The biggest problem in the forestry sector is that the majority of private forest land is in poor condition because of widespread liquidation cutting over the last 1/2 century. Liquidation cuttings, which are also called high-grading, diameter limit cutting, or “selective” cutting, are the hidden plague of private forest land. It is sometimes referred to as “cutting the best and leaving the rest”. It is the cutting of most if not all of the very best and high value trees such as red oak, sugar maple, cherry, and good white pine above a minimum size (usually 12-14 inches in diameter at chest height), while leaving the poorest and lowest value trees such as red maple, beech, hemlock, and low quality white pine.. The destructive practice of liquidation cutting has occurred on the majority of private forest land in Massachusetts despite a Forest Cutting Law which was written to promote good forestry!
- Negative Effects of Liquidation Cutting:
Since the healthiest trees with the fewest defects are cut, the overall health of the forest is reduced.
The remaining trees are more susceptible to the damaging effects of insects, disease, and storm damage and less able to recover after these disturbances occur.
Since many of the trees that are left have been suppressed or are suffering from defects, they won’t grow as quickly as the better quality trees, so the value of the next harvest will be greatly reduced.If you magnify the effects of liquidation cutting across a region, then more acres must be harvested to meet the same or increasing demand for high quality timber.
According to the latest U.S. Forest Service Inventory & Analysis data for Massachusetts, high value red oak growing stock is being cut 20% faster than it is growing, while low value red maple, beech, and hemlock are becoming much more predominant. In other words, a lot of private forest land has turning into junk forests! In addition, since many wildlife species such as deer and wild turkey depend on the mast of acorns as a food source, the liquidation cutting of oak, sugar maple, and cherry has been detrimental to wildlife ecology as well as forest biodiversity.
Since the relatively small but high quality 12-14 inch diameter red oak and other hardwoods and white pine can increase in value at 10-20% per year, these harvests are a very poor financial decision for landowners. Would you liquidate any other asset that was increasing 10-20% per year? No way!
After one or two liquidation cuttings, the forest is finished commercially for as long as 50 years or more! In contrast, a well managed forest can provide periodic income forever as well as provide for superior wildlife habitat, watershed protection, and recreational opportunities.
On Bureau of Forestry-approved Forest Cutting Plans, a lot of timber that is cut on private land by unscrupulous operators is not paid for. Landowners get ripped off for millions of dollars every year! This is mostly due to timber buyers who deliberately undertally tree volumes on trees that they mark and cut. In addition, an approved Forest Cutting Plan does not guarantee that the plan will be followed. Some of the ways that an operator can change an approved plan are: stealing unmarked trees; marking additional trees after the plan has been approved; and falsifying mill scale slips if that was part of the contract. State Service Foresters do not check timber volumes and may only inspect the job a few times. It should be said that there are many honorable licensed timber harvesters who do outstanding work. So it is important that if you are thinking about selling some timber on your woodlot that you seek the advice of a consulting forester because we know who the bad guys are and they don’t get invited to our timber showings when we put timber out to competitive bidding.
- Why Liquidation Cutting has been so common:
The Bureau of Forestry has allowed anyone to prepare and file Forest Cutting Plans. The exception to this has been those properties which have either a Chapter 61 Forest Management Plan and/or a Forest Stewardship Plan which do require a Licensed Forester to prepare. However, these properties represent less than 20% of the total amount of private forest land. Many Forest Cutting Plans are filed by loggers, sawmills, timber buyers, and some industrial “foresters”. These operators often sell diameter limit cutting as good forestry to landowners. They might say, “We’ll cut the big mature trees to let the smaller immature trees grow faster” when any real forester will tell you that this is nonsense.The Bureau of Forestry has refused to enforce the existing Forester Licensing Law which says in part: “Licensed Foresters shall advocate and practice land management consistent with ecologically sound principles”. Therefore, the Bureau of Forestry should reject any Forest Cutting Plan filed by a Licensed Forester that calls for a liquidation cutting but they do not. This is equivalent to allowing a doctor to commit malpractice!
The truth is that very few landowners want to liquidate the timber from their woodlots. They are just talked into it by fast talking loggers, timber buyers, sawmills, and some industrial “foresters”.
The Bureau of Forestry has failed to abide by the intent of the Forest Cutting Law (Chapter 132) which states in part that “the public welfare requires the rehabilitation, maintenance, and protection of forest lands for the purpose of conserving water, preventing floods, and soil erosion, improving conditions for wildlife and recreation, and protecting air and water quality, and providing a continuing and increasing supply of forest products for public consumption and the wood using industries of the Commonwealth.” Liquidation cutting defeats all of these purposes!
- Hope for the Future:
Because of the political pressure put on the Bureau of Forestry by some of us real practicing foresters, the Bureau is currently updating the Forest Cutting Law regulations. In the future that agency says that all Forest Cutting Plans must be for good forestry. In addition, it will be imperative that only Licensed Foresters be able to file all Forest Cutting Plans because the Forester Licensing Law says that “No person shall hold him or herself out as a forester and engage in the practice of forestry in the Commonwealth, unless licensed”. Since preparing Forest Cutting Plans is the practice of forestry then only Licensed Foresters should be able to prepare them.Good forest management is ecologically, economically, and socially responsible. Good silviculture enables people to get what they desire from forest land in a sustainable way. This includes improving timber production, forest health, wildlife habitat, biodiversity, recreational opportunities, water quality, and aesthetics. In conclusion, by enforcing the existing Forester Licensing Law and the Forest Cutting Law, the highly destructive practice of liquidation cutting can be eliminated. Then we can begin the massive job of restoration forestry on the over 2 million acres of private forest land in Massachusetts for everybody’s benefit.
Mike Leonard, Consulting Forester
North Quabbin Forestry
February 10, 2007
Posted on the tree is a Forest Cutting Plan Certificate issued by the Massachusetts Bureau of Forestry on a woodlot in Phillipston, MA. This permit gave the operator official approval to conduct this liquidation cutting which has effectively destroyed the future productive potential of this woodlot. The question is if the Forest Cutting Law was written to promote good forestry, then why are permits being issued for this forest destruction?
The operator “took the best and left the rest”. The Massachusetts Bureau of Forestry used to have the audacity to call massacres like this a “Forestry Operation” until my colleague and fellow consulting forester Joe Zorzin put a stop to it.
Here we have more state approved forest destruction. Did the absentee landowners really want this or were they talked into it by the timber buyer?
After the best trees are cut in a liquidation cutting, one remedy is to do a restoration cutting by promoting any remaining good trees by removing many of the junk trees that were left uncut. But what if there are very few if any good trees left? In addition, how can a forester sell a restoration cutting if there is little or no value in all those poor quality trees that were left?
So the lesson here is that you should always get other opinions before you make a decision to sell any of your timber.