Jim Girard wrote the book on timber cruising and became a legend in the U.S. Forest Service.

With this virtual exhibit, learn about the life of Jim Girard and how he changed the way we manage our national forests.


Jim Girard (1879-1952) worked with trees his whole life – from his youth making whiskey barrels in the hills of Tennessee, to his esteemed position as Chief of Forest Surveys in Washington D.C.

He was a timber faller and timber cruiser who became a legend in the U.S. Forest Service for his innovative and accurate timber measuring techniques, used to access the amount of usable wood in a stand.

Girard was an advocate for sustained-yield forest management and after his retirement joined the forestry consulting group Mason, Bruce and Girard. He is known as the patriarch of national forest timber cruising and his point system to measure tree size is still used today.

What is a timber faller?

A timber faller cuts down trees, taking care to control the direction of the fall in order to minimize damage to other trees. Becoming a timber faller requires special training to identify falling patterns and to learn which trees to cut and which to leave.

What is timber cruising?

A timber cruise is a sample measurement of a stand used to estimate the amount of standing timber that the forest contains. The measurements are collected at sample locations called plots, quadrants, or strips. A timber cruiser can then use the data to determine the amount of marketable wood in a given area.

The Life of Jim Girard.

James Walter Girard was born in Pleasant View, Tennessee on May 4, 1879. He was part of a large family with 10 children and stopped attending school in the sixth grade. By the age of 15, he had made his way north of Knoxville and found work making whiskey barrel staves for .75 cents a day.

When Girard learned he could make $150 a month as a timber cruiser, measuring standing timber, he taught himself the trade – first by creating measurement tables for the logs used to create whiskey barrel staves and other various wood products at his job. He compiled his work into an exhaustive volume in 1897; it was only the 2nd timber volume table ever produced in the United States.

By the age of 20, Girard was cruising timber for several sawmills in Wyoming, Idaho, Indiana and North Dakota. And in 1907, he became a timber faller, cutting trees for the Anaconda Copper Mining Company near Missoula, Montana. At the same time, Girard was also taking correspondence courses in English, engineering, business administration and cost accounting.

That winter in 1908, he joined the U.S. Forest Service, scaling logs and marking timber in Seeley Lake, Montana for what became the largest timber sale the U.S. Forest Service had made at the time, 50-million board feet. The sale was so vast that foresters from schools like Yale and Michigan State went to gain experience in timber sale work. Girard trained many of the forestry students who arrived.

After the Big Blackfoot Timber Sale, Girard became a forest guard on the Lewis and Clark National Forest. He advanced quickly through the U.S. Forest Service ranks, becoming a forest ranger and in 1915, a logging engineer. Because of his knowledge in timber cruising, Girard was given special assignments throughout the Pacific Northwest.

It was while on assignment in Washington, D.C. in 1921, that he rewrote the U.S. Forest Service Timber Appraisal Manual, which set guidelines for timber sales on national forests. Having worked in the private industry, as well as the U.S. Forest Service, Girard was able to use his expertise in calculating log production, including felling trees, skidding, disposing of slash and other operations on national forests. He created a points system that is still used today to assess a trees size.

Girard took a break from the Forest Service between 1923 and 1929, becoming vice president and general manager for the Herrick Lumber Company in Burns, Oregon. But he quickly returned as a senior logging engineer in Washington, D.C.

In 1939, Girard co-authored the book Timber Cruising, which became the best and most practical book on standing timber measurements for its time.

In 1939, Girard co-authored the book Timber Cruising, which became the best and most practical book on standing timber measurements for its time.

In his new job as Chief of Forest Surveys, Girard was tasked to determine the timber volume of the whole United States – its harvest, growth and projected demand. To this end, he developed new sample methods and procedures and over the course of 12-years prepared volume tables for a large number of tree species throughout the country. In 1939, he co-authored the book Timber Cruising, which became the best and most practical book on standing timber measurements for its time.

