Life has a funny way of working out. Overcome by a fit of organizational frenzy, we recently rediscovered an excellent resource for forest owners in the depths of the PFLA archives. Oddly enough, the unearthing of this treasured resource coincided with the findings of our recent survey; specifically, the interest many of our members expressed in receiving more technical information and extension support.

As promised, we wasted no time digging right in to see what gems of relevant information we can share with you. The following post is inspired by the second chapter of the Non-forester’s Guide to Small-scale Forestry in British Columbia and explores the who, what, why and where of a forest inventory—something every forest owner should know about.

a forest owner and a forester standing beside a stream on private forest land

What is a forest inventory?

A forest inventory is an exercise to identify and quantify important features on your property. It’s a collection of information about land characteristics, forest cover, plants, soils, licenced water intakes, fish and wildlife habitats, roads, trails and other resource values in a forest area. A forest inventory helps determine what is physically possible and financially realistic in managing your woodland. It includes both timber and non-timber resources.

Why conduct a forest inventory?

Every forest is unique. The more you know about your woodland the better equipped you are to manage and protect it. Knowing what resources you have on your property, and what condition they’re in, is key to making informed choices about sustainable forest management. In order to manage a forest you need to be familiar with its character—the forest cover, soils, the plants and animals it supports, their age, location and condition. A forest inventory also serves as a marker to evaluate changes in your landscape over time.

What does a forest inventory include?

The level of detail you include in your forest inventory will depend on what stage of management planning you’re at. For the purpose of identifying and clarifying your personal goals for your woodland, a general idea of what you have to work with will suffice. Once you’ve established your goals, and you’re ready to plan your management operations, you’ll need more precise and detailed information.

At its most basic level, a forest inventory includes:

  • Your property boundaries
  • Streams
  • Ponds
  • Steep/unstable slopes
  • Sensitive soils
  • Licensed water intakes (LWIs)
  • Special wildlife habitat features (e.g. bear dens, goshawk nests)
  • Tree species and age class
  • Forest health issues (root rot, fire, blow down, drought stress, deer browse)
  • Access structures (roads, trails, gates, barriers, bridges, fords)
  • Drainage structures (ditches, culverts, water bars)

3 people measuring a culvert on private managed forest land

Along with your physical resources, it’s also important to consider your human resources. What friends, family, neighbours, networks of knowledgeable people do you have access to who can share information, skills, insight, advice and support with you?

What do you need to get started?

For starters, you’ll need a map of your woodland. Again, the level of detail you’re looking for will determine the map you use. In many cases, a simple sketch drawing is sufficient to identify the general layout of your property and locate the various features of your land.

Once you move beyond the basic information gathering stage, you’ll need a map with more accurate and comprehensive information. Municipal and regional district offices often have maps available. The provincial government is another source for maps. In BC, most land (both private and Crown) has already been stratified and mapped according to forest ‘types’ or groupings of stands that are similar in species, heights and stocking. You can obtain copies of these Vegetation Resource Inventory Maps (formerly called Forest Cover Maps) from the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.

Air photos are the next source of information you’ll need for your forest inventory. Thanks to software like Google Earth locating aerial images of your property is relatively easy. You might also find GeoBC— a portal into all the geographic data and information services provided by various ministries and agencies within the provincial government—a helpful resource.

What tools will you need to conduct your timber inventory?

You’re right, designing and implementing your timber inventory is a detailed process that requires planning, know-how and the right tools. Along with the maps and aerial photos you’ve already collected, the resource guide suggests you’ll need the following items:

  • Compass
  • Clinometer for measuring slope (used for tree height measurements, as well as soil and water conservation evaluations)
  • Increment borer for measuring tree age
  • Plot cord to determine plot radius
  • Diameter tape for measuring tree diameter
  • Pencil for recording data
  • Field cards, waterproof paper, field book
  • Calculator with sine function

What information do you collect and measure for your timber inventory?

Depending on the type of inventory, and your objectives for managing your woodland, you want to design your inventory survey to collect just the information you need. Thankfully, The Non-forester’s Guide to Small-scale Forestry in British Columbia has a step-by-step description of the timber inventory process along with diagrams, tables, photos and instructions to help you understand how to:

  • Transfer your polygon sketch from your photo onto your woodland map
  • Determine how many sample plots you need and where they should be located
  • Measure inventory plots
  • Use a diameter tape to measure tree diameter
  • Conduct top height tree measurements with a clinometer
  • Record plot information onto timber plot inventory cards (samples provided)
  • Determine the species composition by basal area
  • Use your compiled polygon data to complete the stand attribute table

These links might also come in handy if you want to:

What if you don’t have the expertise you need?

The great thing about expertise is it can be shared, learned, developed or hired. If you don’t have the knowledge and skills you need to complete your own forest inventory, but you’re keen to learn how, take a look around at your human resources. Is there anyone you know—family members, neighbours, friends, forestry associations—who can help you acquire the skills and resources you need to accomplish your forest inventory?

What to look for when hiring a professional forester?

Another option is to hire a professional forester to do the forest inventory for you. First, check your personal network to see if anyone you know has a forester they’ve worked with and recommend. Short of a good word-of-mouth referral, you can check the Society of Consulting Foresters of British Columbia member directory for a list of over 50 consulting foresters in B.C.

  • You’ll save yourself time and money if you’re clear about your objectives before consulting with your forester. The more you know about what you want to achieve, the less time the forester has to spend helping you figure it out.
  • Make sure to ask for references. Ask to see examples of management plans they’ve done for other forest owners. Or, if you’re considering hiring someone for a logging operation, ask to see examples of projects they’ve completed.
  • Consider the extent of the forester’s expertise. Can they help you with multiple phases of your management plan? Is their expertise limited to certain aspects of forest management? It’s beneficial to find a forester who can advise on the full phase of your forest management plans—someone you can build a relationship with and work together over time to achieve your management objectives.

Hopefully, this post has given you lots to think about and a good idea of the next steps you need to take along the path to a forest inventory and management plan for your woodlands.

If you have other questions, or need assistance gathering the tools, expertise and insights you need to carry on, leave us a comment below, give us a call or send us an email.

Also, if we’ve missed anything, or if you have expertise, suggestions or insights you’d like to share from your own experience, we’d love to hear your input!