Deciding when to cut timber on your property, and in what manner, is one of the most important decisions a woodland landowner can make.

When it comes to agriculture commodities like row crops or cattle, if you make a mistake you can recover in a relatively short period of time. Such is by no means the case with trees, warns University of Tennessee extension forestry specialist David Mercker.

“Acting too quickly is probably the number one mistake people make when they cut timber,” Mercker told the Center Hill Sun.

Going beyond the old carpentry saw about measuring twice before cutting once is prudent. It pays larger dividends to look long and think hard before you log, said Mercker.

“Trees take such a long time to grow. You don’t want to make a mistake in the name of turning some quick money, and then end up regretting it,” he said.

Marketing vs. Selling

Mercker has authored a handy how-to guide for approaching the complicated decisions that arise when planning a timber harvest. The manual, available online, is called “Marketing Timber in Tennessee (A guide for family forest owners).”

marketing timber in tnThe guide isn’t written for landowners looking for fast money by hurriedly and heedlessly “selling” their timber to the first bidder.

“The term selling timber is vague, implying a very simple transfer of goods for money. There’s a better, more comprehensive and methodical way – marketing timber,” Mercker writes. “Marketing implies following proven chronological steps to arrive at a favorable result through advance planning, careful implementation, diligent oversight and responsible closure.”

Marketing timber entails calling in professional advisors to help plot out “an intelligent, proven process with regard to the steps that you go through,” he said.

David Mercker, University of Tennessee extension forestry specialist

David Mercker, University of Tennessee extension forestry specialist

Mercker’s first recommendation is that a landowner who is thinking about hiring a logger start the process by putting in a call to a Division of State Forestry forester (see sidebar on for area forester listings). The woodland owner should come away from that conversation with a general list of issues to keep in mind, as well as contact information for private forestry consultants who can aid in developing a conservationally responsible and financially prudent forest management plan.

“My recommendation is that everyone contact a professional forester — and not just one, but several, and get advice from all of them,” said Mercker.

That advice is echoed by Keith A. Argow, president of the National Woodland Owners Association. Argow is based in Washington, D.C., where he works on policy issues affecting family forestlands across the country. But he’s no stranger to these parts.

Argow owns 275 acres of Caney Fork watershed woodlands in White County. His parcel was the first U.S. Department of Agriculture-designated “Stewardship Forest” in the state of Tennessee back in the early 1990s. His property’s also been named “Tree Farm of the Year” in Middle Tennessee.

Always Consult a Consultant

At 80 years old, Argow has a lot of experience managing woodlands. Not only does he own forestland in several states, but he’s a retired from the U.S. Forest Service and taught forestry at both Virginia Tech and North Carolina State University.


Keith Argow, president of the National Woodland Owners Association

But even with a lifetime’s worth of hands-on knowledge to his credit, Argow said he always retains the services of a locally experienced forestry consultant before setting a timber sale in motion.

“They will know my land better than I can, unless I am living on it,” said Argow. “They know the markets, and how to best market the timber, and how to improve the value with every harvest.”

Billy Matthews, a longtime woodlands-management adviser in Franklin County, cautions against hiring forestry consultants who seem too focused on turning a quick buck.

“They should be interested in your financial return, not theirs.” said Matthews. “The first thing a forester should ask a landowner is, What are your objectives in owning the property?”

Matthews, now in his 40th year as a forest consultant, considers himself a pioneer in the realm of “best-management practices.” Matthews said he was demanding that loggers under his watch follow best-management harvest and restoration techniques a decade before government regulators began prescribing them.

“Wildlife, water quality and recreation are important considerations. To consider all of those things is responsible land management,” he said.

Argow insists that a landowner’s overriding concern and goal ought to be improving the future financial value of a forestland parcel with every timber harvest. That’s a telltale sign of truly sustainable management, he said.

When landowners work closely with forestry consultants to develop a comprehensive and “multi-use” forest management plan — which Mercker said he always encourages — the result is a strategy that grafts environmental protection with timber-value enhancement.

Those who’re seeking an overnight windfall from a timber sale may be in for disappointment, Argow said. But responsible and patient landowners can manage their woodlands to be an increasingly profitable and renewable supplement to the family estate.

“There are so many benefits that good management can bring our family forest owners,” Argow said.