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What is a Timber Cruise?

July 12, 2018

This is part 2 of a 5 part series on Timber. In part 1, we discussed some factors that affect the value of timber on a particular property.

This week, we’ll focus on how foresters take inventory of timber on a property, commonly referred to as a timber cruise.

What is a Timber Cruise?

It is an analysis by a forester used to estimate the volume of timber on a property. It can be used to determine the current value of timber, establish a tax basis, inform forest management decisions, and forecast future investment potential.

The cruise starts with the landowner or buyer contracting with a forester for them to perform the work. They’ll perform the field work detailed below, then perform analysis, and generate reports and recommendations depending on the landowner’s needs.

How is a Timber Cruise Conducted?

There are a number of methods that a forester may use when completing a cruise. They could walk through the property for a visual assessment, which is the least accurate method, and is generally only used to determine if a more thorough cruise is needed. On the other end of the spectrum is a “100% Cruise” where every tree in the forest is measured and recorded. This is the most time-consuming and expensive option and is rarely used.

More common approaches are “Strip Cruises” and “Plot Cruises.” In these methods, a map of the property is used and either parallel lines are drawn across the map, or a grid of points are made. The forester then measures all trees within so many feet of those lines or points and that data would be used to estimate the remaining areas that were not measured.

Once they’ve determined the appropriate cruise method for the property, they will use that plan to measure trees.

Trees are measured by diameter and height. Diameter is taken at 4.5 feet from the ground and is known as Diameter at Breast Height (DBH). How height is measured differs by the product. Hardwoods will generally be measured from the base to the point where the tree tapers to about a 4″ diameter if they are to be used for pulpwood, while hardwood saw timber will be measured up to a 12″ diameter. These numbers change based on local mill capability and preferences. Softwoods have different methods of measurement and are less common in our mountain region.

The forester will then take the information they collect, analyze that to estimate the areas that were not measured, and convert the measurements into volume estimates for board feet and tons. Saw timber volume is generally tallied by the number of board feet that can be produced from the trees, while pulpwood is generally calculated by weight in tons.


The forester will create stock and stand tables. Stock Tables generally report the number of trees by species and average diameter and heights. That information is then summarized in Stand Tables that show the total volumes for each class of product (i.e., hardwood saw-timber and hardwood pulpwood).

Those estimates allow the forester to talk with timber buyers and mills and estimate the value of the timber if it were to go to market at the time of the study. This would be important for a Timber Appraisal or Valuation or understanding Tax Basis.

The reports can also be used for the creation of a Timber Management Plan also known as a Forest Management Plan. This is a plan developed by a licensed forester that allows landowners to focus their efforts on achieving some goal such as growing merchantable timber or creating wildlife habitat.

In future parts of this series, we’ll look at Timber Management Plans and Tax Basis information in more detail.

I help my clients understand land and provide them with education and knowledge to make informed decisions. If you’re looking for a professional land broker or need help understanding land issues like this, let me know! Pat Snyder,

About the Author
Pat Snyder joined National Land Realty in 2018. Pat is a retired US Air Force Officer with over 20 years of service and has several years of real estate experience. He is a Realtors Land Institute (RLI) member, Certified Negotiations Expert, and a Military Relocation Professional. He also serves as a board member on the Asheville Rotary Club and Blue Ridge Honor Flight. As a Land Professional in Western North Carolina, Pat enjoys educating clients on land sales and purchases and hiking properties with them. He also likes to work with other professionals to help his clients understand the opportunities and challenges of a land transaction, and help sellers get their land to stand out as an exceptional property to buyers before hitting the market. Pat holds a MA in Military Operational Arts and Science from Air University, a MS in Information Management Technology from Grantham University, and a BS in Management Information Systems from the University of Nebraska-Omaha. Pat enjoys spending time hiking, doing volunteer work and cooking. He and his wife Michelle have a son, Barrett, and a dog named Bacon. View Pat's Listings and Reviews on