SUMMITVILLE, Ohio – Two days after Christmas 1992, Dave Coldwell chopped firewood in a neighbor’s forest.
When he overheard this neighbor talking with a lumber company about selling some timber, he felt sick. The company offered $2,000 to clear-cut her 40 acres of woodlands. She demanded $2,500 and they settled on $2,250.
Dave didn’t want to interfere with the woman’s business, but after the company left, he explained she was getting a bad deal.
They called an attorney and had the postdated, signed contract destroyed.
And Dave took over as an amateur consultant, guaranteeing she’d be in for a surprise when it came time for payday.
That winter, Dave and his three young sons trudged through the forest, marking trunks with red paint and later sending out bids to lumber companies.
The winning bid? $21,500.
And the forest wasn’t clear-cut. They left enough high-quality trees for her to have another sale in five years.
This happy neighbor told everyone about her great sale, and other landowners started calling Dave Coldwell for help, too.
Coldwell Timber Consulting LLC was born.
Learning. But Dave already knew a thing or two about trees.
Even before he began his 28-year career at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife, he was interested in forestry, soils and fisheries.
After going to college and working for Mount Gilead State Park, he wanted to go into either forestry or wildlife. Although his career path followed wildlife, his personal path followed forestry.
After working for ODNR for three years, he became a field supervisor in Stark, Columbiana and Carroll counties. He and his wife, Lisa, insisted on waiting to buy a house until they found the perfect one.
One afternoon as they drove around looking at property, Dave found an old country home on a road too remote to warrant a sign. The house in southern Columbiana County included 20 acres, which were contiguous with hundreds more.
Shortly after the Coldwells moved to their new home, Dave contacted nearby property owners. It took many years but eventually as the owners decided to sell their land, they called Dave.
Now the Coldwells have 585 acres, 90 percent of which they’re managing as forestland.
Taking time. But with tree farming, it isn’t as easy as buying a forest, cutting some wood, and making some money.
In fact, the Coldwells haven’t even harvested their own woods, although some of the previous owners had timber sales.
Instead the family realized the two keys to tree farming: patience and planning.
“You plan decades in advance, and what you’re planting now won’t be ready to harvest for 80 years,” Dave said. “You can’t be impatient. It’s a slow process.”
So why do it?
For the satisfaction, Dave says. To protect the land, to watch something grow, to plan for future generations.
At work. Although Dave and his sons understand the importance of patience, not everyone does.
Sometimes you spend three hours walking through someone’s forest and then say their trees aren’t ready for a harvest, said Dave’s youngest son, Jared.
Wait 10 years, the Coldwells sometimes recommend.
But people don’t like to hear that.
They could still have a harvest and make money, but that doesn’t mean the timber is ready to be cut.
The latter stages of growth are most important, Jared said. For example, a tree that’s 15 inches in diameter might have 125 board feet. But wait another 15 years, the tree will be 19 inches in diameter and the board footage will double.
When people harvest prematurely, they have to wait much longer before having another harvest, possibly up to 40 years, Dave said.
They don’t realize if they harvest the right trees at the right time, there’s potential for income from additional timber sales, Dave said.
“Look at your forest land as an investment over the years, not a one-time shot,” Jared said.
The Coldwells believe this so strongly that if someone is adamant about continuing with the harvest before the forest is ready, they pull themselves from the job.
Harvest plans. As the Coldwells’ trees age, Dave’s middle son, Jed, hopes to set up a 15-year harvest rotation.
“If [a tree] won’t improve in the next 15 years, we’ll get rid of it,” he said. More sunlight can get to the trees when the less desirable ones are removed.
To make their 15-year rotation happen, the family is breaking their forest into units, based on stages of development. They hope someday the harvests can be rotated between woodlots, so there’s marketable timber somewhere on their property every year.
Diversity is key, Jed said. The Coldwells have harvest-sized trees down to seedlings, 27,000 of which were planted in the last three years.
Varying ages and species also create more habitats for wildlife, Jed said.
Other benefits. Although the Coldwells manage their forest with a No. 1 goal of timber production, they also enjoy the aesthetics of trees and the wildlife habitat.
Years ago, Jed suggested planting pine trees throughout the forest so it wouldn’t look bare in the winter and to offer cover for wildlife.
All avid hunters, the Coldwells say they have grouse, turkey, deer, fox and just about any other Ohio wildlife.
If people are just in forestry for the money, they might as well break up their property and sell it for development; the recreational aspect is almost as important as the dollar signs, they said.
(Reporter Kristy Hebert welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 23 or by e-mail at email@example.com.)
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