The illustration of a “three-legged stool” in business is common these days. The finance industry identifies the three legs as Savings, Insurance, and Investments. Manufacturers identify them as Time, Quality, and Cost, while just down the hall in the sales department, these three legs are Product, Relationship, and Service. It seems as if every organization has different names for their three hypothetical legs. The three legs in the timber industry are often referred to as the Logger, Landowner, and Forester. This structural trinity is essential for the goal of maintaining the viability of the stools seat, or in our example, the forests that sustain our livelihood. One thing remains true, regardless of what name you’ve given your legs, all three must be in place for adequate stability.
In some cases, a single entity can make up more than one leg of the stool. For instance, a logger might be cutting his / her own forest land. Another possibility is the landowner may have taken the initiative to educate themselves enough to make sound management decisions on their own property. With respect, I believe that this can result in one of the “legs” being a tad shorter than the others. (It must be the forester engrained in me). This may leave future occupants of the “seat” with the feeling that something isn’t quite right, but without too much variation, the stool will remain sturdy overall.
There is another part of the three-legged stool that is less often named in this analogy. This part would be the stringer. Woodworkers know the stringer as a part that spans between the legs to maintain that “just right” distance for optimum stability. In our timber industry analogy of the three-legged stool, we too have a stringer: it’s called a contract.
A timber sale contract ensures that the weight of responsibility is distributed appropriately between each of the three legs. In addition to defining responsibilities, a properly drawn contract should also offer protection for both the logger and landowner, reduce the occurrence of timber trespass and theft, identify objectives, and outline expectations. Depending on the value of the sale, it may be a good idea for an attorney to evaluate your contract. At the very least, make sure your contract is easily understood, direct, and free from errors.
It is possible to conduct a timber sale without a contract. Just a couple generations ago, nearly all timber sales were written in a handshake and signed with integrity. If the legs of the three-legged stool are close (but not too close), equal, and straight as an arrow, it can stand just fine without a stringer. Of course, with change comes challenge. Absentee landowners, forest fragmentation, and dwindling profit margins make it difficult to maintain that “just right” distance between our stool’s legs without a stringer.
While handshake deals still exist, verbal agreements will simply not stand as firm as a written contract. Neither FISTA nor anyone that I know would recommend an oral agreement in this day and age. With a good, strong stringer in place, a stool will remain fully functional… even if one of the legs is a little bit crooked.
Ben Parsons, FISTA Training Co-ordinator, is originally from West “By God” Virginia as they say in that part of the Appalachian Mountains. His family’s deeply rooted philosophy of living off the land was monumental in deciding to earn a degree in Forest Management from West Virginia University. Throughout his career, Ben has had the opportunity to tackle a wide variety of assignments. He measured Forest Inventory and Analysis research plots in Virginia and Georgia, been involved with urban and utility forestry operations throughout the Appalachian region, procured lowland hardwood timber in the swamps of South Georgia, managed logging contracts and harvest operations in Arkansas and specialized in water quality and harvest planning as well as fighting forest fires in Virginia. As FISTA Training Co-ordinator, helping to meet your safety and educational needs is the number one priority here at FISTA. For more information, contact Ben at 800-551-2656 or firstname.lastname@example.org. This column was originally published here by the Great Lakes Timber Professionals Association.