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Owning Land

3 Ways High-Grading Could Harm Your Property

April 13, 2022

In the Appalachian region where high-value hardwood timber is grown, terms such as “selective cutting” and “diameter limit cutting” could easily mean “high-grading.” High-grading is a process through which only the most valuable trees are cut and has since long been a popular practice with landowners. Selective harvesting is prevalent on no less than 61 percent of all harvested acres in the U.S. (source: USDA, 2014) and I can’t help but think how many of those “selective harvests” were really just a high grade. Not all selective harvests are detrimental but landowners should be aware of the term, and here’s why.

While selective cutting might be popular, certain selective cutting practices are a far cry from the best practices in sustainable land management as they are understood in 2022. High-grading is popular due to the fact that it provides the harvester with the highest short-term return at the lowest cost. Here are three reasons high-grading is not recommended for landowners.

1. You’re Probably Leaving Money on the Table

First off, there will often be a local market for lower-quality trees. Low-quality trees can be turned into numerous forest products such as paper, pallets, railroad ties, plywood, cardboard, MDF, and much more. We encounter such materials every day! Landowners who do not bring their lower quality trees to market are probably leaving money on the table unless they’re located in an area where such markets do not exist.

2. You May Hinder the Growth of Future Generations

Secondly, I have found that many times after a selective harvest, what is left are trees that are poorly formed, over-mature, or diseased. These “scrubs” do not provide a hospitable environment for the next generation of trees. They take nutrients away from the soil that could feed the younger, healthy, crop trees. Also, young trees may find themselves in the shade of a residual “scrub” tree; their growth will more than likely be hindered and can cause them to grow crooked as they reach for sunlight and a place in the canopy.  

Peter J. Smallidge (Cornell University) and Michael C. Greason (Retired from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation) are, in this article, very critical of the shortsightedness of selective cutting. “A similar analogy from livestock is the farmer or stable manager who shoots the blue ribbon bull or winning racehorse and uses the losers for breeding stock,” we hear them say pointedly.

3. High Grading Might Lower the Value of Your Property

Thirdly, prudent landowners should never forget that they might want to sell their land one day. Land that is well kept and aesthetically pleasing, with a high-quality stand of timber where few unhealthy and poorly formed trees exist, will normally fetch a higher price on the market than land that is unsightly and badly kept.

What’s the Alternative to High Grading?

It is important for landowners to know that while selective cutting may sound like the right thing to do, it can mean something totally different than what you may think. Overall, landowners who apply selective cutting techniques can unwittingly choose a disappointing harvest prescription. Landowners should consult with a qualified forester prior to conducting forestry activities on their land. They can help you decide which selective cutting techniques should be avoided in order to ensure the productivity of your land for future generations. If you’re looking to get in contact with a knowledgeable professional, consider contacting one of our Land Professionals here at National Land Realty

Should you choose a selective harvest, a forester can prevent long-term negative consequences by applying silvicultural techniques specific to your timberland. It is also important to ensure few residual trees are damaged and your forester should be involved in the sale and oversight of the harvest from beginning to end. If your timberland is managed with the future in mind, you can maintain the healthy growth of new generations of trees, which will encourage peak economic value both in terms of timber production and land value.

About the Author
Matthew joined National Land Realty in 2016 and also works as a Consulting Forester with Southeastern Forest Management in Oliver Springs, TN. Matthew is a U.S. Air Force veteran and received his B.S. in Forestry from the University of Tennessee. He is a member of the Society of American Foresters, Tennessee Forestry Association, and a has his Tennessee Master Logger Certification. As a Consulting Forester, his particular area of expertise is forest resource management, including timber sales and appraisals, forest inventory, and GIS mapping. View Matthew's Listings and Reviews on NationalLand.com