Land buying can be a little complicated at times. We try to keep it as simple as possible for sellers and buyers. So let’s talk about land use. After people buy and own land to use it.
For our purposes here we’ll define land use as the most economical best use of an individual tract of land. Not the individual landowner’s hopeful uses of the land. Big difference here. Many of us have heard the term “highest and best use” of land and that’s applicable also, but that’s a topic for later discussion. To look at land use in West Virginia we often look back about 100 years. This puts us around the 1920’s and the industrial revolution. What did this mean for West Virginia land? Like a lot of forestland and subsistence farms in Appalachia, the early 1900’s were at time of drastic activity and land use and conversion from logging and farming (forest clearing). Surface mining in West Virginia came much later.
Timber & Forestry
All one has to know to gauge the impact of the industrial revolution in on West Virginia forests is that that there remains NO privately owned virgin forestland in West Virginia today. Virgin timber and forests haven’t been here for a long time. Not one acre. Every single tract of privately owned forestland has been logged since the early 1900s. In fact, the vast majority of these private forestlands today in West Virginia have been logged 3 to 4 times, mostly on a select cut basis. When you do the math you can see that most forestland is logged about every 30-35 years. As foresters we call this a “timber rotation”. So most likely the land that you are looking at purchasing with it’s ample forest resources has been logged repeatedly. Basically forestry and logging has made the forests what you see today.
Over the last 60 years, West Virginia’s private forestland acreage has increased from 9 million acres to 12 million acres. How? Old abandoned farm fields growing back to forest. At one time in West Virginia, basically all land that was farmable, tillable and workable was farmed. This consisted of bottom lands, flat to rolling benches on hill sides and ridges. These were not production farms but subsidence farms for the family that owned the land. It was hard farming, very hard. The soils were good but the terrain was tough and unforgiving. The majority of these farms stopped being “worked” by the family after WW II and up through the late 1950’s. The kids moved away to take industrial jobs in the “city” in places like Cleveland, Akron, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. If you ever have a chance to look at old topographic maps and aerial photos (we do because it’s our job), one would be amazed at the amount of cleared farm land that is now converted back to young forest in West Virginia.
We’re land guys. We hunt a lot and we sell a lot of hunting land. Once you know what to look for good hunting land is a fairly simple concept also. Whether whitetail, turkey or birds, good hunting land is about good diverse habitats. Diversity comes from forest cover, various forest age classes and forest/field/brushy edge. It’s pretty much that simple. Good hunting land involves a mix of acres containing some mature oaks (preferably White Oak), intermediate forest with a lot of understory browse, early successional forest with a lot of saplings, some brush and bramble for cover and a few grassland or food plot acres for low mast years and attracting the wildlife to one area. That’s it. These are the bones. Of course you can spend a lot of time and money fine tuning food plots and the like and of obviously you’ll want to harvest only mature bucks if you’re hunting horns. But when you’re looking to purchase good hunting land, buy good habitat first. By the way, these old West Virginia farms with mature forest and abandoned farm fields have a tremendous amount of habitat diversity. This is the reason why the deer and turkey hunting is so good on these “old abandoned farms”.
So when you ask a land professional or forester about the land use of a particular property, we carry a long perspective and prism. We can historically evaluate a tract of land and know in pretty certain terms how the land and forest has been used over the last 100 years.
One last thing about land use, we’ve observed in 30 years of land management and in evaluating and managing hundreds of tracts. Almost always, the historical land use of a tract of land, whether forestry, farming or a combination thereof is based on the lay of the ground, soils, slope etc. Nine times out of 10 if not more so, the future use of the land will be similar to the past use of the land not what the new owner might want or hope to do with the land. What this means in practical terms is that its so much easier less costly to go with what the land gives you.
This is why we try hard with land buyers to match what a tract of land provides to the buyer’s intended land use. If a tract doesn’t provide what you want or need, we’ll let you know first thing and before we waste a lot of your time and ours. Better yet we’ll get started in finding you a tract of land that fits for your intended uses. In our opinion it’s that important.