Top 10 Security Concerns for Landowners
The Unique Challenges of Securing Timberland
One of my fondest memories of visiting my grandparents in Colorado as a kid was piling into the truck with my grandfather and checking on the cattle! For me, it was a chance for my brothers and me to spend time with a grandfather who lived some 1800 miles from our house. For him, it was a necessary chore. Of course, while we were impressed with the places a four-wheel drive pickup could take us, my grandfather was looking at the fence lines, and gates, counting cows and having fun entertaining his grandkids.
Boots on the Ground Best Method to Ensure Security
That boots-on-the-ground approach to land security is still one of the best methods timberland owners can use to protect their land investments.
Of course, there is a big difference in the sightlines and environmental conditions while checking cattle on the plains of Colorado compared with those of 800 acres of Alabama timberland. With cattle, the entire property is fenced, the number of cattle in each pasture is known, and the access to those pastures is controlled.
Although the situations seem very different, landowners can learn a few tricks from cattle ranchers by focusing on those same three controls – fences, accurate counts and access control.
- Know your fences. Counting your acres is something most landowners do during the purchasing process. However, when the land has been in the family for generations, it is easy to think we know the boundaries and how many acres there are, but if the land has never been surveyed, you can’t know for sure. The first step in protecting your property is to know exactly where your property begins and ends. Get a survey to know exactly what you own and have the boundaries clearly defined to create an invisible fence.
Unfortunately, on larger property holdings, getting an up-to-date survey can be cost prohibitive. If that is the case for you, get to know your adjacent landowners and work out an agreement outlining where the property lines are drawn as soon as possible. Understanding the property lines, even informally among the neighbors, can prevent accidental trespass of neighboring harvest operations. It is even better to make a sketch of the agreement of property lines or use the available plat’s and have each adjacent owner sign the plat as a testament that they agree with the line locations. This process will also alert you to disputes in the lines and open valuable dialogues with adjacent landowners before there is a problem.
- Know your timber volume. Get an accurate estimate of the volume of timber on your property. Any consulting forester should be able to quickly provide you with an accurate cruise. Knowing how much timber you have on your property can assist in your future management decisions.
- Protect the access points to your property. A third key to security for landowners is to prevent access where you can. To do that you need to gate roads and post “no trespassing” signs along the borders. You can’t post signs once and forget about it. Maintain the signs you do post. Just because you posted the lines 10 years ago, does not mean those signs are still there and legible.
While reviewing your properties access points, be aware of posted signs that you didn’t put there. Posted signs you didn’t put there may be a clue to a line dispute with a neighboring property owner. Or you might have some unwanted guests who are claiming your property as their own. Some illegal substance growers have been known to post “No Trespassing” signs to deter folks from coming too close to their operations. Even the bad guys know those signs are an effective deterrent for anyone planning to enter the property.
Be equally cautious if you post signs and then return in a few weeks to find all the signs have been taken down. Any unusual tampering with posted signage is a clue that someone is treating your land as their own.
Finally, while discussing gated roads for controlled access, consider how you’re roads are utilized now. Placing a gate across a road that has traditionally been open, could have unintended consequences. I’m aware of many tragic stories surrounding gated roads where ATV riders are injured or killed running into gates they didn’t know were there (AVOID cable gates please!). Discuss gates with your insurance providers before you gate anything. This is especially an issue if there are special areas of concern on your property including ponds, lakes, rivers, or old mining operations that may draw the adventurous. One institutional landowner I know had to remediate the mud hole being used for 4-wheel drive exploits and then patrol the area for a few years to deter trespassers.
If you have implemented the top three things mentioned above, then you have already laid a solid foundation of property protection.
Taking Your Protection to the Next Level
Now, if you are ready to raise the sophistication of your security program, here are a few additional suggestions that will work together to deter unwanted visitors and an unwanted loss of assets:
- Contract Wisely. Utilize excellent contracts with those you do hire to assist in your forest land management activities. Get specific with the language used in each contract and be careful about making assumptions. If there are disputes later, what is on paper is the only thing that will count. Specifics include type of work to be done or nature of the agreement, equipment, and material to be used, time frame, standards or metrics for operational success, and payment terms. Any work done on your property should be spelled out in writing, so all parties are aware of expectations.
I cannot emphasize enough, that lacking specific details in a contract will cost money! Here are just a few examples of situations I’m aware of:
- · Handshake agreement on the harvesting prices leads to a landowner being promised one thing and paid a lower price.
- · Push a road into the tract – can be interpreted several ways. To what specifications? Bicycle traffic, ATV traffic, light pickup or heavy truck?
- · Acreage variances – tree planting, chemical applications
- · Contract specifies harvesting all timber, however, pulpwood markets become tight, so all timber becomes saw logs, anything not meeting saw log specs is left standing
- · How much chemical are they going to apply? What guarantees do you have? Direct observation of mixing process may be called for, especially when you consider the current costs of chemicals.
- · Tree planting – how many, what spacing, what species, what generation, etc.
- · Boundary lines – chopped, cleared and marked? Or just maintained? I may define maintained differently than you do! And all work must be completed before any payment is given! No exceptions.
the traffic on your property. Utilize hunt clubs if you own
property where hunting leases are common. Not only can this provide
an additional revenue stream, it will provide you with more eyes on
your property that can alert you to any illegal access. The same can
be said of the new recreational leases that have begun cropping up
in recent years. Utilized properly, the increased traffic on your
land can be a boon to your security program.
surveillance cameras. If recreational leases and hunt clubs
aren’t an option, deploy surveillance cameras on the common access
points to monitor traffic. Cameras have dropped significantly in
price over the years and many will operate months without a battery
change. Most outdoor equipment dealers carry a large selection.
local law enforcement. Get to know the local law enforcement
officers in your community and make it clear you will prosecute
trespassers. If they don’t think you will prosecute and stand
behind their efforts to enforce the law, then they will not be an
ally when you may need them. If you have an illegal dump or
trespass problem, let them know about it. Perhaps they can assist
you by sending a patrol car periodically by your property to assist
with surveillance. Don’t expect them to do your work for you. It
is much more likely they will ask you about the surveillance you’ve
been doing. Document your own efforts at surveillance and be ready
to provide them with a copy of the footage.
about the selling process. One of the best ways to make a sale
that is fair and in your best interest is to know your property, its
value and the selling process itself. Many state forestry agencies
provide excellent free guidelines for selling timber.
contractors wisely. Get references for any contractors you are
considering for work on your property. Be sure of the folks you
hire to assist with timberland management. I have run across lots
of folks who buy timber that also will provide you a management plan
for your forestland. There is an inherent conflict of interest in
that relationship that should be avoided.
- Prevent illegal dumps. Preventing illegal dumps is a growing issue as many of our municipalities now charge a fee to dump. Rather than pay the fee, they find a backroad to your property which then becomes the point for dumping. If you have one of these sights on your property, even if it’s just a little one, clean it up as soon as possible. Little dumps will become large dumps if nothing is done.
Consult a Professional Forester
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that a quality consulting forester can always assist you with many of these issues and, as a member of the Association of Consulting Foresters, I would recommend you start your search for a consulting foresters on their website. This is a trusted and professional organization and the ACF does an excellent job of policing its members to ensure you have a consultant who will keep your best interest at heart.