Timber salvage

Windstorms, insect outbreaks, disease epidemics, wildfire, and other disturbance events can create havoc (or opportunity!) in our woodlands. Many forestowners need to know what to do with the damaged trees before it is too late.

Wind damage has knocked over trees.
Wind damage has knocked over trees. All photos by Bill Cook, MSU Extension

Salvaging damaged timber is a fairly easy concept to understand but can be quite difficult to implement. Every situation is going to be different. Salvage operations can sometimes be combined with other cutting practices, such as thinning or pre-commercial work. Given the need for timber salvage, having a management plan on-hand can be a helpful resource.

Usually, salvage involves lower quality timber because it is cracked, bent, burned, full of holes, or otherwise degraded by a particular event. There are often safety issues, especially with wind damage, due to the stressed trunks from bent or leaning trees.

There is also a time-sensitive element. The wood needs to be harvested before stain and wood-rot fungi result in further degradation, or simply render the standing trees non-commercial. The season in which the disaster occurs is important. During the growing season, high quality trees in a salvage situation can be stained within weeks. In conifers, the wood boring insects will attack the newly available food source within a similar time frame, and then will turn towards standing live trees. Another element to consider is the availability of logging contractors and the operability of the forest stand. Loggers usually have aggressive schedules. A tough job with an insufficient dollar value and a higher risk factor can be serious barriers to attracting a logger. Fitting-in a salvage job is generally not on their high priority list. What to do? The best action will be to hire a consulting forester.

Consulting foresters can provide a reasonable description of the unique opportunities and challenges with a particular salvage situation. They are familiar with the regional logging contractors, their equipment configurations, and (perhaps) their general availability. They also understand the need for urgent action, if at all possible.


Fire damage to a forest. 

Area markets are another important consideration. Where a robust community of wood-based mills exist, the odds of a successful timber sale increase. In areas where markets are limited, so are the timber sale odds.

A salvage operation that involves higher-quality material will be substantially more attractive to loggers than lower quality stands. Or, having a logging crew on-hand can be a good opportunity to thin or harvest a nearby undamaged stand that, by itself, would not be commercially attractive. Bundling non-salvage work with a salvage operation can, sometimes, sweeten the pot. Given a salvage situation, thinning or cleaning operations might add to the pot of marketable timber. Sometimes, a forest owner can negotiate with a logger with no-stumpage salvage in exchange for road improvement or other objectives. “Stumpage” is the monetary value of standing trees.

Along these same lines, there may be neighbors in a similar salvage situation. Combining multiple jobs at the same time will be more attractive to a logger. When considering a salvage, from damage done by a discreet event over a short time period, there may timber sale income tax provisions that work in a forestowner’s favor. This is a situation to bring to a federal income tax expert familiar with the IRS rules regarding woodland ownership.

The bottom-line when presented with a timber salvage situation is that there are often several ways to skin that cat. Working with a professional forester can be quite helpful in identifying various alternatives. And, a salvage operation is not something to put onto the back burner. If salvage is desired, don’t delay!

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