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Benefits of Using a Consulting Forester

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Many forest landowners can benefit from the use of a consulting forestry professional. Most often the use of a consultant can be justified solely on the increase in the value, potential and productivity of your forest. This publication stresses the multitude of benefits that consulting foresters can provide.

A well-managed forest pays multiple dividends from the sale of timber products, improved wildlife habitat, aesthetics, recreation, and pride in ownership. Consulting foresters are ‘your friends in the business’, working on your behalf, to manage your woodlands in the ideal way that you would if you had their years of experience, education and skill. Some of the non-monetary benefits they can provide, include:

  • Peace of mind
  • Knowledge of agency cost share assistance
  • Familiarity with local ordinances
  • Understanding and avoidance of regulatory oversight
  • Checking on sales
  • BMP oversight
  • Cessation of timber sale when weather conditions dictate
  • Proof of silvicultural intentions & documentation
  • Neutral third party oversight of estate and family-owned properties
  • Finding a buyer for low-value tracts in need of renovation
  • Thorough review and discussion of alternative management strategies that fit your needs, resources
  • Tax advice
  • Market savvy professional advice on timber value and suitability for harvest
  • Conservation easement assistance

How Consultants Work for YOU:

A consulting forester represents you in all forestry matters-seedling to harvest, sale negotiation, contract preparation and enforcement. The consulting forester can improve the quality of the forest, increase production and artfully balance the management of water, wildlife, ecosystem services. The fees charged by a consultant may be based on an hourly or daily rate, forest acreage, contract price or an agreed upon portion of revenues. The cost of services are typically recovered by the fair market price received for timber sales or avoided tax liability in the shorter term; and by increased productivity or potential in the longer run. Consulting forestry professionals bring peace of mind, ethical business skills and certainty that laws and best practices are being used throughout your management activities.

Selecting a Forestry Consultant

Request information from a few consulting foresters before selecting one. Interview your top choices by phone or in person to see if their experience and interests align with yours. Be certain of your business relationship and ensure that it is built on trust. Establish a rapport and comfort level from the start. Be sure to obtain the forester’s credentials and affiliation in professional societies, specific qualifications, references from previous clients, and fee estimates. Most professionals are proud of their work and willing to show recent projects in your area. Don’t be afraid to ask for locations that you can visit at your leisure.

Be sure to enquire about potential conflict of interest, some associations/ states require that consultants avoid even the appearance of conflict of interest, even signing an affidavit to that effect.

  • Graduate with a four-year or higher degree in forestry from an accredited or approved college,
  • Work as an intern under the supervision of a forester for two or more years,
  • Pass a written or oral state forestry exam, and
  • Maintain minimal continuing education requirements.

If you want to know if someone is a forester in your state, you just have to ask, “Are you registered?” If the answer is no, find out more – or look elsewhere. Since there are still many states that do not register foresters, the Society of American Foresters (SAF) and the Association of Consulting Foresters of America, Inc. (ACF), have developed their own qualification programs. To earn the ACF designation a forester must have:

  • A minimum of a BS degree in forestry from an approved college,
  • At least five years of experience in practical forestry work,
  • A principal business activity of forestry consulting to the public on a fee or contractual basis, and
  • No economic interest in a timber purchasing or procurement entity.

ACF applicants also must submit references from landowners and consultants. This client and peer review makes it difficult for unethical professionals to gain or retain membership. Foresters who are not consultants, or consultants who want additional credibility, can apply for the SAF Certified Forester designation. The Certified Forester program already has over 2,800 Certified Foresters who meet specific academic and experience requirements, adhere to professional standards of practice, continue to upgrade their education, and pass an examination.

A Forester’s Credentials:

Understand where the allegiance of independent brokers, and timber buyers reside. Timber buyers and brokers may not be able to deliver on the highest price that is achievable when multiple competitive mills bid for the right to your timber. In North Carolina, registered consultants sign an affidavit that they are not in the timber buying business and you can have certainty that they are managing and selling with your best interests in mind.

