tip logs for firewood or pulpwood and by lopping all slash so it is no higher than two feet from the ground where it will decompose more readily.
- For mechanized operations which employ whole tree harvesting, there is very little slash left behind because the treetops and the low value timber are chipped and used as biomass. However, there is usually still enough fragmented slash left in the woods to aid in nutrient recycling. If this is a concern, more slash can be left behind.
- Harvest at the right time of year. Spring mud season is a bad time to harvest because the logging machinery can cause deep ruts, damage wetlands, and cause erosion. Mud season can also occur in the fall. Often, the best time is in late spring, summer, or early fall when the ground is dry and the soil will be scarified which will help some tree seeds germinate especially white pine. If endangered species such as turtles or salamanders are present then winter when the ground is frozen is the best time when they are hibernating.
- If there is a serious threat from non-native invasive plants, then winter when the ground is frozen is also the best time so the soil will not be scarified which might facilitate the spread of these plants.
A shear thins a white pine, hardwoods forest stand in Petersham, MA. By being able to grab, cut, and lift the marked trees, this machine can place trees down on the ground without damaging the high quality trees that will remain after the timber harvesting operation is completed.
A biomass improvement cutting in a white pine forest stand on a 120 acre woodlot in Orange, MA. This forest had been repeatedly highgraded in the past leaving a badly degraded forest. After the improvement cutting, the forests productive potential is greatly increased.
Five years after an improvement cutting was done on this 220 acre woodlot in Athol, MA the red oak and white pine trees in the background are growing at a faster rate while new white pine and hardwood saplings are growing in the foreground.
Four years after a commercial thinning on a 100 acre woodlot in Royalston, MA the remaining high quality white pine trees have more space to grow at a higher rate. Note the nice pitch pine in the right foreground retained to provide more forest diversity.