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Timber Cruise—Why, When?

John Erixson, Northwest Management, Inc.

Why even consider having your timber cruised? In order to evaluate whether a timber cruise has value to you, a little background information is necessary. Timber cruising is a systematic survey of your forest that provides you with information about the quality and quantity of forest products located on your property. Specifically, a timber cruise involves the measurement of individual trees on the forestland to provide landowners, timber buyers, foresters, and other interested parties with an estimate of the volume located on the parcel.

The reliability of a cruise is dependent on several items. First the accuracy is directly correlated to the experience of the cruiser. A timber cruiser must consider the number of plots necessary for your cruise, the location and spacing of those plots, and what trees to sample. A cruiser must accurately collect tree measurements, including stem diameter, tree height, and other pertinent information. The field data collection is a major part of cruising, but the analysis is equally important. Through the proper application of a statistical analysis a forester can provide a cost efficient estimate of the volume of forest product present on your property.

So... do you need a cruise? It depends on what you know about your timber and your objectives for your property. A good cruise can provide some very valuable information. If you are planning a timber sale---the cruise can

  1. Help to determine your basis for tax purposes,
  2. Help you design your harvest (determine what species to harvest, how much volume, from what part of your property, etc.),
  3. Help you maximize your return from your harvest, and
  4. Help in long-term management planning.

Tax Basis

Who cares about basis? Our friend the IRS does. When selling timber, the IRS considers the gain a capital gain, either short-term or long-term depending on how long you have owned your property. This gain can be offset by the value of the timber when you purchased the property. Your cruise can provide an estimate of the volume and value of the timber at the time you acquired the property, which is important when calculating the gain.

Harvest Plan and Maximizing Return

When planning your timber sale a cruise can provide information concerning the location of certain species on your property, the size classes of your timber, the health of your timber, and how much volume you may want to harvest. This information is used to determine when to sell the specific forest product to get the best price. For instance, you may have an area that has a lot of western larch or perhaps western red cedar that needs thinning, if you know where this timber is and what size it is, you may be able to harvest it to take advantage of a specialty market. Also if the approximate volume per acre is known, it may help in negotiating an appropriate logging cost which may be lower.

Long Term Management Planning

What if you are planning on retaining your property for long-term management? Commercial thinning, pre-commercial thinning, tree planting, and fertilizing are all management options you will want to consider. A cruise can provide you with the information necessary for making these decisions. You can determine which areas need planting and which need thinning. and plan for those expenses at harvest time.

What if you are selling your property? Do you know the value of the standing timber? Without good cruise information, we often see timber and timberland sell for less than its worth.