Steven LaVal, Resource Forester for the Missouri Department of Conservation, says while traditional southern tree farming calls to mind long lines of pine trees, closely spaced together, Ozark farmers can also find ways to make money off the trees on their land.  “Most of the land in this part of the state was clear cut by the railroads and then after that, people burned, overgrazed, and the dust bowl era came. It was the 1920’s when most of our stands of black and red oaks were established. They mature at about 80 years and that makes most of those stands in this area, to be the same age, mature, and ready for harvest. If people have those on their property or particularly valuable trees, like walnuts, then they have an extra source of income available. You usually need to have at least 20 acres in a stand to get a professional logger interested, but it’s definitely something to look into.  To ignore it or neglect it means that stand of timber will begin to die off. The choice is to harvest it or it’ll die. You can take it or nature will and that’s an income source that will be lost to disease, insects or age.”
LaVal has just returned from what has become nearly an annual trip to help firefighters in the western US. This season, it was computer work, making maps for two weeks in the Piute desert area, in the mountains near Lake Isabella, California. “Pretty interesting area,” he commented, “in that it’s desert but the fire was actually up on the mountain, about an hour west of Bakersfield.”
Still, Steven LaVal is all about Ozarks forestry now that he’s home. “White oaks are different than the black and red oaks. It’s 150 years to maturity for white oaks, so they still have nearly 100 more years to go,” he continued. “Traditional tree farming is about producing the maximum amount of profit in the shortest amount of time, but that is not what we find here, for the most part in the Ozarks. Tree farming here takes the same elements as a good garden.  Good soil, light, spacing, you have to thin, just like you would a heavily planted garden. That’s how you improve a timber stand and just like when you thin a garden, it makes the remaining trees stronger, better able to survive storms, insects, and disease. You don’t want too much space between the trees or you end up with a lot of underbrush underneath. Healthy trees are tougher and better able to survive storms, disease and insects, and that’s what you want.”
There are a lot of variables involved and values vary widely. The best advice for anyone wanting to look into exactly what they have and what it’s worth, is to contact your local professional forester through the Department of Conservation, LaVal added. "There are, of course, a number of horror stories out there about people having trouble with loggers on their property, but land owners can make certain they avoid a lot of problems by having their boundary lines clearly marked, and most importantly, by insisting on a written contract. You hear about people getting a promise of so much money and then only getting half of that when it’s all said and done. If it’s in writing from the beginning, there are no questions and if a professional logger won’t sign a contract, then you don’t want him on your property in the first place.”


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