Birch trees are probably the most ubiquitous tree in the world. A circumpolar species, birch trees grow all around the northern hemisphere, and its characteristic white, papery bark makes it readily identifiable, even to children. In fact, for many, it is the first tree they learn to identify. No question, birch trees have a special place in the hearts of millions, but sentimentality aside, do they have any financial value? How much are birch trees worth in the eyes of the market? Depending on size and grade, a standing, high-quality birch tree can yield between $150-$300 per MBF, which works out to be about $15-$30 per tree. However, most birch trees are fairly low quality, yielding a far lower price, and some species, such as yellow birch, can yield much higher prices.
In this article we will discuss all aspects of birch value, including the differences in quality and species. First, however, it is important to discuss exactly what is meant by the value of a tree.
Stumpage Vs. Log Value.
The value of any tree can be broken down into two primary components: Stumpage value and log value.
Birch Stumpage Value
Stumpage value refers to the price a landowner receives from a logger for the right to harvest standing timber. Because this price represents the value of the tree in a state of its lowest refinement, this is the best price to use when asking how much birch trees are worth.
Unfortunately, the stumpage value of a tree varies substantially based not only on local markets for the species of timber and the quality of the timber, but conditions relating to how difficult that timber would be to harvest. Trees that are far from a road or on difficult terrain are worth less as standing timber. That said, the stumpage price for birch usually ranges around $150-$300 per MBF. However, if you wish to find the most recent and accurate stumpage values for your area, we have a list of resources here, and we have an article on what can affect stumpage value here.
Birch Log Value
The idea of log value refers to the value of a log delivered to the mill. Unlike the price of standing timber, which represents the tree in its rawest form, the price of a log includes the value provided in the form of felling, processing, and transportation. Thus, the value of logs are considerably more than the price of stumpage, usually about twice as much.
While stumpage values include considerations of logistics, the value of a log is entirely determined by the quality and volume of a log. Quality birch logs can go for $300-$600 per MBF, but pulpwood logs go for considerably less.
The Value of Birch Differs by Species
The birch family, Betulaceae, is incredibly diverse, hosting species from hazelnut to yellow birch. As one could expect from such a diverse family, not all species have the same value. In fact, most species in the Betulaceae family are relatively low value, having commercial use only as pulpwood. Only two species shine above the rest: White birch and Yellow birch.
White birch has unique qualities that make it the king of niche markets. Its wood is clean and uniform, it is easy to work with from a manufacturing standpoint, and it is relatively taste and odor neutral. Thus, white birch is widely used for products where these qualities would be beneficial, such as popsicle sticks and tongue depressors, tooth picks, and medical swabs. Its also used for turned or machined products such as drumsticks or skis.
However, white birch is only useful for these applications if the stem is particularly well formed, such as in the picture below.
Unfortunately, the quality and size of white birch rarely reaches this level. White birch is a short-lived pioneer species. It grows quickly and often dies before it even reaches merchantable diameter. If it does reach larger size, it often grows fairly crooked, rendering it only useful as pulp. As a consequence, most white birch trees (as well as other similar species like grey birch and black birch) yield only a few dollars a ton.
Yellow birch is the most valuable species in the birch family, with prices for standing yellow birch timber reaching up to $400 per MBF. It is a relatively fast-growing but long-lived species that can grow to large sizes. Moreover, the wood quality of yellow birch is superb, and it has similar uses to maple, such as flooring, cabinetry, and furniture.
The heartwood of yellow birch is also highly desirable, it has a reddish-brown color incredibly similar in appearance to cherry, giving it the name red birch and commanding a premium. You can see the red hue of the wood in the photo of yellow birch logs below.
Yellow birch also tends to grow in a straighter and more uniform fashion than white birch and other birches, giving it a higher stem quality on average. However, yellow birch is prone to epicormic branching, which can dramatic lower its value when grown on the edge of woodlands, trails, or other more open areas. The highest-quality yellow birch trees are large, straight, and grown under a closed canopy.
As mentioned, a large determinant of the value of a birch tree is the quality of a stem, so it is important to understand what is meant by quality.
Quality trees are trees that are straight and free of defect. Defects can include imperfections such as:
- Knots and excessive branches
- Irregular shape
In the diagram below, you can see the difference between a poor quality and high quality stem.
The tree on the left is full of dead branches that will produce nasty knots, and with so many openings on the stem, it is very likely there is rot in the stem as well. On the other hand, the stem on the right has nice, clear faces and is devoid of any noticeable defect (as far as we can tell). Thus, it will fetch a much higher price.
If you want to learn more about what makes a high-quality tree and how they are grown, you can get a free copy of our book on forest management here.
Finding the Value of a Birch Tree
Thus far, when we have mentioned potential values, they have been denominated in units of “MBF” or “thousand board feet.” This is a measurement of the yield of lumber a log is likely to produce.
To find how much birch trees are worth, then, one must find how many board feet are in a single tree. Luckily we have volume tables that can help us determine that based on the diameter and number of logs in the tree.
To better and more effectively use this table, we have an entire article on the subject here. Being able to estimate the board feet of a given tree is the key to estimating its value. Once you understand the estimate of board foot volume, simply divide by 1000 and multiply by the price per MBF discussed above. To see the whole process in action, watch the video below.
What Is an Acre of Birch Trees Worth?
The value of even a single high-quality birch tree might not be overly exciting, but what if we consider an entire acre of birch tress? How much is an acre of birch trees worth? To estimate such a scenario, we will need to know the amount of MBF (thousand board feet) per acre. Luckily, we can estimate that with the table below.
The table uses BA/acre (which you can learn about here) and the number of usable sawlogs per tree to estimate MBF per acre.
If the acre was well-stocked with 80 BA/acre of birch, and each tree had 2 usable 16-foot logs. In that instance, the timber could be worth as much as $3180 per acre! Imagine 100 acres of a similar stand, and the timber is valued at a total of $318,000 on the stump! Not too bad at all!
The Wildlife Value of Birch
So far, we have only discussed the financial value of birch, but it would be a mistake to not mention its other, more ecological values.
Because birch is considered a pioneer species that often grows in recent burns, harvests, and over-grown fields, it is a species that is a crucial component to what is known as an early successional forest habitat type. Because of the high levels of both food and cover they produce, early successional habitat is crucial to promoting wildlife health and diversity, especially for small mammals and birds, including upland game birds like the ruffed grouse. Thus, birch is a species of particular interest to hunters, and it can be a must-have species on your land if you wish to issue hunting leases.
Unfortunately, by its very nature, early successional habitat is fleeting and must be actively maintained. Likewise, most birch trees (like white birch) can largely disappear from a land base if the early successional habitat that they grow in is not created frequently. Thus, the best way to maintain birch species components and habitat diversity is to harvest on a regular basis and maintain a balanced distribution of stand ages and types.
Overall, birch is not the most valuable species in the forest, but it is certainly far from worthless. well-formed individuals have the potential to yield quite a profit, and of course, the value of young birch stands for wildlife diversity is difficult to understate. However, if one wishes to manage the birch on their properties, it is important to select for form, quality, and health to ensure the most valuable individuals have room to grow, and if one wishes to create or maintain birch as a component on their property, the creation of large openings is crucial. So when you are managing your property or preparing a timber harvest, don’t overlook this classic tree!