Working with a Forester

The Maine Forest Service recommends that woodland owners work with a private, licensed  consulting forester when making decisions or undertaking management activities in their woods.

Your Maine Forest Service District Forester can answer questions on a range of forestry topics, provide publications, or tell you about upcoming workshops or events. He or she is available to walk your woodland with you and provide some suggestions. However, as a matter of policy, District Foresters cannot provide timber appraisals, write Forest Management or Tree Growth Plans, mark trees for harvest, or supervise timber harvesting. For these and other services, District Foresters can help you locate licensed, private consulting foresters in your area.

What is the difference between a Forester, a Logger, and an Arborist?

Consulting forester with landowner in Lamoine
Consulting forester with landowner in Lamoine

A forester is a professional whose work is to assess woodlands, identify or estimate timber and non-timber values, recommend/design/supervise possible activities, including harvesting, to accomplish a range of goals, and help landowners plan for the future.

A person practicing forestry in the state of Maine must be licensed by the state, and generally has a university degree in forestry.

By contrast,

  • a logger is a professional whose primary job is the actual harvesting of trees, including cutting down and "yarding" them to a landing, yard or roadside area where they can be further processed and sorted, then trucked to a mill or other location that uses the wood. Loggers are not licensed by the state.
  • An arborist is a professional who specializes in caring for and/or removing individual trees around homes and other buildings. Arborists must be licensed in Maine.

Licensed Foresters who work as consultants often provide services to woodland owners, the most common being:

  • preparing written, long term Forest Management Plans, and
  • working with the landowner to plan & oversee a timber harvest.

Even if you only have one project in mind, it is advisable to choose a forester who will be available for future needs/projects – as you might choose an accountant, health care provider, or tax preparer.  A more comprehensive list of possible services is given below.

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Why work with a Forester?

Consulting forester shows tree core sample to woodland owners
Consulting forester shows tree core sample to woodland owners

A professional forester provides specialized information and helps ensure successful results, based on the landowners’ goals. It’s a good idea to work with a forester if –

  • you value the future of your woodland
  • you need more information on your forest’s future potential – in terms of aesthetics, recreation, forest health, wildlife habitat, wood products or income
  • you need help clarifying your goals and deciding what actions to take on your property
  • you are not sure how to manage a timber harvest (especially legal issues, prices, etc.)
  • you need help assuring that your forest will be in good condition after harvesting
  • you need help dealing with various programs such as the Tree Growth Tax Law, timber taxes, or government incentives programs.

A good forester will protect your interests and add value to your woods – values such as enjoyment, wildlife habitat, and both near and long term income.
In addition, a Licensed Forester is bound by a professional Code of Ethics to protect their clients’ interests, be clear about type and cost of services provided, communicate regularly, maintain confidentiality, and avoid or disclose conflicts of interest.

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Types of Foresters

Consulting forester with wood pile
Consulting forester with wood pile

Foresters may provide services to individual landowners in a variety of ways. The basic question is whether the forester is acting as an independent agent for the landowner, or whether they are working on someone else’s behalf at the same time or exclusively.

  • Independent consulting foresters usually contract directly with individual landowners or land-owning entities.  Often they are in business as individuals or small consulting firms.
  • Landowner assistance/procurement foresters work for a mill or other wood broker/buyer. They usually are purchasing timber directly from a landowner, and may provide forester services to landowners as part of a timber sale contract or separately. Any actual harvesting is subcontracted to a logger.
  • Foresters who work for, or are also, loggers are those whose primary business includes logging. They may provide some forest management and operations planning services as well as logging, depending on the situation.

Some private foresters, known as Stewardship Foresters, are eligible to provide services to landowners participating in the MFS WoodsWISE Incentives Program. Others are also eligible as Technical Service Providers (TSPs) under USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service programs. Landowners interested in these programs should ask prospective foresters about their eligibility and credentials.

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Selecting a Forester

Consulting forester with wood pile
Consulting forester talking with interested person

The Maine Forest Service strongly suggests contacting more than one consulting forester in order to make an informed choice. Taking some time to select a forester is often worthwhile. Ideally, you will develop a long-term working relationship with a forester that you trust, and can continue to work with over many years.

Prepare to meet prospective foresters by gathering maps, deeds, past management plans, timber sale receipts, or other records. If you are interviewing several foresters, tell them so. Ask if they intend to bill you for proposed meetings or for any background research they offer. Ask about their experience, background, range of services, and specific expertise or credentials. In addition to an on-site meeting:

  • request references and follow up with past clients
  • look at samples of written plans and maps
  • visit past harvests the forester has managed

In particular, look for a forester who listens and communicates well, provides quality work in a timely way, and delivers results that meet customer expectations. Tell the forester, as specifically as possible, your values and vision for your woods. If he or she doesn’t “get it,” keep looking!