Once a professionally qualified consultant has been selected, a contract or written agreement should be signed. Sound contracts should include a list of services to be performed, who will perform them, and the agreed cost of services. The consultant should welcome any questions and clarifications that the landowner may seek. Good communication between the landowner and consultant is essential.

Services Provided:

Services offered by consulting foresters vary considerably. You may opt for a minimal or all-inclusive contract – price and percentage fee may vary widely as a result. Be sure that the contract or written agreement clearly itemizes the services to be rendered before the agreement is signed. Typical consultant services may include:

Consultants can provide many of the following services:

  • Appraisal
  • Boundary Marking
  • Regeneration
  • Site Preparations
  • Cost-share Application Assistance
  • Fire Protection
  • Prescribed Burning
  • Timber Stand improvement
  • Tax Assistance - Basis Determination
  • Resource Management
  • Wildlife Leasing
  • Mineral Exploration
  • Carbon Trading
  • Conservation Easements

Legal Requirements and Responsibilities of Land Ownership

Perhaps the most important knowledge and service that a forestry consultant can provide you is to run interference for you on compliance with the myriad of local, state and federal laws and regulations pertaining to forest and wetlands. For your peace of mind and the integrity of your forest investment, you need to be sure you have a qualified, experienced consultant who is familiar with all the laws pertaining to your property and has your protection and best interest in mind. This key point is reason enough to have a consultant working on your behalf as ignorance is no defense in the courts nor the regulations that landowners face.

Management Plan (and Planning)

Management plans vary in sophistication from a short report based on a brief walk through the woods to a detailed financial analysis with computer simulations of forest growth and suggested treatments. The cost will reflect the time and effort required to collect the data and prepare the report. Management plans are increasing used as proof of sound management, enrollment in tax relief programs and as an initial qualification for governmental programs and forest certification schemes.

Timber Sales

The consultant will inventory the stand, recording species, diameter, height, and quality. With this information, the consultant will calculate the volume of the sale and prepare a contract or deed for the owner’s approval. The consultant also may mark where the skid trails will go and where the trees will be skidded for delimbing, cutting to length, and loading on the log truck

What Kind of Returns Can You Expect from Forestry Consultant Assistance with a Timber Sale?

There have been several studies in various states showing that professional foresters can provide increased value to landowners with regards to timber sales. A study conducted by Forest2Market in 2016 showed that sales that involved a consultant in the process—whether it was a per-unit or lump sum sale—brought higher value to the landowner. On timber sales that involved consultants (sealed bid sales, in particular) returns exceeded the non-consultant sale prices by no less than 11%. However, in negotiated per-unit sales, particularly for pine pulpwood and chip-n-saw, price difference is very similar between a consultant and non-consultant. In these cases, the main benefits concentrate on the health and improvement of the timber stand, and not solely on increased monetary returns for the timber products sold. Having a consultant involved in the thinning process can provide greater value through silvicultural expertise and knowledge of experienced thinning crews.

Consultants did equally well on lump sum sales, bringing an average increase of 12% on total bids. Not only did the trend hold over time, but it also held over various tract sizes, with consultant sales bringing higher total bids over various tract sizes: 25 acres or less – 51%, 26-50 – 18%, 51-200 – 17%, and >200 – 14%. Landowners with smaller acreages could potentially benefit the most from the use of a consultant. However, even at a lower percentage of increase at the larger acreages, the consultant brings considerable value to the sale process.

To learn more about the details of the study, read the complete article in the 2016 edition of The Consultant.


Today’s profitability in maintaining and creating a forest legacy for your family is complex and ever-changing. Be sure that you hire a consultant with experience in the myriad of current options and opportunities that you hope to pursue on your land. Most consultants have a passion for the forest and can assist you in making the right decisions for your property while ensuring long-term sustainability for you and your heirs.


Extension Professor
Forestry & Environmental Resources
Area Specialized Agent, Forestry
Harnett County

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Publication date: June 22, 2016
Revised: Aug. 20, 2019

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