What is Timber Law?

Timber law is the area of law that governs how timber is sold and harvested.

The area of law creates rules for what circumstances must be present for a person or entity to lawfully cut down trees.

The area of law also involves the commercial activity of buying and selling timber.

Timber law is any aspect of the law that impacts buying, selling, and harvesting timber.

What Is Timber Law?

Timber law is the body of law that creates rules and regulations for timber.

It is federal, state, and local laws that together determine who can harvest timber.

The laws control what a person must do to lawfully harvest and what approvals they need to begin the work.

Timber law is made up of government regulations that control timber harvesting as well as the business of buying and selling the right to harvest timber.

Timber Law Is Regulations and Business

There are two primary aspects of timber law.

The first aspect is government regulations that apply to timber harvesting.

The second aspect is the buying and selling of timber rights among private parties.

Attorneys who practice in the field help their clients manage both of these considerations.

Government Regulations of Timber Sales

Legal regulations of timber sales occur at all levels of government.

When a person or entity sets out to harvest timber, they need to be aware of federal, state, and local regulations that may impact their activities.

All levels of government have significant timber laws.

Sometimes, local governments have a great deal to say about land use within their jurisdiction.

United States Timber Laws

United States timber laws come primarily from Title 16 of the United States Code.

The title of the chapter is Conservation.

Title 16 of the United States Code in conjunction with the United States Forest Service creates national laws for the protection of timber as well as for the harvesting and management of timber nationwide.

Although many of the laws pertain to government-owned lands, there are still laws and regulations that apply to private landowners.

Other notable federal timber laws include:

Federal timber laws have existed for many years in the United States.

The emphasis of the laws throughout the years is sustainable growth and responsible use.

In 1873, the Timber Culture Act offered people 160 acres of land if they planted trees on at least 25% of the land and ensured growth for 10 years.

The law allowed people to seize public lands in exchange for growing timber on those lands.

In 1891, the Forest Reserve Act allowed the United States President to designate public property as forest reserves.

The system became the national forest system.

State Timber Laws

In addition to federal law, each state has significant land use management laws including the harvesting of timber.

States typically designate their land management efforts to a Department of Natural Resources or environmental quality division.

These departments create rules that have the effect of law in their jurisdiction.

For example, the State of Oregon manages timber law through the Oregon Forest Practices Act.

The law says that timber harvesters must keep buffers around streams and leave down logs in place for habitat conservation.

Oregon state laws limit the total harvest area, require seedling planting to replace harvested trees, and require notice to the state before harvesting begins.

State law authorizes inspections of logging sites.

Oregon is just one example of state timber laws.

North Carolina Uses the Sedimentation Pollution Control Act to regulate timber harvesting.

The law creates both mandatory regulations and advisory, best practices standards.

Timber lawyers assist their clients with identifying, interpreting, and complying with the myriad of federal, state, and local laws that impact timber harvesting in the United States.

How Does a Timber Lawyer Help Their Clients Manage Government Regulations?

A timber lawyer must be skilled to help their clients navigate all levels of government regulation.

When there are permits needed to begin work, the lawyer must help the client secure these permits.

If there are practices that the timber harvester needs to follow to be lawful in their work, the timber lawyer needs to communicate these regulations to the client.

In the timber industry, the client relies on the lawyer to know what they need to do and how they can meet legal requirements successfully.

When disputes arise with government agencies, the attorney represents the client to maintain production and minimize penalties.

Private Buying and Selling of Timber Rights

Along with government laws and regulations, an equally important part of practicing timber law is the private buying and selling of timber rights.

Timber lawyers help their clients negotiate the sale of timber harvesting rights.

Both buyers and sellers utilize attorneys to help them conduct business in a lawful and commercially advantageous manner.

Contracts to Buy and Sell Timber

A contract to buy or sell timber harvesting rights must contain a great amount of detail.

The amount of money involved is often large.

For the seller, a timber sale may be one of the largest and most consequential events of their lifetime.

Here are some of the considerations that need to be a part of a contract to buy and sell timber:

  • What is the length of time that the buyer has access to the property?
  • Can the buyer assign the timber harvesting rights?
  • How long does the buyer have access to the property?
  • Does the contract pause during bad weather? Who decides if the weather is bad?
  • What is the legal description of the area to be harvested?
  • Are property lines clear? Where can timber harvesting take place?
  • What are the types, sizes, and conditions of the trees to be cut?
  • Does the buyer pay by land size, or do they pay by the amount of timber that they harvest?
  • How are records kept for the amount harvested?
  • Is a bond or security payment required to ensure proper environmental precautions?
  • What liability insurance is required?
  • How will the harvester maintain access roads and restore roads after completion of work?

It’s important to fully investigate who owns the timber.

A contract should also specify what happens if there is accidental trespass or timber theft.

There are many different options for how to structure a timber sale.

Any contract should require all timber purchasers to follow fire and environmental regulations.

In addition, all purchasers should have liability insurance.

In addition to things that should be in all timber sale contracts, there are flexible ways to structure a timber sale.

A timber lawyer helps their client negotiate the sale and understand the terms of a proposed contract.

Finally, when disputes arise, a timber lawyer helps their client pursue conflict resolution which may take the form of arbitration, mediation, or litigation.

Who Practices Timber Law?

Attorneys practice timber law throughout the United States.

Because timber laws come from multiple levels and jurisdictions, timber lawyers must also be present in these locations to meet the demand where it occurs.

Some lawyers work for federal agencies enforcing federal timber laws.

However, all states need timber lawyers to enforce their laws and regulations.

Attorneys who wish to work in timber law on behalf of a public agency have many options to choose from when it comes to deciding on a geographic location.

Similarly, private attorneys who practice timber law live and work throughout the United States.

Why Practice Timber Law?

Timber law is big business.

However, each case is highly unique.

Timber lawyers who undertake to understand the complexities of a sale may find themselves in high demand with significant work from even a single client.

Timber law involves understanding environmental regulations and business law.

Because it is complex, it provides a welcome challenge for attorneys who want to take on complex and potentially lucrative representation.

Making the Cut With Timber Law

Timber law involves both public laws and private contracts.

Timber attorneys help their clients with every aspect of timber sale and harvesting.

As both public and private attorneys, timber lawyers work to ensure that timber harvesters conduct their business lawfully, in a way that serves the common good and in a way that serves the client’s own best interests.

Michael Morales

About Michael Morales

Michael Morales is the Webmaster and Editor in Chief for Legalcareerpaths.com. With a strong background in Web Publishing and Internet Marketing, he currently works as an independent consultant. A former paramedic and ems educator, he enjoys punishing himself doing triathlons and endurance sports. Michael currently lives in sunny Northern California, home of the highest tax rates in the world.

One Response to What is Timber Law?

  1. Avatar
    Catherine Vance #

    Great article, Michael. I like your bio, too.
    I’ve been a family law attorney 30 years, but moved to Magalia (north of
    Paradise) and live on 20+ acres of uncut and spectacular evergreen. My
    neighbor has a couple hundred acres and I recently purchased a portable
    lumber mill (LucasMill) after PG&E cut down a lot of trees and just abandoned
    them. I am retiring from the courtroom stress of family law and want to do
    everything right as I dip my toe into starting a small lumber company.
    Thanks for your well-written article.

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