Timber Inventory (Valuation/Cruise)

click to view more photos
A timber inventory (timber cruise) can be necessary for a number of reasons:
  1. Selling Timber
  2. Timberland Acquisition
  3. Forest Management Planning
  4. Estate Planning
  5. Forestry Investment Analysis
  6. Timber Damage Appraisal
The timber cruise, or timber inventory, is the starting place for timber valuation. Until the forest landowner knows the volume of timber on a property, he cannot know the value of the timber.


"A forest inventory is the procedure for obtaining information on the quantity and quality of the forest resource and many characteristics of the land area on which the trees are growing. A complete forest inventory for timber evaluation provides the following information: estimates of area, description of topography, ownership patterns, accessibility, transportation facilities, estimates of timber quantity and quality, and estimates of growth and drain [removals]."1

Timber Cruise Methods

Foresters use a number of different timber cruising methods, including strip, fixed-plot, variable radius, and 100% cruises. The first three methods measure a small sample of the trees. A conversion factor based upon a ratio of the total timbered area to the area in the sample expands, or "blows up," the sample in order to compute the total volume of timber. A forester may perform a 100% cruise on a small tract of high-value timber. With a 100% cruise, the forester measures each tree on the property.

The most common timber cruise is a systematic sample. In a systematic sample, plots are laid out in a grid fashion, evenly distributed, so as to sample all of the different timbered areas. The forester usually measures distances in the woods by "chains." A chain is 66 feet and has been a common unit of measurement in forestry for years.

A timber cruise can be compared to a public opinion poll. As long as the polltakers cover the a broad spectrum of the overall population, the results of the poll will be relatively accurate. If the pollster questions twice as many Democrats than Republicans, then the chances are good that the polling results will be significantly skewed. Therefore, a poorly designed timber cruise will result in unreliable timber values. We will specify the type of cruise we are performing and will include a field map or sketch showing the location of the sample plots in our timber cruise report.

Timber value also depends on tree species. For instance, in the south, pine is more valuable than sweetgum, and in the northeast, cherry is more valuable than poplar. While a landowner may not be expected to be able to identify all of the trees in the forest (and few foresters can, either), when conducting the inventory, the forester must know what products and species have the highest value in the subject property's market area. Trees of North America: A Guide to Field Identification is an excellent field guide for tree identification.

Mellette Forestry Group can help a land owner know how much timber is on the property and what it is worth by providing an accurate timber cruise. Our Timber Inventory services cover all size forestland properties, from a few acres to thousands. Contact us and let us design and implement the appropriate timber inventory for your forestland.

1Bertram Husch, Charles I. Miller, and Thomas W. Beers, Forest Mensuration, p. 150.