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What is Land Management?

Talking With Soterra: Ep 2 | Timber Cruising

Viewers get a detailed walkthrough of a forest check-up or “cruise,” led by Josh Smith, manager of the land resource group. This session provides a comprehensive overview of the process, tools, and safety measures involved in a forest cruise. It also highlights the evolution of technology in forestry and its impact on safety and efficiency.

Soterra currently manages more than 170,000 acres of land in the Southeastern United States. Their primary objective is to obtain the highest value for our land while following forestry best management practices. Soterra is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Greif, Inc.

We use intensive regeneration techniques to maintain an ongoing timber supply while protecting the land from erosion. We are active in the conservation of our property by following forestry best management practices.


  • An introduction to forest cruising
  • A demonstration of the tools and safety gear used during a cruise
  • A discussion on the evolution of technology in forestry
  • A walkthrough of a forest cruise
  • A discussion on the importance of forest stewardship

Takeaway 1: The process of cruising involves a thorough inspection of the forest to assess the health of the trees and identify potential threats such as fires or pests.

Josh Smith, the manager of the land resource group, explains that cruising is akin to a doctor’s visit for the forest. During the process, the team checks for issues such as insect infestation or fire damage and monitors the growth of the trees. Martin, a Forester for the land resource group, further elaborated on the process, saying, “So what we first got here is some safety equipment…I have a tourniquet here, just in case for some really bad wood.” He emphasizes the importance of safety equipment, which includes a GPS device for navigation and a first aid kit that the team carries during their cruising operation.


Takeaway 2: Cruising involves determining the diameter at breast height (DBH) and height of trees within a selected plot for inventory purposes.

Martin explains that during cruising, “We’re going to measure every tree within a 37.2 radius…we want to get the DBH and the height on all the trees.” He also mentioned that the team uses a GPS device and a DME (Distance Measuring Equipment) to determine the exact location of the plot and the distance to each tree. He added, “So I’ve got all the trees and DBHs, the heights all that stuff stored on the Excel spreadsheet within this. I’ve got the next plot selected, and I’m about to head out.”


Takeaway 3: Technological advancements have significantly improved the safety and efficiency of cruising operations.

Josh Smith highlights how technology has transformed the way cruising is conducted, saying, “That’s another technological advance for us…it [the DME] tells you exactly how many feet I am away from this center stick.” He further explains that previously, the team had to physically measure the distance from the plot center to each tree. It was a time-consuming and often dangerous task, especially in dense forest areas. However, with the advent of GPS and DME devices, the team can now easily and safely determine the exact location and measurements of each tree.


Takeaway 4: Cruising involves encountering various challenges and hazards in the field, including wildlife encounters and hidden dangers like stump holes.

Martin shares one of his most memorable experiences in the field, stating, “The craziest thing that I’ve ever seen…we encountered…a sounder of piglets, and the mother pig at that point knew her piglets were in trouble and charged me.” He also notes a hidden hazard in the field, a stump hole, which can cause serious injuries if not noticed. He emphasizes that such risks underscore the importance of safety equipment, like the spot device, which can notify emergency response officials if an accident occurs.


Takeaway 5: Cruising is an integral part of forest management, ensuring the health of the trees and contributing to efficient decision-making processes.

Josh Smith concluded the session by stressing the importance of cruising in managing forests. He said, “At that point, all of this real data that we’re collecting out here becomes tabular, and it becomes a way for managers, area foresters, all the way up to our VPGM to make effective decisions on what we need to do next about our forest.” This data-driven approach facilitates informed decision-making processes, ensuring the optimal management of forest resources.

Insights surfaced

  • Forest cruising is a crucial part of forestry management, involving checking the health of the forest, looking for signs of pests, fires, and assessing tree growth.
  • Technology has significantly improved safety and efficiency in forest cruising. Tools such as GPS units, first aid kits, and safety vests are now commonly used.
  • The use of a DME (Distance Measuring Equipment) has replaced the old method of physically measuring distances to determine if a tree falls within the plot radius.
  • The data collected during a cruise is sent to a GIS manager who organizes it into a system for effective decision-making about forest management.
  • Forest cruising involves dealing with various hazards such as stump holes, water wells, and wildlife.

Key quotes

  • “Cruising is probably the most foundational part of our business. Our employees go out and they manage our forest, they check for the health of the forest and make sure everything’s all right.”
  • “We have our GPS units… it helps us navigate to the plots, take tallies of trees, keep up with the tree count.”
  • “I love being out in the woods, taking care of the land, being a good steward of the land. It really gives me satisfaction knowing that 15, 20, 30 years from now this is one of the things that I’ve taken care of all my life.”
  • “The most thing that I’m proud of working with SATA is just the team effort that we have here. Everybody’s on board with the same goal.”
  • “The craziest thing that I’ve ever seen… was a sounder of piglets and the mother pig… knew her piglets were in trouble and charged me.”

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