Forest Information Technology to Protect and Manage Forests Sustainably

Forest Information Technology to Protect and Manage Forests Sustainably

The Challenge

Imagine, as a forester, your duty would be to manage a forest area the size of 100.000 football pitches with a stocking of 1.000 different tree species. All tree species are having various wood and growth characteristics. The efficient and sustainable management of such complex forest ecosystems is difficult and requires a solid and comprehensive information basis to support well informed management decisions. Until recently, however , the cost for forest inventory data has been very high. Huge amounts of forest data like geographical tree position, wood type, timber volume as well as quality information, needed to be recorded literally by hand.

The laws of the economy have forced forest operations to reduce monitoring costs by converting diverse natural forests into easy observable and manageable forest monocultures. The downsides, however, were manifold:

  • The predominant production of only a few different mass timber species like Eucalyptus, Acacia or Pine bears a high risk at competitive international markets.
  • Pests and diseases were much more likely to spread within homogeneous forest stands.
  • Ecosystem services like carbon sequestration, soil fertility, water retention, etc. have been reduced.
  • The habitats of many plants and animals have been destroyed on a large scale.

Solution: Forest Information Technology

The efficient and sustainable management of complex and diverse forest ecosystems requires large amounts of high-quality forestry data. Rapid developments in the fields of data processing and technologies, like mobile handhelds and drones, have revolutionized affordable Forest Information Systems and data acquisition.

Forest Information Technology has helped to create favorable basic conditions for more sustainable and efficient forest management. Many forest operations have started to apply a “portfolio approach” to manage diverse forest ecosystems with multiple revenue streams from different timber tree species, Non-Timber Forest Products, and ecosystem services while minimizing the vulnerability for pest & diseases as well as market risks.

Although, there is already an increasing demand for Forest Information Technology, as one of our market surveys has conveyed, there is still a large potential of empowering sustainable forest management with Forest Information Technology. We believe, that information technologies efficiently, is becoming a great market advantage while having a positive effect on the environment.

How some of these information technologies are used for sustainable forest management practice, is shown in the following two use-cases.

Efficient Data Acquisition with Drones

Dr. Patrick Ribeiro is launching his drone for forest mapping in Ecuador.

The number of drone-based applications has exploded in recent years; this is also true for the forestry sector. In comparison to the ordering of satellite imagery, drone-based data acquisition is fast, flexible and is delivering cloud-free images of astonishing high quality as can be seen in the following images.

A single photo of the tree canopy taken from a drone in Suriname, 2014.

Orthophoto made from many georeferenced and ortho corrected single photos taken by a drone, Colombia 2014. Learn more: http://ourpiece.openforests.com/jbp/webmap/live/

Drones are a flexible platform to position various sensors in the three-dimensional space. Sensors provide image and spatial data, which can be further processed towards orthophoto maps or 3D-models of the forest canopy surface. The results can be used for mappings, forest inventories, forest damage assessments, forest certification or to detect illegal activities such as timber theft, illegal mining, and forest encroachment.

The following image shows a detailed orthophoto on the left side merging over into an digital elevation model of the canopy surface on the right side. Changes of the canopy volume due to harvesting activities can be quantified automatically or visually detected by high-resolution aerial imagery, as can be seen in the following two images.

(Left) orthophoto map merges over into a canopy surface model (right). Explore the entirely mapped area: http://runa.openforests.com/webmap/

A harvested tree can be visually detected within high-resolution drone imagery.

By applying specific algorithms, drone imagery can be used at homogeneous forest stands for automated tree counting and tree height measurements as presented in the following figure.

The circles show the position and canopy diameter of a Spruce forest in Germany, 2015.

Forest Warehouse Approach

The efficient drone based data acquisition goes perfectly hand in hand with a central data storage for all kinds of forestry data, a Forest Information System (FIS). We believe that the rapid data acquisition, for example via drones, and a central and accessible data storage and management can be a key to sustainable as well as economically successful forest operations.

Like in a warehouse, each tree is recorded by its geo-position, wood type, volume, and quality. Foresters, auditors, and timber purchasers have access to the forest information for example with a web map, as shown in the following videocast.

Trees will be harvested only after a firm commitment by the timber purchaser. At the back-end of the Forest Information System, the forest manager can check forest growth rates, standing stocks as well as the compliance with the sustainable annual allowable cut.

Videocast of a forest inventory web map. To view live examples please click the following links http://sintra.openforests.com/ and http://karte.fairventures.org/

Thanks to modern Forest Information Technologies, both the conflict between economical and sustainable goals can be solved. A silent forestry revolution is knocking on our door. It is up to us to step outside and work on a responsible forest management that combines economic competitiveness and protection of our valuable forest resources.

We will be on the spot.

Your OpenForests Team

Alexander Watson
alexander.watson@openforests.com