Stan­dar­d­is­ing pre­ci­sion forestry

Australian Forests and Timber - - FRONT PAGE -

AS THE hu­man pop­u­la­tion rapidly in­creases, the de­mand for nat­u­ral re­sources un­der­stand­ably rises too, but with this comes more of a re­spon­si­bil­ity to main­tain our del­i­cate eco-sys­tem. As with most in­dus­tries, there has never been more pres­sure on forestry op­er­a­tions to pro­duce more with less, in­clud­ing less land, man-made pes­ti­cides, her­bi­cides and fer­tilis­ers, and a smaller pool of qual­i­fied work­ers. De­spite th­ese chal­lenges, forestry work­ers must still keep up with grow­ing de­mand of do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional needs.

Au­to­ma­tion tech­nolo­gies are cur­rently rev­o­lu­tion­is­ing other agri­cul­tural op­er­a­tions, such as satel­lite driven po­si­tion­ing sys­tems for plant­ing and har­vest­ing, and re­mote sen­sors which mea­sure changes in soil fer­til­i­sa­tion. With many tra­di­tional forestry prac­tises hav­ing been used for over a cen­tury or more, is it time to fully stan­dard­ise the tech­nol­ogy used to man­age one of the earth’s most vi­tal re­sources? Car­los Gon­za­lez, gen­eral man­ager of 3D Laser Map­ping, ex­plores this is­sue.

Em­brac­ing au­to­ma­tion

‘Pre­ci­sion Forestry’ is de­fined by the use of in­tel­li­gent, in­for­ma­tion based forestry sys­tems which use tools and tech­nol­ogy to make datadriven de­ci­sions based on ac­cu­rate data col­lected in a range of ways. This in­cludes re­mote sens­ing, nav­i­ga­tion sys­tems and Geo­graphic In­for­ma­tion Sys­tems (GIS). Th­ese au­to­mated tech­nolo­gies mea­sure, record, process and an­a­lyse multi-source data which can then be used for more ef­fi­cient man­age­ment of op­er­a­tions in­clud­ing re­duc­ing waste and im­prov­ing prof­itabil­ity.

One tech­nol­ogy which is start­ing to see wide­spread use in forestry data ac­qui­si­tion is Light De­tec­tion and Rang­ing sys­tems (LiDAR). Th­ese al­low op­er­a­tors to mea­sure in three di­men­sions with the added ben­e­fit of be­ing able to scan above and be­low dense veg­e­ta­tion. This gives crit­i­cal busi­ness in­for­ma­tion such as for­est in­ven­tory cal­cu­la­tions, Di­am­e­ter at Breast Height fig­ures and even de­tec­tion of changes in both the canopy and wider phys­i­cal land­scape.

In 2013, Dr Jim O’He­hir was awarded a Gottstein Fel­low­ship to in­ves­ti­gate the adop­tion of pre­ci­sion forestry in South Aus­tralia by study­ing the sys­tems used in South Africa. With sim­i­lar con­sid­er­a­tions to be made to ad­dress dis­ease pro­tec­tion, plan­ta­tion and wa­ter leg­is­la­tion, com­par­isons could be made as to the ben­e­fits of stan­dar­d­is­ing the ap­proach to pre­ci­sion forestry us­ing LiDAR.

“Pre­ci­sion forestry ba­si­cally col­lects data to help make more in­formed plan­ta­tion man­age­ment de­ci­sions”, ex­plained Dr O’He­hir. “We now have the ca­pa­bil­ity through ad­vanced GPS sys­tems to col­lect sig­nif­i­cant amounts of data, but un­less we can or­gan­ise and use this data to as­sist in our de­ci­sion mak­ing it’s not much use.”