Then in 1942, as the United States prepared to enter World War II, the U.S. War Production Board asked Girard to go to Alaska and find suitable trees for making high-grade aircraft lumber. Again, Girard established sampling methods and procedures to find suitable wood. By the end of the war, the Forest Service had provided 85-million board feet for production from Alaska’s national forests. During this time Girard also surveyed the Dominican Republic for possible wartime forest resources.

Jim Girard retired in 1945 after 35-years in the U.S. Forest Service and joined the prestigious forestry consulting firm Mason and Bruce in Portland, Oregon – becoming Mason, Bruce and Girard. In 1948, at the age of 71, the Chilean government asked him to survey their forest resources. A year later he wrote a short 35-page autobiography called The Man Who Knew Trees: The Autobiography of James W. Girard.

Girard died in 1952 at the age of 75 in Portland, Oregon. His years of service were recognized by the U.S. Forest Service with a 60-acre memorial grove near Seeley Lake, Montana where he had begun his Forest Service career. Today, he is regarded as the patriarch of national forest timber cruising and his techniques and theories have been adapted to modern technology.


1897-1907 Timber Cruiser Various sawmills Wyoming, Idaho, Indiana and North Dakota
1907-1908 Timber Faller Anaconda Copper Mining Company Missoula, Montana
1908-1915 Timber Cruiser USFS Seeley Lake, Montana
1915-1923 Logging Engineer USFS Missoula, Montana
1923-1929 Vice-President & General Manager Herrick Lumber Company Burns, Oregon
1929-1941 Chief of Forest Surveys USFS Washington, D.C.
1942-1945 Sitka Spruce Program U.S. War Production Board Alaska
1945-1952 Forestry Consultant Mason, Bruce & Girard Portland, Oregon

Big Blackfoot Timber Sale (1907-1910)

In 1907, there were 151 million acres of forest reserves in the United States. The same year Congress renamed America’s forest reserves “national forests” and approved what would be the largest sale of timber at the time.

Trees were one of the nation’s largest national resources. To give you an idea, lumber consumption per capita in 1900 was 82 cubic feet; compare that to 1970 when it was 30 cubic feet.

The Big Blackfoot Timber sale was one of the first sales of timber on national forest land – an estimated 50-million board feet were sold to the Big Blackfoot Milling Company and a majority of that timber came from land just east of Seeley Lake, Montana on the Lolo National Forest.

For years, the Big Blackfoot Milling Company had been logging timber for its mines in Butte, Montana and the Northern Pacific Railroad. They had permits to cut timber for this purpose, but they also used those permits to cut timber for resale throughout the state.

In 1898, they formed a subsidiary called the Big Blackfoot Milling Company. This lumber offshoot of the Anaconda Copper Mining Company bought enormous tracts of private land to log in northwestern Montana, but their purchase of timber at Seeley Lake in 1905 was the first stumpage sale that the Forest Service had made to the business. In the beginning it was a rocky partnership.

Map of Seeley Lake area with plots and section markings.

Map of Seeley Lake area with plots and section markings.

Logging companies like the Big Blackfoot Milling Company had been cutting unencumbered on private lands for years and when they encroached on public timber reserves, it was of little concern. The Forest Service hoped to curb the practice of unlimited deforestation and instill sustained-yield forest management.

But having a government agency involved in timber production was a difficult change for the industry and managing the sale of timber was a relatively new science. For example, rather than clearcutting the land, as had been the standard practice, the Forest Service marked individual trees by stamping them with a special hammer leaving an imprint with the mark of “U.S.”

USFS Timber Estimate and Forest Description for the area east of Seeley Lake.

USFS Timber Estimate and Forest Description for the area east of Seeley Lake.

These logs were then cut by hand using a crosscut saw, measured (scaled) to determine the amount to be paid and skidded to the lakeshore or riverbanks with horses. They were then floated 70-miles downstream in the Clearwater and Blackfoot Rivers to the Big Blackfoot Milling Company sawmill in Bonner, Montana. Sinker logs can still be found along the banks of Seeley and Salmon Lakes and the riverbanks today.

