By Kevin Daugherty
Deep in the piney woods of central Louisiana lies a 40-acre parcel of land owned by the Reynolds family. The old chimney is all that’s left of the house where Allen’s great grandparents lived and raised their children. The couple utilized that relatively small property to the fullest extent. They grew their produce in a large garden not far from the house. All of the family’s protein came from hunting in the woods, fishing in the creek, and raising a few cows and hogs. The house was constructed with lumber made from a couple of massive pine trees cut from what would soon be the front yard. The couple’s connection with the land was something special. Now, over fifty years later, Allen and his two sisters have inherited the property. All three live out of state and have never seen the property or even know how to get there. In fact, it’s been quite a few years since a Reynolds was on the place. Allen’s parents lived far away and had no interest in it. Now, faced with the decision of what to do with it, the new owners find themselves at odds. One sister wants to sell it immediately and the other is still so grief stricken over the loss of their parents that she doesn’t even want to discuss it at this time. Allen feels a strange sense of sentimentality for the place and would like to explore the option of keeping it and see what possibilities may exist for income and recreation. So, armed with a road map and an aerial photo from the assessor’s website, he finds and walks over the property. The east and north sides are bordered by fence and pasture and the timber changes pretty drastically around what should be the south line. He finds no evidence of ownership change around the west boundary. Allen decides to spring for the cost of a survey, which turns up some unsettling news. Years ago, the north side was encroached upon by the neighbor. It was an innocent mistake, as he thought he was putting his fence on the line. It’s now been under fence and pastured for many years. After a somewhat heated conversation with him and some research, Allen discovers that someone can actually possess another person’s deeded property by occupying it for a certain period of time. He decides not to press the matter and just accepts that he and his sisters own four acres less than what their grandparents were deeded. The surprises don’t end there. He then discovers a timber trespass and possible adverse possession on the south side. It seems that, when the neighbors had timber cut on their property, approximately three acres of Reynolds timber had been cut as well. A forester told Allen that, judging by the size of the trees there now, the harvest may have occurred as long ago as 15 years. Furthermore, since the area had been replanted, the neighbor likely assumes he owns that three acres. Allen decides all this is more than he wants to deal with right now and heads back home, much less excited about being a rural property owner than he was when his journey began.
This specific story is fictional, however, issues like this are not at all uncommon. There’s a saying that’s often used when talking about muscle, “use it or lose it”. There is some truth to that with land as well. In this series, I’ll cover some basic guidelines for rural land ownership that I’ve learned over my 33 year career of managing timberland properties and rural real estate sales. These are issues I very frequently encounter when talking to, or working for, private landowners. All of them can have a major impact on the value and productivity of your property, not to mention your enjoyment in owning it. I’ll discuss topics such as property boundaries, land assets, improvement possibilities, ownership and title issues, and other aspects of rural land management. I love helping private landowners and I hope this series provides some useful information.
Kevin Daugherty is a forestry and wildlife consultant, real estate agent, and the managing member of ForestLand Associates, LLC. He’s a member of the Association of Consulting Foresters, Louisiana Forestry Association, Society of American Foresters, and is a Land Certification Inspector for the Quality Deer management Association. He and his wife live in rural Winn Parish. For questions about this article Kevin can be reached at (318) 312-1240 or firstname.lastname@example.org