Walking along an old woods road on a large tract of woodland I was brought up short by some marks in the bark of a tree.
These weren’t the marks created by the claws of a bear climbing the tree. No, these marks were made by human hands, hands wielding a tool that goes by various names in different parts of the country: bark scribe, race knife, timber scribe, tree scribe. The tool comes in various forms depending on the manufacturer –
Older versions, like the older versions of most tools, were often beautiful handmade works of art –
To my eye, the new versions are just plain utilitarian –
Surveyors and foresters are the primary users of these scribes, using them to put semi-permanent marks on trees. The scribes can incise letters, numbers or other marks in bark or wood. In this case, the U-shaped cutter on a scribe was used by a forester to mark the location of an inventory plot. The marks don’t go through the bark where they would actually wound the tree, but were merely cut deeply into the bark.
The two diagonal witness marks (highlighted in yellow) face toward the center of a circular plot, probably of 1/5 acre (52.7 foot radius); the center that is, or was, marked by a wooden stake. The horizontal mark was placed just below the spot where a steel “diameter tape”, that directly reads a tree’s diameter, was placed.
On the other side of the old road were two other trees with scribe marks, one with both a horizontal mark and the witness marks facing toward the plot center – which must have been in the center of the road. The second tree had only the horizontal mark for the diameter tape –
All of the trees in that plot would have the same type of horizontal mark. The marks would last for many years, until the next inventory of the forest in 5, 10 or 20 years. During the next inventory the growth of each individual tree would be determined and trees that died or were cut in the intervening years could be accounted for.
If, during your woodland wanderings, you see scribe marks like these you’ve walked into a forest inventory plot.