The new practice of scaling, the measuring of wood to determine its price, was a big concern between the lumber company and the Forest Service – both had differing opinions of what was considered merchantable wood. In an effort to resolve their issues, the Forest Service brought in Jim Girard to replace the employee in charge of the timber sale in 1908.

Girard had become a legendary timber cruiser and was known for his scaling ability. He’d developed new methods and procedures for scaling, including a points system that is still used today. Girard was able to fine tune the timber production process and as a former employee of the Anaconda Copper Mining Company, smooth over the relationship between the Big Blackfoot Milling Company and U.S. Forest Service.

Gifford Pinchot, the first Chief of the Forest Service, took a personal interest in the timber sale. Pinchot’s early experiences in the Seeley Lake region influenced his land ethic and helped shape Forest Service policies to this day.

See photographs from the Big Blackfoot Timber Sale.

What is a stand?

A tree stand is the woody vegetation forming a forest. It may consist of one species of tree or several mixed together. Stands are subdivided into simple stands (one layer canopy) and complex stands (arranged in layers because more than one species forms the canopy). There are several age categories of stands too including: young trees, saplings, middle-aged, ripening, mature, and over-mature.

How does a timber cruiser calculate board footage?

A timber cruiser will conduct a cruise through a forest, stopping at sample points to take measurements. The forester takes two measurements – the tree diameter and height. From that they can determine how much lumber is in a tree, and thereby predict how much wood is in a particular forested area.

Jim Girard Memorial Grove.

In 1953, the U.S. Forest Service dedicated a 60-acre old growth grove of Western Larch, also known as tamaracks, near Seeley Lake, Montana as a memorial to James W. Girard. It was discovered in 1896 and is located along the Clearwater River. Girard had a fondness for the Western Larch and his grove is special, in that many of the trees are 600 years or older. The memorial grove was a cooperative effort of the Lolo National Forest, Intermountain Logging Conference, the Anaconda Lumber Department, the consulting firm of Mason, Bruce, and Girard, and retired Forest Service personnel.

The champion tree is a 1,000-years old tamarack known locally as Gus. To be considered a champion tree, the tree must be nominated, measured and confirmed. Gus is the largest of its species in the world and is believed to have survived at least 40 wildfires over its lifetime. It measures 153 feet tall by 34 feet wide at its crown and is taller than the Statue of Liberty. Near the ground it is 22 feet 9 inches in circumference and 7 feet 3 inches in diameter.

The Girard Grove is one of the finest remaining stands of Western Larch in the United States. Each year in October, Seeley Lake hosts its Tamarack Festival and Brewfest celebrating the annual turning of the tamarack and the old growth trees found in the memorial grove.

Directions: From Seeley Lake (50-miles northeast of Missoula, Montana) take Boy Scout Road past Pyramid Lumber Mill, cross the Clearwater River outlet of Seeley Lake, past the bridge there’s a parking area on the left for Girard Grove. The parking lot is 3-miles from Hwy 83.


See photographs from Girard Grove.

Mason, Bruce & Girard.

Mason, Bruce & Girard, was founded in 1921 by David Mason. Mason was an early crusader for sustained-yield forest management – the harvesting of trees on a schedule to insure replacement and regrowth.

In 1936, he created a partnership with Donald Bruce, forming Mason & Bruce. In 1945, Jim Girard joined the firm and adopted its present name Mason, Bruce & Girard. Together the firm provided forestry consulting that became sought after and most influential.

Today, Mason, Bruce & Girard has three lines of business: forestry, environmental, and geospatial services. They are a full-service natural resources consulting firm headquartered in Portland, Oregon and have offices in California, Idaho and Colorado.

While foresters still rely on the log volume tables created by Jim Girard and Donald Bruce, the firm continues to develop science-driven services and technologies for the environment.


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