Protecting The Public: Will landowners benefit from forester “agency disclosure”?

    We have all heard the old saying “Buyer beware!” There was a time when that admonition was the only protection consumers had. Today there is a much more sophisticated climate of consumer awareness, and issues such as privacy, responsibility and fraud are being addressed from doctor’s offices to Wall Street and back again. Where do forestry professionals and the Alabama State Board of Registration for Foresters (ASBRF) fit into this movement?

    For years landowners have been properly advised by the forestry community to seek professional assistance about managing their forests. And ASBRF, the Society of American Foresters, and the Association of Consulting Foresters all have strong codes of ethics to enhance the opportunity for fair and honest dealings between foresters and landowners. But is this enough? Landowners are still frequently confused about whether their forest “adviser” is a forester, and if this person is working for them – or for a timber buyer or wood supplier. Since forestry encompasses far more than the selling of timber, perhaps initial classifications can be explored and broadened as needed to describe the various relationships between forestry professionals and landowners.

    If a landowner enters into a timber sale transaction with a forestry professional, there are four basic business relationships:

  1. A non-forester working to buy the owner’s timber.
  2. A non-forester working to sell the owner’s timber.
  3. A registered forester working to buy the owner’s timber.
  4. A registered forester working to sell the owner’s timber.

        These seem like simple and clear cut designations, but for the average landowner this may not be so. Their first dilemma is to know if they are dealing with a forester or not. This is tough since some forestry professionals are confused about this themselves! Registration laws are clear, but are not widely read. Some aspects of forestry can be learned on-the-job and many people are working in forestry, but may not be registered foresters. These professional loggers, technicians, and non-registered forestry graduates may all be faced at some time with interacting with landowners during timber sales or elsewhere.

    Traditionally in Alabama there are many workers employed in category #1, non-foresters working to buy a landowner’s timber. This should not confuse the landowner as long as these workers do not attempt to “practice forestry” as they buy someone’s trees. The landowner must clearly understand that a) the buyer is not representing them in the sale, and b) the buyer is not a forester and thus can not give them advice about what “needs” to be cut, disease problems, management planning, etc.

    Category #2, a non-forester working to sell the owner’s timber, is now a small group. Selling timber is an integral part of practicing forestry and thus only registered foresters- or those legally exempt from registration- can legally perform this task. Exceptions include landowners selling their own timber, government employees selling government timber, and employees selling their company’s timber.

    Category #3 will hold a large number of foresters who are working as industry representatives or wood suppliers, buying timber from landowners or managing timber that their company may one day purchase. Since these are registered foresters, they can give the landowner advice about forest management and practices. But in a timber sale transaction, the landowner must understand that he is this forester’s customer, not their client. The landowners must assess the forester’s information and offers, and negotiate for and represent themselves as any deal transpires.

    The last category, #4, is the traditional consulting forester who works directly for the landowner. This forester can give practical forestry advice and assist the landowner with the timber sale transaction. To fairly represent his or her client, the consulting forester must represent only the landowner – which typically means seeking to get him/her the highest possible price and best possible terms.

    These roles have long been in practice in Alabama, but landowners and foresters alike have not always been fully aware of the part they play as the timber sale transactions develop. Perhaps it is time for the forestry community to be more accountable to the true wood suppliers in Alabama, our private landowners.

    ASBRF has established an Ad Hoc Committee consisting of Phillip Sasnett, Keville Larson, Jack Fillingham, Chris Isaacson, and ASBRF member Melisa Love ) to review and consider this issue and to find practical ways to reduce landowner confusion. It is important that all Registered Foresters consider how formalizing the above-mentioned four professional players in timber sales will affect their working relationships with landowners. Feedback is needed about how to facilitate any changes that should be made.

Please contact Pam Sears or any Board Member with your comments and ideas. Initial comments will be taken and reviewed at the Board’s meeting in July 2005.

Love, Melisa V., RF. "Protecting The Public: Will landowners benefit from forester 'agency disclosure?'." The Registered Forester Spring 2005: 1, 5.

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