ON WATCH

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SALEM, Ohio – Four years ago, Joe Timko came home and found a business card tucked in his front door that permanently changed his view of the forestry world.
When he called the number, the man said he did timber harvests and wanted to take a look at Timko’s 14 acres in Mahoning County, Ohio.
Timko knew his woodlot needed cleaned up. He had furniture-grade lumber that was worth some money and by getting it out of the forest, he’d make room for new trees to grow.
The man came out and Timko said they walked the forest together, marking trees that could be cut, working up a contract, and finally settling on a price of $5,000.
He figured that bid was a little low, but the guy seemed nice and committed to doing a good job, so Timko signed his name and got $2,000 upfront.

Starting to panic

After 15 logging trucks had left his drive and trees were still being cut, Timko said he started to worry. There was no way they had marked that many trees, was there?
And then there was the damage he said covered his property: 8-inch ruts in his driveway, his new lawn churned up, logs being stacked across his grass, the siding ripped off his house, the underground telephone cables destroyed.
Timko complained repeatedly and he said the company promised to fix the damages, not to worry.
But it wasn’t until the end of the harvest, when he walked back into the woods and noticed a black walnut on the ground, 20 inches in diameter, that he realized he was really in trouble. He said he’d specifically handwritten that into the contract: No black walnuts should be taken.
Timko said he demanded answers the logger wouldn’t give.
The next day, he said the man pulled his crew and his equipment and left … left Timko with the damage to his house and yard, with cut treetops still hanging in the forest canopy, with logs scattered on the ground, and without his remaining $3,000.

Upsetting news

Months passed. Calls went unanswered or ignored, Timko said.
Both parties hired attorneys and spent years arguing it out in the court system.
By the time they settled the case last Christmas, Timko had received the rest of his money, although he still wasn’t fully compensated for his property damage or that black oak, he said.
Even with the rest of the original $5,000, Timko still felt sick to his stomach.
At the advice of a friend, he’d hired a forester to go through his property, look at the tree stumps and treetops, and estimate how much and what species of timber had actually been harvested.
The forester, Timko said, estimated the logger had taken up to 30,000 board feet, maybe more. And it should’ve been worth at least $21,000.

Speaking up

Timko isn’t the only landowner who’s been scammed, but he’s one of the few willing to talk about it.
Forester after forester can tell similar stories – some worse – about the logger showing up on the widow’s doorstep, about the low-ball bids at only a fraction of the timber’s worth, about the stripped forests, about the hush-hush cases now in court.
It comes down to education, forestry experts agree.
Many landowners don’t realize how much their timber is actually worth, others don’t know there’s free help available to them, and others think they know enough to handle a sale themselves.
But that’s where the trouble starts.
They don’t have someone watching out specifically for their needs, said Jed Coldwell, whose father started a family forestry consulting business after he saw a neighbor almost cheated out of $19,000 in a bad deal.
“I wouldn’t mind working on my car myself, but I know I don’t have the tools or the knowledge,” said consulting forester Randy Clum.
It’s the same with trees, he said; find an expert to help.

Two sales, two outcomes

Bill Lipscomb hired a consulting forester earlier this year as soon as he decided to harvest 106 acres in Wellsville, Ohio.
But that was only because he’d already been burned.
Five years earlier, Lipscomb figured he knew enough about the timber business to handle a sale on another 114-acre parcel.
Although he did get his money for the timber, he said his woodlot was left in ruins. Roots were trampled with equipment, trees were uprooted, broken cables were thrown on the ground, and the timber roads were a mess.
In the most recent harvest, however, the consulting forester managed the sale and made sure these issues were addressed early on and monitored, Lipscomb said.
Yes, he had to pay 10 percent of what he made to the forester, which is what he was hoping to avoid the first time around, but the difference is this:
In the first sale, 200,000 board feet were sold and he’ll be lucky if it’s recuperated from the damage in 30 years to have another harvest.
In the second sale, he made a little less money, but half as much timber was sold and the forest will be ready for another harvest in 20 years. Plus, this woodlot is healthier than ever.

Auctioning timber, too

A lack of knowledge is what makes some landowners anxious to accept strangers’ offers when they knock on the door, forestry experts agree.
Even Darryl McGuire, an auctioneer who specializes in forestry, has logging company representatives stopping at his house with offers.
But he’s had years of experience and knows those bids rarely reflect what his timber is really worth.
Much of his business, however, comes from landowners who receive an offer this way and want to see if he can do better.
He takes a look at the woodlot and agrees to sell the timber only if he’s sure he can get the landowner more money, even when his commission is subtracted.
By holding an auction, with many buyers and many bids, McGuire said the least he’s ever gotten a customer is $4,000 over the original bid. And the most was recently … $300,000. A company stopped at a landowner’s home in Parkman, Ohio, and offered $70,000 for the timber. Instead, McGuire sold it at auction for $370,000.
Like a consulting forester, McGuire said his services include marking trees, enforcing a contract, and supervising the property after the last log leaves and restoration is completed.

Moving on

Joe Timko is still sore over getting stung by a logger, but he’s quick to take his part of the blame.
“I was the stupid one,” he said. “Why didn’t I catch it? He seemed so doggone trustworthy.”
Everything is obvious now, he says. He never should’ve gone with just one bid. He should’ve done his homework, talked with other logging companies, recruited help from a forester.
“Part of the blame is on me,” he admits, “but the pricing and gouging is on him.”
“What can you do? You can’t bring the trees back.
(Reporter Kristy Hebert welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 23 or by e-mail at khebert@farmanddairy.com.)

Foresters agree:
Get help from an expert
By Kristy Hebert
SALEM, Ohio – Only about 15 percent of people having timber harvests get help from consulting foresters, estimates forester Jed Coldwell.
Not all of these other landowners are being taken advantage of, he said, but they may be able to get better deals and have healthier forests for future harvests.
“Every day, people sign agreements that aren’t to their benefit or their woods’ benefit,” said Andy Ware, the Ohio Division of Forestry’s assistant chief.
Getting help. It’s not all about hiring a consultant, though, said consulting forester Randy Clum.
At the very least, contact your area’s service forester. In Ohio this is through the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Forestry, and in Pennsylvania through the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Bureau of Forestry. These are trained experts whose services are free. (See related side.)
Service foresters can take a look at your woodlot, talk with you about your plans and determine if it’s ready for a harvest.
And if you insist on doing your own sale, do homework. Find a reputable logging company, one that belongs to the Ohio Forestry Association. Be sure they have best-management-practice training, and ask for at least three references.
Look deeper. Don’t just go by an ad in the newspaper, Clum said, particularly if it says the person is a forester and a timber buyer. It’s impossible for someone to ethically represent both the landowner and buyer, he said.
Also, be sure all the trees you want to sell are marked, he said.
Otherwise, one logger may offer $20,000 and clear-cut your trees, while another company will do a select cut for $15,000, but leave you with marketable timber in another 15 years.
(Reporter Kristy Hebert welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 23 or by e-mail at khebert@farmanddairy.com.)

Find your forester

State service foresters will come to your woodlot, help you come up with a management plan and advise you about a timber sale – free of charge. Find your region’s forester here:

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