What happens on a timber cruise, and why is it important in forest management?
A timber cruise is an essential tool used by foresters to determine the land value of an area.
To learn more about how this process works, we talked to longtime Rayonier employee and Florida Resource Unit Leader Rick Piagno and Rayonier Business Development Forester Kyle Purvis.
What exactly is a timber cruise?
“At a basic level, timber cruising involves collecting information like tree measurements on specific plots,” says Rick, who’s based in Hastings, Florida. “This allows the company to calculate how much monetary value we have in the trees and land.”
The first type of cruise is called timber cruising.
Rick says there are two types of cruising: “The first I’ll refer to as timber cruising which is primarily used prior to harvesting a stand or group of stands.”
A stand is a community of trees that are uniform in age, species and condition.
“With this type of cruise, we measure tree diameters and heights, then class each tree as to the product it will likely be merchandised as—such as pulpwood, sawtimber, etc.”
Pulpwood is used in everyday products like the LCD screen on your phone, the tires on your car, bath products, diapers, and thousands of other products. Sawtimber is wood used for planks, boards and other lumber used in building houses, fences, furniture and other wood products.
Once the tree diameters and heights are recorded and classifications are determined, Rick says, “this information is first used to estimate the volume of timber in each product class, then used to value the timber.”
The second type of cruise is called inventory cruising.
“Inventory Cruising is generally done at specific ages in a stand’s life. This information is used and maintained in our system so we understand what volume is available at any point in time—primarily in the future.”
Rick likens it to a store owner inventorying their merchandise so they know how much of each item they have in stock.
What happens on a timber cruise?
Both types of cruises are completed in a similar manner.
Rayonier’s Land Information Services, or LIS, team determines where information is needed in order to predict the current and future value of a specific stand of trees. The team enters the coordinates they need information about into a software system that the foresters will have access to in the field.
“Basically, a pre-established grid is laid out over a stand of timber,” Rick explains. “The cruiser walks through the woods on a certain bearing for a specific distance, then stops and measures a plot. Where they stop is called the plot center. The plot is a small subsample of the timber near the center.”
Kyle, who’s based in Lufkin, Texas, explains that cruisers use a handheld tablet to record their findings directly into Rayonier’s company-wide mapping system.
“We travel to that plot with our tablets and then take inventory of that specific plot.”
“The tablet is probably the most important tool we have,” he says. “It’s an important data recorder that lets us input all of our values” and update the company’s systems with the new information instantly.
Several different methods can be used to complete a cruise depending on the type of cruising and information needed, but the most common are variable plots, fixed area plots, and rectangle plots.
Rayonier uses either employees or contractors to complete the work depending upon the scope of the project and location, and the time it takes depends upon the size of the stand and conditions in the woods.
What are the benefits of timber cruising?
“Cruising timber is really important to the company,” says Kyle. “It basically lets the company know what they have.
“It also lets them know if there’s anything wrong with the stand, any bug spots or maybe a small fire broke out. So it serves multiple purposes.”
Foresters also look for signs of important animal habitats, such as the Red Hills Salamander habitat on our Alabama land, a gopher tortoise burrow on our Florida land, or a Northern Spotted Owl habitat on our Pacific Northwest land. If a habitat is found, the forester marks that location on the tablet to ensure the habitat will not be disturbed during forestry operations.
“Anything that we could pose a threat to, we definitely want to protect and make it known that that area has something that we’re trying to protect,” Kyle says.