What Is a Forest Stand?


When talking to a forester or logger, you may hear them refer to a “stand,” but what exactly is a “stand?” A stand in forestry refers to a group of trees comparable in species composition, stem density, size, and age. The classification of a stand takes into consideration both overstory and understory. For example, one area of mature sugar maples may have no understory, and another area of mature sugar maples may overtop small, sapling-sized beech. Each of these groups could be considered a separate forest stand. However, the distinction could also be made if one area of sugar maples had a component of mature yellow birch or if one area had a lower density of mature maples in the overstory.

a typical forest stand map
A typical stand map

You can see in the example stand map above, stands are delineated and mapped based on their species, size, and density. Looking at the label “TH4D,” the “TH” signifies a main component of tolerant hardwood, the number “4” signifies mature wood, and “D” represents the lowest density wood (“A” is the highest density). The label “TH2BSF” underneath signifies the attributes of the understory, but the “SF” at the end signifies a small component of spruce and fir. This system, however, is a fairly complicated system of classifying stands and by no means universal. Systems of classification can be as simple as breaking forest stands into groups of hardwood and softwood.

Why Is It Important to Group a Forest Into Stands?

The goal of classifying forests based on individual stands is ultimately to better group trees based on management goals. During a harvest, a dense stand of young, pole-sized spruce, for example, will need to be treated differently than a stand of mature oak. Regardless of whether the objective of forest management is cashflow, wildlife management, or recreation, a forest must be broken down into manageable subunits, and classifying stands accomplishes this. Once forest stands are delineated, it is much easier for foresters, landowners, and loggers, to properly visualize the forest and understand silvicultural objectives and management goals.

How Big Is a Forest Stand?

A Stand can be as small or large as is necessary, ranging from one acre all the way up to hundreds or even thousands. How big or small a stand is depends on how specifically trees are classified. Broadly classified stands are going to be much larger than specifically classified stands. There is a consideration of practicality when delineating a forest, however. In any forest, there is a great deal of variation, and an otherwise consistent area of maples and beech can have a half acre patch of spruce thrown in it. Does it make sense to classify that patch as a separate forest stand? Perhaps not if you are managing one million acres, but if your entire land base is ten acres behind your house, it would absolutely make sense to consider that patch of spruce its own stand.

How Can I Delineate My Forest Land Into Stands?

You don’t have to be a professional forester to break a forest into stands. All you need is a keen eye for detail. Start by going out onto your property with a map or GPS. Walk through it and take note of qualitative and quantitative changes in the forest. Does the species change? Are the trees smaller in certain areas? Is the soil wet? Are certain areas extremely brushy? Write down any observations and note where those observations occurred. When you get home, use an aerial image of the property (Google Earth works fine) and find the dividing line for those characteristics. Alternatively, you can track with your GPS and walk the boundary of each individual stand. Either way, what you end up with in the end is a map of your forest stands.

Zachary Lowry

A forester from northern Maine, I spent my early career working for large timberland owners, managing forest land and investments in the form of managing timber harvest operations as well as planning and managing precommercial thinning, planting, and herbicide application programs. These days I work on my own land and help timberland owners large and small manage theirs.

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