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Hunting & FishingOwning LandTimberland

Finding the Sweet Spot Between Wildlife and Timber Management

October 7, 2022

Oftentimes, there are two approaches to managing a property: focusing on wildlife or making timber a priority. These approaches, however, need not be mutually exclusive. Managing your property with both timber production and wildlife preservation in mind could be beneficial for both endeavors, but what does this balance look like and can it be quantified?

The most fascinating and special things in life are often rather irregular, a little tattered and frayed at the edges, and to the untrained eye, a bit of a mess. Such was my favorite hand-me-down quilt, brought to life with several loving hands over many generations to keep away the chill of a cold night. It was a patchwork of different colors and patterns, with a weight and warmth to it that simply couldn’t be rivaled by anything to be found in a store. New quilts might look good to the eye with their clean lines and sharp geometric designs, but a cold night under the stars might reveal how little substance or value they possess.

The same is often true with land; a patchwork of different habitat types may not always look as appealing when viewed against a newer and more manicured property, but it is often this seemingly unkempt appearance that may be better for wildlife. Careful research has proven the value of diverse habitat management to wildlife, but many property owners may question whether such a management plan can also be profitable. They may be concerned that implementing wildlife-focused management practices may mean sacrificing significant profitability, but is this true? The answer as with so many things is that it depends; there are many variables to consider and pieces that come into play. 

You can maintain profitability or even potentially increase profitability and value on a property through sound management practices that benefit wildlife. However, the degree of profitability is varied and depends on the many variables unique to each property and the goals of each landowner. For landowners who value wildlife on their property, the focus is on striking the right balance and finding the “sweet spot” between wildlife management and economic profitability. Arguably timber production may best represent this perceived dilemma of wildlife vs profitability in the southeast where landowners often own a timber investment property but frequently utilize/enjoy the wildlife on the property whether personally or by leasing hunting rights.

Finding the Sweet Spot

Finding the balance is as unique to the owner and their goals as it is to the property. Some owners and managers will be intensely focused and intentional in managing their property with wildlife in mind. Others may be primarily focused on maximizing profitability, with wildlife being a happy accident that comes from their management practices. It all starts with knowing what you as the owner want for the property. 

If having more deer and turkey is important to you, then that is added to the equation. The same would be true if you have a desire to increase quail on a property. The next step is looking at these desires and seeing what’s feasible or practical for the property in question and what can be implemented to get there. Ideally, these questions are all considered before making a land purchase, but this is not always the case. 

whitetail deer wildlife and timber

Once all the facts and tangible information are in, then you can begin to make informed decisions and develop a plan. With respect to timber investment property, these questions usually revolve around timber densities and volume and how you conduct thinning and/or harvesting on a site, and the timing of your thinning and harvesting.

The Relationship Between Timber and Wildlife

There are many detailed studies regarding timber density effects on wildlife. Still, overall there is a point where increasing tree density and volume on a site begins to negatively impact habitat for wildlife as well as profitability. The basal area or tree density at which this occurs varies based on your site, the type of wildlife in question, and the type of timber you are growing among other factors. 

As a general example, even relatively high timber densities can still provide fair to good habitat for some wildlife (in particular deer) but may begin to constitute marginal to poor habitat for wildlife such as turkey and quail. However, depending on the size of your property it is often possible to have blocks of timber in varying stages of growth (ages and density) to create habitat value for multiple species. 

On smaller properties, there may be fewer options as to how you diversify so it may be important to consider how your parcel fits into the larger landscape of neighboring properties. Often your goals for your property can still be achieved as the habitat you provide may be a key component in the area between you and your neighbors. Together, you could perform fantastic management for wildlife on your properties. The key is understanding the ground truth for what is possible on a site both for timber production as well as wildlife and making sound and informed decisions for your interests as a property owner. 

Research conducted at Mississippi State highlighted the following general results regarding balancing timber production and wildlife:

“Land expectation values (LEVs) were highest for timber scenarios, followed by joint deer and timber, joint quail and timber, deer, and quail management scenarios. Comparison to the regional hunting lease rate revealed that compensatory lease rates from the study could be realized, making wildlife management as valuable as timber management.”

Davis, Munn, Henderson & Strickland. “Economic Tradeoffs of Managing for Timber Production or Wildlife Habitat.” The Journal of Wildlife Management 81. (2017): 1363

Wildlife Has Tangible Value!

The value of managing a property for wildlife is measured by the years of special outdoor memories it creates and the pride in having cared for and helped provide for something larger than yourself that will be enjoyed by generations to come. However, even outside of the intrinsic worth, having wildlife on your property has quantitative monetary value. Working to improve habitat and increase the wildlife on a property can translate into increased yearly income from a property and boost value when it’s time to sell. Studies conducted via Mississippi State University and other institutions have shown that wildlife clearly has value, for example:

  • Wildlife-associated recreation expenditures in just the southeast exceed $20 billion
  • In Mississippi alone, it’s estimated that between 2001–2005 deer hunting seasons in Mississippi generated between $760 million and $1 billion each year 
  • A study in Alabama from 2004 indicated that efforts to improve habitat and wildlife production were worth a potential $34.25/ha more in value for a hunting lease

Managing timber for both profit and wildlife is not only possible but also highly rewarding and could turn your property into a profitable paradise! Understanding what is possible and identifying what you value as a landowner is key to developing a detailed plan for your property and ensuring that your goals are achieved, and the right balance is maintained. What will your property’s habitat quilt look like and what value will it hold for you?

About the Author
Caleb Risinger joined National Land Realty in 2019. Caleb served as a United States Naval Officer from 1999-2019. He earned his master’s degree from the Naval War College and his bachelor’s degree from the University of South Carolina Aiken. Now as a Land Professional, Caleb shows great dedication to his clients and attention to detail with respect to marketing a property. In his spare time, Caleb enjoys hunting with his English Pointer, fishing, and coaching/playing soccer. He is also passionate about his Christian faith. Caleb and his wife, Kristina, have five children. The family currently resides in Jacksonville, FL. View Caleb's Listings and Reviews on