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What is Timber Cruising?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 21, 2024
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When foresters and assessors examine a stand of timber to determine its potential value, this is known as timber cruising. There are a wide variety of reasons to request a cruising on a stand of forest, from a desire to get an accurate estimate of the value of the land, to fulfilling the mandates of an ongoing forest management plan. This process is usually conducted by trained and licensed foresters or timber professionals.

Timber cruising involves selecting a representative sample from a stand of forest and noting the predominant species, their height and diameter, and average quality. While cruising, a forester will also think about issues which may come up during timber harvesting, like threats to animal species which might be nesting in the trees, the ease of access to the site, and the potential for erosion as trees are removed from the site. Once all of these factors have been accounted for, an accurate estimate of the total value of the timber can be made.

One of the main reasons to ask a forester to go timber cruising is to determine the potential value of the timber on a site if it is felled and sold. These types of assessments are always done before logging is scheduled on a site, and they are typically also performed when a tract of timbered land changes hands. People who are not experienced in the timber industry would be well-advised to request an assessment of their timbered land before they sell it, to ensure that they get the maximum possible value.

Foresters also use timber cruising to keep an eye on forest growth and on the health of the forest. Many forest management plans specify regularly scheduled cruising to monitor the conditions in the forest. This process can reveal things like storm damage, pest infestations, and illegal logging, and it can also be used to determine how quickly trees are growing, and when those trees might be ready for harvest.

Before a timber cruising expedition can start, a forester usually spends some time searching through the deed records in the area, to ensure that he or she knows where the boundaries of the land are. Once the boundaries are clearly established, the forester can head out into the woods with measuring equipment and a logbook to record specific vital statistics. Timber cruising can take several days, especially in a large stand of forest, and in the process, foresters may also mark boundaries with survey stakes or tape for future reference.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is timber cruising and why is it important?

Timber cruising is the process of assessing a forested area to estimate the volume and value of standing timber. It's crucial for sustainable forest management, as it helps in making informed decisions about harvesting, conservation, and land management practices. Accurate timber cruising ensures that forest resources are utilized efficiently without compromising ecological balance.

How is timber volume measured during a cruise?

During a timber cruise, foresters measure timber volume using various methods, such as fixed-radius plots, point sampling, or prism cruising. They record tree species, diameter at breast height (DBH), and tree height. These measurements are then used to calculate the volume of timber using mathematical formulas or volume tables specific to the region and species.

What tools and technologies are used in timber cruising?

Traditional tools for timber cruising include diameter tapes, increment borers, clinometers, and Biltmore sticks. However, modern technology has introduced GPS devices, laser rangefinders, and even drones for more accurate data collection. Forestry software can also assist in processing data and generating detailed reports on timber volume and value.

Can timber cruising be done at any time of year?

Timber cruising can be conducted year-round, but the best time often depends on the region's climate and the specific objectives of the cruise. For instance, leaf-off conditions in the fall or winter can make it easier to measure and identify trees, while frozen ground in winter can facilitate access to otherwise wet areas.

What are the environmental impacts of timber cruising?

Timber cruising itself has minimal environmental impact as it involves surveying and measuring trees without harming them. It's a non-destructive process that plays a vital role in planning sustainable forestry operations, which aim to minimize negative impacts on the environment while managing forest resources responsibly.

How does timber cruising contribute to sustainable forestry?

Timber cruising is foundational to sustainable forestry as it provides the data needed to ensure that harvest levels are appropriate and that reforestation plans are effective. By accurately assessing forest stock, foresters can avoid overharvesting, maintain biodiversity, and ensure that forests continue to provide ecological services, such as carbon sequestration and habitat preservation.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a All Things Nature researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon351207 — On Oct 11, 2013

Timber cruising is correctly stated as a necessary precursor to a sale, while harvesting timber is not a one-time event, like mining. Trees are planted following harvest and new forests are formed.

By blackDagger — On Aug 26, 2011

@poppyseed - I totally understand your plight! It’s so sad to me, too!

Timber being cut isn’t just affecting trees and the land. It’s also affecting entire climates and ecosystems of wildlife.

The wildlife is moving to smaller and smaller patches of woods, and more and more people are getting into accidents with them.

We have several vehicles totaled every year where I live just because the deer have to get around all of the development to get to food and shelter.

Bears are coming to dumps to feed, and even closer to civilization in some places.

And that is not even to mention how much hotter it seems to be! The trees brought shade, and without that shade, it is miserable in the summers.

It just seems like with all of our recycling resources and the like, that we could quit with a little of the log scaling and timber cruising.

By poppyseed — On Aug 25, 2011

I find timber cruising to be a sad, sad thing. I know, I know; development and growth and all of that jazz. But I’ve got to say that it is so sad to me when I see a gorgeous plot of trees just plowed over.

I’ve always loved the forests of the area where I live, but the longer I’m alive the more the trees disappear. They are now known as cruising sites.

It’s nothing to see saw mill owners and developers out and about checking the timber.

The thing is that timber is a real luxury, and to have land with a lot of usable timber on it can get pretty pricey to pay taxes on.

Plus, with the general decline in the economy of our area over the past few decades, people are doing what they can to survive.

As a result, the trees are just disappearing. New farm land is popping up in the very rural areas. New homes and condominiums in the less rural are the fad.

By emtbasic — On Aug 24, 2011

@BigManCar - In this case it was pretty much a couple of guys with notebooks and some measuring equipment. My uncle has a decent sized plot of land, but it only took them a couple of days to walk around and get the information they need.

They told him that on bigger plots of land they could use all sorts of different ways to get around, ATVs, horses, even helicopters. But for a smaller plot of land, it's just as easy to walk.

Makes it easier to check out the trees, too, if you're not having to get in and out of a vehicle every time you need to measure something.

By BigManCar — On Aug 23, 2011

@emtbasic - When they came out to do the timber cruising, what methods did they use? Was there some kind of a machine or laser measuring device, or was the guy just walking around with a notebook and a tape measure?

By parkthekarma — On Aug 23, 2011

@emtbasic- Tell your uncle to make sure he gets a lawyer to represent him who is familiar with this kind of deal. If he has never done this before he could be getting lowballed or be asked to sign away rights that he does not need to give up to make the deal.

The guys who do the actual timber cruising are usually pretty straight shooters, their job is just to survey the trees on the land and see what you have, how big/old they are, etc. After that, they turn in their report to the guys who complete the transaction. Most of them are honest, but you should still have somebody representing your interests in a deal that big.

By emtbasic — On Aug 22, 2011

I just found out about this occupation a few months ago when my uncle was contacted by a lumber company wanting to send somebody out to take a look at his land. He has owned it for years, and he had no idea that his trees could be worth something until they called him.

They sent a small team of guys out to look over his trees. He was surprised by the result, to say the least. They offered him over $50,000 to harvest the trees on his acreage.

Apparently he has a rare type of hardwood tree that doesn't grow very many places. They way they do it now, it still looks like a forest when they are done. Not like the horrible clear cutting they used to do.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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