Liberty Nature Preserve
WOODS, TIMBER, OR WHATEVER....WHAT KINDA TREES YA GOT?
Actually, that is one of the first questions we always asked when we started searching for property. Boy, did we learn quick just how important that question is. A perfect example is a 40 Ac parcel that we came across in north-west Illinois; I found it on the internet and man, was I excited when I pulled the aerial photo and topo. map. The lay of the land was hugely "pond-able", and about 34 acres was heavily wooded, and the price was right. Pack up the cooler, we're hittin' the road again this weekend. When we got there, we did our usual due diligence; a blend of examining the topography, the timber, the potential building sites, access, and a host of details that must all get crammed into a 3 hour visit. Why only 3 hours? Let's figger: 3 hours out, 3 hours there, and 3 hours back; that's a "wrap". Anyway, this parcel was VERY interesting....but.....we had a creepy feeling about the timber. There was alot of it...this is good....but there also was alot of downed trees (wind damage?) and it just did not look like a quality forest. Boy, do I need to "bone up" on trees. We took a buncha pix, like we always do, and went home to consider the package. I immediately called the broker that listed the parcel and shared our findings and concerns. He was a real good guy and put us in touch with a close friend of his that is big into trees. I called Gary and caught him just before heading out for vacation. I upload 6 or 8 of the pix we took that exhibited the timber best so he could examine and report. He called right back; I told him to be candid. In essence, it was junk. Alot of Elms, many with dutch Elms disease, and even more Black Locust. He had a hard time picking out much of anything decent. The moral of the story: boy, am I gonna have to be careful....and.....boy, will I need help. Ultimately, Gary is so into this and such a nice guy that he volunteered to do the same "virtual" assistance for me anytime. He even offered to go out and walk a parcel if it was within reasonable distance. Well, we actually took him up on his "virtual examination" when we found Liberty. He was a key segment of approval that we needed. Obviously, he gave us the "thumbs up" on Liberty. As I recall, his overall analysis was "It is a nice young stand of good timber; it appears to have a good diversity of attractive hardwoods. Yes there appears to be some junk, tho not alot and easily managed. Based on your plans, I would go for this one." We did.
When Liberty came onto our radar screen, we knew we had to move fast. It took us 3 visits over 3 consecutive days to make the offer. (and, as I recall, it was accepted on the 4th day) It was 3 days of bedlam running and calling in all directions to verify all the planets are lining up; Gary the tree guy, the electric Co, the USDA office to verify soils, numerous contacts to verify the "pond-ability", and a host of peripheral details, let alone the standard details of the actual sale. My point: no single subject received the super high level of detailed research I usually perform, particularly the trees. Come to think about it, I based the timber quality on a virtual tour of 7 or 8 pix to a guy I have never even met....this, and my own limited knowledge of trees. You may have noted the unique bark on the Shagbark Hickory trees. Because of the high amount of these, easily identified by a rookie, I was reassured that the stand wasn't total junk.
We have alot of these Hickorys throughout the Preserve. Gary also identified Wild Cherry, Hackberry, and Maples based on the virtual tour pix. He said these are decent to very good. You have to remember that we are doing all this in February, so bark and a thick layer of dead leaves on the ground is pretty much all we have to go on. Between Gary's trained eye and my ability to identify alot of Shagbark Hickorys, I gave it the "green light" for timber. The bet paid off good dividends.
As John the excavator and I are sharing ideas and thoughts about clearing and laying a driveway and then clearing the pond site, I gets me one of them "light'ning bolt ideas"....maybe the timber has some value and we should have it logged out instead of mowing it down and burning it. John says he never really considered it and suggests we look into it. Enter Paul, the tree guy. I reach out to a lumber company I found on the internet that is within the region of Liberty and ultimately hook up with their site inspector, Paul. Even after explaining my expectations that this is far too young for a decent harvest, he wants to come out and walk it anyway. We meet 2 weekends later, and Paul spends about 2 1/2 hours with me, foraging thru the thickets and brush to examine a substantial portion of the area to be cleared and other areas of the Preserve. All the time, I am quizzing him like a knowledge-thirsty schoolboy....question after question. Paul was amazing. How very cool for someone to be so educated and knowledgeable about eco-systems and willing to share as much of it as I can possibly understand. Without any doubt, his final word on Liberty is going to be gospel.
WELL, IS THERE ANY SALVAGEABLE TIMBER IN THE EXCAVATION AREAS?
Yes and no. Here's how it shakes out. Paul says that there are a number of marketable trees, but they are many years away from harvest. The ones that are attractive don't add up to enough value to bring in a crew to extract them. The only consideration for a harvest would be the firewood value; this wouldn't interest the Lumber Co. Now, understand that this becomes fairly obvious early in his examination....this guy is a pro and could probably smell any value when he got out of his truck. Instead of tipping his hat, though, he recognizes my desire and appreciation for understanding the forest and eco-systems and gives me the ultimate one-on-one, professor-to-pupil "Forestry -101, -201, -301" 2-hour class that money can't buy. WOW! I have to put some of this stuff in writing before I forget most of it! OK, back to the timber value, if any. I call John the excavator and tell him my new plan of somehow salvaging the firewood. He very calmly worked thru the logistics of the vision, sharing with me the other times that he has encountered the same vision. Bottom line; if I am going to do it myself, I better fully understand what I'm getting into and what kind of time and equipment it will take. If I am going to hire somebody, they are going to have to be orchestrated with his crew and equipment because John has to cut the road before they can get in or out. Then, when that heavy equipment is there, he is going to get paid whether they are running or not. All this, and if he has to work around a bunch of tree monkeys, it is going to go very slow. I quickly drew the conclusion that I so often in the past refused to see "so, you're gonna pay $3000 in additional equipment time to salvage $2500 worth of timber". OK, I relent. As a foot-note, I must share this: John offered to pick out 4 or 5 of the bigger trees and he would push them off into a corner for me as consolation prize (he could sense my need to do guy-stuff)....but remember....the root balls and tops are gonna be my problem to dispose because he is going to be long gone. All right, just mow 'em all down and torch 'em......I didn't want 'em anyway!
OK, SO NO TIMBER HARVEST......GET TO THE KINDA TREES, ALREADY
As noted above, Paul the tree guy from the Lumber company is the guru. This is his job. He went to Ohio State for this stuff and now he does it for a living. He started pointing out many Sugar Maples, alot of Wild Cherry, alot of Hickory, some (not alot) Oak, a good number of Walnut (yeah, baby), Ash, Elm, and Hackberry. The Maple, Cherry, Walnut, and Oak are the value-players. The Hickory comes in next, followed by Ash, Hackberry, and Elm. We have a number of Black Locust (ick), but many of them are in the pond site area and will be in the burn pile. We also have a few other "garbage-type" trees like Honey Locust and Ironwood, but he says that they are reasonably few and should be saved to maintain diversity in the stand. When we got back to the vehicles, I asked him to condense his overall opinion of the stand and rate it on a 1 - 10, ten being the highest value for timber. We are a "6". In 20 or 30 years, this could be an "8 - 9". Before we even started, I had already shared our vision to develop an eco-friendly nature preserve; this may have prompted his interest in helping me to understand what we had. Before he got into his truck, he said that based on our plans for the property.....the pond, the protected timber, and the surrounding farm land....this is a perfect place to do what we plan to do....it should thrive.
The words "encouraged, inspired, and relieved" come to mind.
FOOTNOTE for anyone interested in eco-systems, Paul highly recommends the book "Forest Ecosystems". I found it on the internet in paper back for about $40; I am waiting on my copy right now.