Who Owns Alabama’s Forests?

Who are the typical timberland owners in Alabama? Are the small landowners in it for investment or recreation? For some insights, we spoke with Stephen Burdette, a registered forester with American Forest Management's office in Prattville.

Stephen Burdette

What types of owners are there in Alabama, owners of forestland?
Burdette: There are varied forest landowners of Alabama’s 23 million acres of timberland, 94 percent of which is privately owned, according to the Alabama Forestry Commission. These owners range from industrial owners (6 percent) to private owners (88 percent) and includes individuals, families, Timber Investment Management Organizations (TIMO), Real Estate Investment Trusts (REIT), and forest industry companies.

Are there still people who buy land directly as an investment, rather than investing in an REIT or in an ETF (exchange-traded fund) that is forest-based?
Burdette: Yes, individual investors still by land directly as an investment. REITs and TIMOs own about one quarter of the privately-owned timberland in the Southeast, according USDA Forest Service information. The rest is owned by other entities, such as individuals, families, businesses, and forest industry companies. Forestland is bought and sold all the time. There are currently thousands of listings for forestland on the open market being marketed to the public for private ownership.

What percentage of Alabama timber owners are owners of relatively small holdings?
Burdette: About 75 percent of forestland owners possess 40 acres or less, according to USDA Forest Service Southern Research Station Resource Bulletin SRS-146 – Alabama’s Forests, 2005.

What are the biggest holdings in the state? Who owns them?
Burdette: Information on ownership of land is kept in each county’s records and many owners own property in multiple counties. Therefore, it requires much research to find who is the largest forest owner in Alabama and that information is not readily available. Some of the larger landowner’s in Alabama are Weyerhaeuser, Hancock, Resource Management Services, Westervelt, Dudley. These are primarily industry owners, REITs and TIMOs.

What are the interests/motivations of a small acreage owner of forest land?
Burdette: From my perspective, the typical small acreage owner is interested in two things: recreational use (hunting, fishing, ATV, hiking, etc.) and income from the sale of products produced from their forest. Both are important to most owners of timberland, but all have their own unique goals for owning land.

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At what size of acreage is it compelling to have a professional forest manager or management plan?
Burdette: Stewardship plans have been written for holdings as small as 10 acres. From a practical standpoint of timber management, 20 acres is about small an area as can be managed for timber production by a professional forester. The key factor is timber volume. The questions buyers ask is whether there is enough volume on the tract to allow an operator to work for a week or more without moving again. This is due to the cost of moving the required equipment to and from the site.

American Forest Management, a land management and forestry consulting company, has two offices in Alabama — Prattville and Russellville.

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