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Forest property lines should be clearly marked

BELLEFONTE — Property line maintenance is one of the most important aspects of land ownership. It is your responsibility as the landowner to know where the boundaries to your property are located. Most forest landowners have a general idea where their lines are and have accurately surveyed maps, but few have their lines clearly marked and painted on the ground.

Well-marked boundaries can protect you from timber theft and help ensure other assets are protected. They also help you avoid trespassing on your neighbors when cutting trees or building roads and trails. When selling timber or performing other management activities it is important to know exactly where the boundary line is to avoid damage or disturbance to neighboring properties.

Only a licensed land surveyor can establish a property boundary. However, if you have a good modern survey description, you may be able to locate the property lines based on evidence and marking left behind from previous surveys. If your boundary lines cannot be located, you will have to contact a reputable surveyor. For the purposes of this article, we are going to assume you have an accurate modern survey and the lines and corners have been previously marked or “blazed” by a surveyor.

Once located, the boundary line should be marked using a combination of flagging and paint. Paint is preferred since it is the most durable, lasting more than five years, and cannot be torn down or moved. Plastic flagging is generally used to temporarily locate boundary lines but should be followed by more permanent blazing and painting trees along and near the line. Use a bright, (white, blue, red, or orange show up well) durable, brush-on paint. Many commercial brands of boundary marking paint are available. Choose your preferred color. Removing any loose bark before applying will allow the markings to last longer.

In the field, locate all corners or monuments and mark them as well. Corners should also be identified by “witness” trees. The marks on witness trees face or point to the corner. Surveyors make hacks or chop marks on witness trees in three parallel lines about equal distance apart that face the actual corner marker. Be sure to paint over the scars that remain from the axe chops. A combination of paint and hack mark scars ensure long term visibility of corner markings.

Line sections between corners can be long, where one corner is not visible from the first. Therefore, it is important to mark trees along the line as well. You may need to install posts along sections of lines with only small trees or no trees to make the location more obvious. Trees marking a line are designed with side-line chops or blazes made by the surveyor. Blazes are typically 5-6” long, 3-4″ wide, and 4 to 5 feet above the ground. All old survey blazes need to be located and painted so they are visible. Paint both the blazed callous tissue surface as well as 2-3″ of bark surrounding the blaze.

Blaze marks made along a line face the actual line and are made in a way to visualize the exact placement of the property border. When trees are located directly in the path of the line, two blaze marks will be on the tree, one on the side the line enters and another on the opposite side where the line exits. Survey markings can occur at different intervals along a line. When painting your line, it is a good idea to mark trees close enough so that from any mark you can see the next in either direction, the exact distance will vary with terrain and vegetation density.

Finding and marking your boundary lines with paint can be enjoyable and helpful. The best time of year to do this is when the leaves are off the trees. Once located, it is best to re-paint every 5-7 years to keep the marks fresh and easy to locate. Marked property lines are a sign of good forest management. They protect you from trespass, make forest management activities possible, and reduce the potential for accidental timber theft from neighbors. To view a short video on boundary line marking you can watch a Penn State Extension video here: https://youtu.be/-LLcG2jqgqU

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David R. Jackson is Forest Resources Educator at Penn State Extension — Centre County.

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