A prob­lem shared

The key to mak­ing pre­ci­sion forestry tech­nolo­gies more ac­ces­si­ble lies in analysing and ap­ply­ing the data col­lected in a way which is mean­ing­ful to all stake­hold­ers. LiDAR sys­tems al­low for the col­lec­tion of ac­cu­rate data which can then be used to cre­ate a com­pre­hen­sive ter­rain model. As tech­nol­ogy has now pro­gressed, mo­bile LiDAR sys­tems are mak­ing it eas­ier to cover large ar­eas quickly, with en­hanced ac­cu­racy. Air­borne sys­tems pen­e­trate the tree canopy, en­abling the un­der­ly­ing ter­rain to be as­sessed rapidly and re­motely to as­sist in har­vest plan­ning, re­gen­er­a­tion works and vol­ume cal­cu­la­tions. The same data can then be used in con­di­tion mon­i­tor­ing projects, bio­di­ver­sity stud­ies and for­est fire be­hav­iour mod­els.

Many tools cur­rently be­ing used in pre­ci­sion agri­cul­ture can be ap­plied to pre­ci­sion forestry, but with less fund­ing and more re­stric­tions, there is a dis­tinct need for col­lab­o­ra­tion on projects with other or­gan­i­sa­tions. A good ex­am­ple of this is the Pro­tect­ing Our Coastal Com­mu­ni­ties (POCC) pro­ject, which was pri­mar­ily in­tended for analysing flood risk and ur­ban de­vel­op­ment is­sues along the Queens­land coast­line. The data col­lected from this state and lo­cal govern­ment funded pro­ject was shared to al­low for the mon­i­tor­ing of coastal forests in the area, with­out ad­di­tional scans be­ing per­formed specif­i­cally for this ap­pli­ca­tion.

The Land and Prop­erty Man­age­ment Author­ity based in Bathurst, NSW, has an on­go­ing LiDAR pro­ject where data is con­tin­u­ally be­ing ac­quired and shared with Forests New South Wales. LiDAR data cov­er­ing over 43% of the to­tal na­tive for­est of the state now ex­ists with wide­spread cov­er­age amount­ing to over 1,000,000 ha.

Think­ing out­side the square

Em­brac­ing au­to­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy such as LiDAR can not only ben­e­fit op­er­a­tions in terms of ef­fi­ciency, it also has a large ef­fect on the sus­tain­abil­ity of forestry op­er­a­tions out­side of the ob­vi­ous. Many see au­to­ma­tion sim­ply as a threat to job se­cu­rity, but high lev­els of ad­vance­ment in this kind of tech­nol­ogy ac­tu­ally give the op­por­tu­nity to op­ti­mise ex­ist­ing op­er­a­tions, rather than ex­plor­ing ex­pan­sion and new op­por­tu­ni­ties. Cre­at­ing a sustainable in­dus­try also re­lies on at­tract­ing skilled work­ers to the sec­tor. Au­to­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy brings the op­por­tu­nity to at­tract a new skill-set to the in­dus­try, with­out hav­ing to rely on agri­cul­tural or en­vi­ron­men­tal train­ing to bring about pos­i­tive change.

Our need to ob­tain a bal­ance be­tween con­ser­va­tion and pro­duc­tion in Aus­tralia’s na­tive forests is key to the in­dus­try and ecosys­tem’s sus­tain­abil­ity. Many al­ready use re­mote sens­ing prac­tices to cal­cu­late wood in­ven­tory and canopy heights, though there is room for a more wide­spread use of sys­tems such as LiDAR to as­sist with more sustainable man­age­ment of forests, ad­dress­ing is­sues such as for­est fires and parks man­age­ment. The po­ten­tial ben­e­fits that the ac­quired data can bring to all stake­hold­ers far out­weighs the learn­ing curve which may be needed in the first in­stance.

Screen­shot of LiDAR data show­ing topo­graph­i­cal in­for­ma­tion ref­er­enced by a fallen tree.

Dig­i­tal ter­rain mod­els are a key tool in pre­ci­sion forestry, en­abling cal­cu­la­tions for wood in­ven­tory and har­vest plan­ning.

Point­cloud of a for­est stand to cal­cu­late DBH and LAI.

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