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FEATURED PROFESSIONAL: Luke Fehlig, Forester, Northwest Management, Inc.

Timber Cruisers: Scientists, Artists, and “Something Else”

Our world is becoming digitized. Even the complexities of nature are being disassembled into their components and digitally represented in scientific models to aid in our understanding. Any natural system can be modeled, including forests. However, models are only as good as the data used to create them. Today’s timber cruisers are the hardworking people in the woods assembling the massive datasets necessary to accurately depict the elements that make up forests.

Both modern and old-fashioned, timber cruising is a unique job which requires a high degree of knowledge, skill, and experience.  It truly is a blend of science and art, but great timber cruisers must not only be a scientists and artists, they must also possess a certain something else.

The Science: Timber cruisers usually have formal education in forestry or natural resources.  They have a strong working knowledge of forests and ecology. Correctly identifying and assessing trees and vegetation is crucial.  Evaluating the health and vigor of a tree, noticing insects or diseases that are affecting it, and determining its level of physical defect are tasks that adept timber cruisers must do quickly and accurately.

As all scientists do, timber cruisers take copious measurements. They use an array of precision instruments suited specifically for forestry.  Tools such as diameter tapes, increment bores, and laser hypsometers are specialized adaptations of equipment used in many fields. However, some timber cruising staples such as the ingeniously simple Relaskop are unique to forestry.  Cruisers must be proficient with all tools of their trade.

The Art: On flat, gentle ground with big trees and no brush, timber cruising can literally be a walk in the park. However, when brush obstructs sight, the terrain is uncooperative, or monstrous trees, needing to be included in the plot, are lurking hundreds of feet from plot center, timber cruising is no easy task. This is when it becomes art. Good cruisers can see through trees and brush and envision the plot from a perspective only gained through repetition and experience.  They move in a manner that they never have to retrace their steps –collecting one measurement as they move towards next.  An overwhelmingly complex plot is artfully dissembled into its components; data is collected smoothly and efficiently.

The Undefinable: Timber cruisers routinely venture into rugged mountains, untamed forests, and inclement weather that few sane people would.  Adventure and unpredictability are part of the job and also what attracts them to it. Timber cruisers have a certain wild element to their character.  While the rest of the world is being quantified and neatly categorized, cruisers refuse to be.  They keep their boots on the ground and ensure that we don’t lose connection with the forests we are studying.

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