If you own or are thinking about owning forest land for yourself, you may have heard the term “woodlot.” A Woodlot is a small parcel of forest land used for timber production and recreation. Typically, the term denotes a smaller parcel–less than 1000 acres–whereas “timberland” might be used to describe larger tracts of forest land. They are deeply-rooted tradition (no pun intended) in the eastern United States where early development and low-tech agriculture led to small parcel sizes compared to the larger scale ranching and agriculture in more western states. Today, they are still a crucial part of our forest economy and a source of income for thousands of landowners across the United States.
How Big is a Woodlot?
Most woodlots are around 20-30 acres in size, but they can be as large or small as is practical for forest management. A couple acres behind your house that you cut a few trees out of a year for campfires could be called a woodlot, and I wouldn’t fault you for it. However, you would have a hard time finding a logger to come to cut two acres of land. The specific economics of woodlot size depend on where you live. Where I live in northern Maine, 100 acres is considered a standard-sized woodlot. We have a heavy forest industry with large machines and larger mills, so it is easier to manage larger parcels than smaller parcels. In more developed coastal villages, however, 20 acres is truly as big as they come. Larger parcels have either been bought up by developers or land trusts long ago. In those areas, you will find smaller logging operations utilizing chainsaws and selling the wood to small-scale sawmills–often a guy with a Woodmizer or similar sawmill. The forest economy adapts.
What Are Woodlots Used for Besides Timber Production?
As you can imagine, the uses of a woodlot are as diverse as the ecosystems they hold. Woodlots can be used and managed for every sort of outdoor recreation imaginable, including hunting, snowshoeing, and hiking, as well as producing smaller scale forest products, such as maple syrup and Christmas trees. Some landowners enjoy using their woodlots to collect other resources provided by the forest, such as fiddleheads, chaga, ginseng, morels, and medicinal herbs. The possibilities are truly endless. I’ve even met farmers who built trails through their woodlot to give hayrides to customers of his pumpkin stand in the fall.
How Much Money Can You Make From a Woodlot?
The profit that you can make from a woodlot is entirely dependent on the income sources you develop from it and how many intermediaries you have in your business model. Parcels focused on timber production with stumpage sales will make smaller, more infrequent profits, but small firewood lots where the owner also operates a direct to consumer firewood business are naturally going to have a larger cashflow. Likewise, profits will be larger as more income streams are developed from the property. Maple syrup production, for example, can give you annual cashflows, though overhead will need to be covered. For information about how much wood you can expect to grow on an acre, read our article here.
How Do I Manage My Property As a Woodlot?
The first step in managing any forest property is to define your objectives. Do you want to provide an income for yourself? Do you want to create the perfect habitat for whitetail deer and monster bucks? Or do you want to be self-sufficient in firewood production? Once you determine what your goal is, optimize for it. That may be complicated or simple depending on your property and goals. If you have a larger property, your best bet is to get in contact with a professional forester and discuss your objectives.
How Do I Buy a Woodlot?
The best way to buy a woodlot is to consult with a real estate agent to review your options. There are often woodlots available for sale around the country at any given time. Its just a matter of finding the right one for you and your needs–and at the right price point. We offer some tips on how to buy property for cheap here. Of course, not every acre of land is suitable for every purpose, so be sure to specify the objective of the land before you purchase. This will assure you get the best value land for your needs.