Ultimately you as the landowner should feel confident that you have chosen the person or firm that best suits your needs. Note that most foresters work in multiple counties, and a working area of up to 1 hour or greater travel time from their business location is common.

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A Forester Services Contract

Consulting forester with landowner at his home
Consulting forester with landowner at his home

Before engaging a forester, it is important to have a clear understanding of the specific services the forester will provide, what the fee(s) will be, and how compensation will be handled. A Maine Licensed Forester is ethically bound to serve the interests of his or her client, and to disclose any potential conflict of interest. All of this should be spelled out in a written forester services contract. A forester services contract is usually not the same as a contract to harvest timber.

At a minimum, the forester agreement should clearly spell out the following:

  • the parties to the agreement – i.e. landowner and forester
  • forester license number (and any other credentials)
  • the landowner/forester relationship – who is the forester working for, and whether there are possible conflicts of interest
  • the type (and amount) of forester services to be provided (see list below)
  • the beginning and end date(s) of the contract, and/or when services will be provided
  • how,  when, and how much the forester will be paid
    • by the project
    • by the acre
    • by the hour
    • as a percentage of timber revenue
    • other fees (mileage, copies, supplies, etc.)
  • other provisions/protections, e.g.
    • certifications or standards applicable  (e.g. Tree Growth Tax Law, American Tree Farm System, etc.)
    • insurance/liabilities
    • use of subcontractors (other foresters or special services)
    • proof of land ownership
    • right of access to the property
  • right of modification or termination of the contract

If a landowner is selling timber and is represented by a forester, a separate Timber Harvest Contract with the logger/or timber buyer (prepared or reviewed by the landowner’s forester) usually spells out the terms/conditions of the harvest operation. A comprehensive Timber Harvest Contract is the most important way to ensure that a harvest will meet all landowner objectives, and provide the logger clear expectations of the work to be done.
If a landowner is entering into a Timber Harvest Contract directly with a forester who is acting as a buyer, and the agreement also includes forester services (see list below), those should be clearly spelled out, with all the information above included.

Landowners should understand what services the forester is providing, on whose behalf, and how the forester will be compensated. Full disclosure is the best approach.

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Possible Forester services

Consulting forester checking bird habitat
Consulting forester checking bird habitat

Long-range Planning:

  • Preparing or updating a Forest Management Plan or similar plan (e.g. a Tree Growth Management & Harvest Plan, a Stewardship Plan, or an NRCS/CAP-106 Plan), including;
    • A statement of the landowner’s goals
    • Forest assessment, inventory & appraisal of timber volume/value (may be based on a visual estimate or sample measurements)
    • Mapping
    • Evaluation of other resources/considerations (wildlife habitat, soil & water, natural communities, forest health, historic features, recreation, etc.)
    • Recommended activities to meet the landowner’s goals
  • Researching/preparing/filing legal requirements, Tree Growth Application Schedules, permits, or other paperwork; navigating government financial assistance programs
  • Understanding and planning for timber income taxes

Small projects:

  • Help setting up small projects (thinning, pruning, firewood cutting, etc.)
    • Marking trees to be cut or pruned
    • Evaluating the health/condition of individual trees or forest stands
    • Dealing with invasive plant species
  • Laying out & designing trails, roads, erosion control measures
  • Help locating boundary evidence, deed research
  • Finding specialists and other contractors

Harvest Planning/Oversight**:

  • Forest Operations planning/preparation:
    • Flagging boundaries and/or harvest area limits
    • Silviculture – determining what trees will be cut/left to meet landowner goals
    • Marking trees to be cut or retained
    • Planning/laying out roads, log landings, major yarding trails
    • Designing Best Management Practices, erosion control, stream crossings, logging trails at or near waterbodies
    • Filing notifications/reports, researching legal requirements, obtaining permits
  • Negotiating Harvest Agreements/Contracts on the landowner’s behalf
    • Estimating timber volume/value
    • Identifying/researching a skilled, professional, reputable logger
    • Advising the landowner on fair prices, negotiating prices with a logger/buyer
    • **Developing a written Timber Harvest/Sale Contract
  • Overseeing and administering the  timber harvest contract
    • Monitoring the harvest periodically as it’s occurring (especially silviculture and protection of resources) and reporting on contract compliance
    • Ensuring wood is utilized and marketed according to the contract (by working with the logger, or by marketing wood directly on behalf of the landowner)
    • Reviewing scale slips & handling stumpage payments to the landowner
    • Making sure the harvest is completed and “closed out” according to the contract
    • Providing post-harvest summary information for reporting/tax purposes

**Helping prepare a clearly written timber harvest contract adapted to the landowner’s needs and the harvest situation can be one of the most important services of a consulting forester.

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