by Patty Cormier

   “I’ve had a harvest done and I think I’ve got trouble” is a call I never like to get from a landowner. Unfortunately, the reality is these calls happen.  Tom Doak of Maine Woodland Owners has done many presentations on his list of “The Ten Biggest Mistakes Woodland Owners Make.” Here is a new list to think about: “The Ten Biggest Mistakes Woodland Owners Make When Having a Harvest.” The two lists overlap some. I’ll share the story of one of those calls I don’t like to get, as a reminder of certain things to think about when planning to have your woodlot harvested. This is a true story, though without some of the identifying details.

     I had walked with this landowner on his property about two years ago. This is what we district foresters commonly do: provide landowners with information for good decision-making. Among the things we usually discuss is encouraging landowners to hire a forester when harvesting, and to do some checking about the contractor/logger and forester they choose to work with, to make sure they have a good fit with the professionals they hire. With this landowner, we covered much of the usual topics as we explored a portion of his 300 acre-plus woodlot, and discussed various options, as well as how to go about a harvest. This landowner loves his land deeply and feels very fortunate to have his own piece of Maine. 

     He didn’t seriously consider a harvest until this year, when he noticed that trees are now blocking one of his favorite views. He met with a logger whom the landowner described as being very personable. “We sat on the porch and talked like we were friends,” the landowner said.  The logger was not local. The landowner then showed him the five-acre area he wanted harvested, and also looked at a harvest the logger showed him that had been completed in 2015. He liked what he saw.

     Based on these preliminaries, the landowner felt sure the logger really understood his objectives for the harvest, and felt comfortable going ahead. He did not ask for references. He had explained to the logger already that financial return was not the main objective, instead emphasizing aesthetics and a healthy forest. The harvest was planned as a whole-tree operation.

     Now, the landowner is an older gentleman who’s a retired vice president for a large corporation.  He’s traveled the world, and dealt with many contractors and contracts himself. He said afterward, “I couldn’t do anything without a contract” – yet, in this case, he did not pursue a contract. When I asked him why, he just said, “I don’t know, I really don’t; I guess I just trusted the guy. I just messed up.”

     As the harvest began, all seemed to go well. The logger stopped by and spoke with the landowner and asked him if he wanted his field edges cleared back while they were there. The landowner said that would be great. A week or two into the harvest, the landowner’s wife had a serious medical problem. The landowner called the logger and told him he wouldn’t be around or available for a couple of weeks.

     When the landowner finally got home, he noticed the sound of equipment behind his house, which was not anywhere near the original agreed-upon harvest area or the fields, which are in front of the house. At some point, the logger had moved his equipment to the acreage behind the house, using one of the landowners’ established ATV trails. The landowner immediately told the logger to stop and leave immediately; the harvest was over. The logger complied.

     Very large piles of wood to be chipped remain on the yard. The landowner said “I was horrified with what had been done, I felt very violated. I really trusted him; he seemed like such a nice guy.” The landowner has not been paid in full, and the required notification to the state was never sent, after the logger told the landowner not to worry about it.

     In writing this, I’m not trying to disparage anyone in any way. I’m just trying to use this as a case study for others to learn from. So here is my list of “The Ten Biggest Mistakes Woodland Owners Make When Having a Harvest.”

  1. Not working with a forester;
  2. Not having a contract, or clear written plan;
  3. Not knowing what you have (Tom Doak’s #1A);
  4. Not knowing the laws;
  5. Failing to keep good records (#7);
  6. Not monitoring the harvest;
  7. Not understanding how to work with a forester and logger (#8);
  8. Not requiring or checking references;
  9. Not staying informed or asking for help (#10);
  10. Not setting clear boundaries for where the harvest will occur.

    Now, looking at this list, how many apply to this case?

    MFS District Forester Patty Cormier is the Upper Kennebec Valley chapter leader of  Maine Woodland Owners and regional representative to the Board of Directors.

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