Intro to Precision Forestry
October 14, 2020 at 1:18 am | Updated October 14, 2020 at 1:18 am | 6 min read
Precision Forestry Improves Goods & Services
Never before has the interest in preserving natural forests and efficient management of plantations been as great as the present. Demand for wood products is increasing. On the other hand, it is also evident that the remaining forests have to be protected to maintain our quality of life—the very air we breathe depends on them. Therefore, precision management, which has been successfully tried in agriculture, is being advocated for forests as well. It is a method of management that offers new solutions for many of the existing challenges and should interest you if you are engaged in forestry, whether in the public or private sector.
What is Precision Forestry?
Precision Forestry is the use of tools and technology to collect data to make decisions for site-specific management. It aims to improve wood quality, protect the environment, reduce waste, and increase profits.
It can be used in all phases of forestry, such as planning, site operations, monitoring, processing, and marketing.
Precision forestry takes advantage of the understanding of ecological processes in forests, which has been accumulated in the last decade. Instead of following a single plan for the entire area, accurate data and advanced analytics can optimize and fine-tune management decisions to suit site conditions, such as soil type and fertility, slope, etc. This can ensure the following:
- Species selection and planting based on site characteristics improving survival of seedlings.
- Variable rate application of nutrient supplements or herbicides and pesticides, based on site-specific needs and guided by GPS.
- Timely monitoring of the health of trees.
- Site operations automation to deal with lack of skilled labor. However, automation will not be necessary where operations can be sustainably handled manually.
- Valuation of forests and tracking of wood during transport.
- Combination of spatial data on tree growth, yield, and environmental conditions to create growth and yield models for future management.
Advantages of Precision Forestry
Efficient and intensive forest management is becoming increasingly important as it is not possible in most countries to increase the area under forests or plantations. Precision Forestry offers a way of decreasing costs and increasing production.
The following are economic benefits that have so far been quantified in a site in the USA:
- Overall cost savings of 47%.
- Variable rate application has reduced chemical use for herbicides and fertilizers by two-thirds compared to traditional methods.
The benefits to society overall is a reduction in –
- illegal logging,
- costs of forest management,
- forest fires, and
- costs of forest mapping.
Who Can Use Precision Forestry?
Precision management is important for both economical and ecological reasons.
The industries that can benefit from Precision Forestry are those that deal in wood and biomass products, such as pulp and paper, timber for furniture and houses, and wood as an energy source for cooking and heating
Some other equally important uses of Precision Forestry are to protect the environment and maintain ecosystem services from forests. So, public and private organizations involved in natural forest conservations are also interested in this new forestry method for –
- carbon sequestration,
- carbon accounting,
- watershed development,
- soil conservation,
- forest preservation, and
- biodiversity conservation.
Instruments and Technology used in Precision Forestry
Many but not all the technologies used in Precision Forestry are associated with remote sensing, geographic information systems (GIS), and global positioning systems (GPS).
- Remote sensing through satellite imagery relies on spectral images to give large-scale information on forest composition, forest health, drought conditions, or fire and flood risks.
- Drones or Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) can fly guided remotely by people. They are used to scan the area under the canopy of plantations without GPS navigation or automated operations. They have an efficient obstacle avoidance controller to handle under-storey vegetation. Drones are used on the site level to
- map specific sites,
- detect fires or flood risks,
- scan burned areas for damages,
- operate other technology like LiDAr technology or multispectral cameras,
- disperse seeds, and
- apply herbicides and pesticides.
- Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) is a remote sensing technique which uses near infra-red laser and GPS to provide a precise three-dimensional mapping of land and forests. LiDAR can be used for large-scale maps with planes/drones or small-scale scans when installed on the ground. LiDar is useful for generating the following information:
- Vertical forest structure
- Tree data such as the shape of trees, the density of leaves, etc
- Detecting forest under-storey vegetation like shrubs
- Forest Inventory of tree height, its basal area, and volume
- Post-harvest surveys
- Detecting above-ground and underground diseases. For example, it can detect root rot—one of the main causes of loss in wood production (See Figure 1).
Figure 1: Post harvest surveys showing root rot. (Image credits: https://doi.org/10.3390/f9030102)
- Sensors are used to collect field data about soil or individual plants to give site-specific information to help in variable rate applications. These are small and portable tools which give accurate information. Many have GPS to monitor growth over long periods and WiFi for easy data transfer. Some examples are
- Soil sensors to detect soil temperature and water level.
- Canopy Imagers to monitor tree growth and health, and success of trees, soil erosion, and carbon fixation for carbon accounting. An example of one such device is the CI-110 Plant Imager.
- Spectrometers that identify plants under stress and suffering from drought. For example, the CI-710 Miniature Leaf Spectrometer.
- Leaf area meters to measure tree yields, such as the CI-202 Portable Laser Leaf Area Meter and the CI-203 Portable Laser Leaf Area Meter.
- Portable minirhizotrons that can be used with pre-installed root tubes to track root growth over time and detect root pests and pathogens. Examples are the CI-600 Narrow Gauge Root Imager and the CI-602 Narrow Gauge Root Imager.
Large- and small- scale data can be combined with analysis for advanced decision making. For example, LiDAR data, used with NDVI field measurements from sensors, can improve the estimation of biomass accumulation.
Precision Forestry Technology is Available
The application of Precision Forestry may have just begun, but it has already seen wide adoption. It is estimated to be worth USD 3.9 billion in 2019, according to Bloomberg, and is expected to see an annual growth of 9% by 2024.
The number of companies that provide technology relevant for Precision Forestry is also increasing.
However, there are some companies, such as CID.Inc, who have been around for a few decades making precision tools for plant research and practitioners long before the term Precision Forestry was coined. They have the advantage of many years of experience and application, making them trustworthy.
Precision Forestry is Profitable
If you are a new entrant or interested in trying it out, be assured that Precision Forestry has been tried and tested. Some of its technology, like the variable rate application of chemicals, has been adopted from Precision Agriculture. Other aspects, like remote sensing, have also been used for decades. These various techniques are brought together by some new and advanced technologies now. Precision Forestry is touted as a revolution that makes intensive management of forests possible to deliver products and services.
Science Writer, CID Bio-Science
Ph.D. Ecology and Environmental Science, B.Sc Agriculture
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