The Timber Company

Blending Forestry and Logging


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Changing of the Tide in Pine Plantation Management: Right or Wrong?

In 2011, I first started to notice the changing tide of young pine plantation management–the unthinkable was beginning to occur–people were opting to clear-cut their young pine plantations versus thinning. In fact, as of 2014, this practice was becoming, if not prolific, a standard practice.

The initial change in management came, I think, because pine pulpwood prices were at historic highs during the winter months of 2011-2012, and winter pricing as continued at a very high pace. Another reason for the change, I think, is from the explosion of in-woods chippers. The draw here is that “we will come in and clean-up your tract, and you can replant it with faster growing pine trees”. A final reason for this change is that some older landowners are opting to take the money now because they don’t know if they will reap the benefits of the thinning down the road. One final thought about the reasons: 2013 and the beginning of 2014 have been very wet. Ground conditions have been terrible for logging, so one consequence of this is that the need for high ground that can withstand logging has been in high demand. So, buyers have been paying a premium for pine plantations on high ground.

Through 2013 and into 2014, this trend has continued, and for the same reasons above. However, pine pulp prices are even higher. I have to admit that I have lost business because of my management style of thinning to grow sawtimber. I have been forced to offer the option of clear-cutting these young plantations because everyone else is.

Is there a scientific way to determine if this is a good practice? There is, and I can show you through scientific and financial analysis if it would make sense to clear-cut and start over or to manage your trees through a series of thinnings. I can help you answer the following questions:

  1. What is the price point where I should consider clear-cutting my young plantation?
  2. If I thin, how much will I make, and what will my future earnings be?
  3. What are my future opportunities with regards to saw-log markets?
  4. What if I clear-cut and replant now and repeat the same process in 15 years? Will I be better-off doing this?

I encourage all landowners to take a close look at all of their options, not just clear-cutting your young plantation because as one landowner told me–I was all wrong about thinning. She said, “We will get more money if we clear-cut versus thinning.” Well, she was right, but when you thin, it’s a given that you won’t make as much money then because you are leaving 50%-60% of the trees. But what you are doing is helping the trees to grow into more valuable products besides pulpwood.

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Why should I thin my trees?

Did you know that the trees in your forest are competing for survival? “This struggle for existence…is so fierce that it reduces the growth and well-being of all the trees in the stand” that, truly, only the strongest survive; the weak have no chance for survival. The weak will die and rot where they fall; when the weak trees die, they create growth openings that allow the stronger trees to get even stronger. Why do the strong keep getting stronger? With the weak tree dead and lying on the ground, that is one less tree taking water, soil nutrients, and sunshine.

Thinning one time is the normal course of action for most landowners. But your trees will continue to compete for resources even after they have been thinned. That’s why, when possible and feasible, I recommend multiple thinnings on the same pine plantation.

This timber management style of multiple thinnings is a planned interval of thinnings, over a period of time, to keep your best trees healthy, vibrant, growing and producing at optimal rates, and increasing in value. You remove surplus trees that are suppressed and otherwise inferior in quality to the others, in order to concentrate the potential plant production on a limited number of trees (limiting growing resources to the best trees).