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Digital Technology is Protecting our Nation’s Forests

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Digital Technology Is Protecting Nation’s Forests

From paper goods to lumber and wildlife habitat to recreation, our forests provide value in countless ways. However, forest management is a complex science. It requires advanced digital technology, collaboration, and an eye toward sustainability.

From an article in Grit Daily and Innovation and Tech Today by Patricia Miller.

Forest management has advanced rapidly since the days of lumber mills and surveyors. The sector is exploding with technological advancements that are improving data collection, enhancing efficiency, and helping tomaintain the delicate forest ecosystems on which we rely.

One digital technology being implemented throughout the forestry industry is LIDAR, a remote sensing method which uses light to measure distances. Forest management services can now use LIDAR to map forest canopy surfaces, tree structures, and underlying forest topography.

Kathy Abusow, president and CEO of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, shared her insights on the technology’s applications: “LIDAR helps people see how things are being managed, which is really important so they see this emerging transparency in the supply chain. The technology is increasingly being used to help us understand biodiversity needs as well, because you can’t send people everywhere all the time. LIDAR is just an amazing tool for a forest manager and planner.”

The forestry sector is also using DNA testing to chart biodiversity within forest ecosystems. For example, DNA sampling from vernal pools tells researchers how many species exist in a certain location and helps them make better decisions for the health of the forest.

Abusow explains, “We have to understand where we can harvest trees because some of these vernal pools are really rich in biodiversity. It could be turtles at risk, or frogs, or different species that need special consideration.”

She continued, “We now can take water from the pool and have DNA testing to say, ‘From this vernal pool there are all sorts of species in there. So, let’s not harvest in that area. Let’s go over here, where there isn’t that type of impact.’ The technology is just so cool in terms of how we can manage things now.”

Drones are also playing an active part in forest maintenance as unmanned aerial surveillance systems (UAS) become more affordable and accessible. Chief of the USDA Forest Service Vicki Christiansen spoke about the life-saving value of UAS: “In our wildland fire response, having good data about the active fires… is really important. Putting people in harm’s way to gather that intelligence is not something we want to expose people to. So, using UAS is escalating our abilities in wildland fire response and in many other natural resource applications.”

Vegetation management is another area benefiting from digital technology and innovation. Christiansen explains, “We need to thin these forests through timber and hazardous fuel sales. Now, we can put up virtual boundaries.” She continued, “We can write the prescriptions [for thinnings] electronically on handheld devices… we can do that all digitally and we don’t have to mark with paint.”

Between digital thinning prescriptions, UAS fire intelligence, DNA sampling, and LIDAR, the forest sector is embracing advanced technologies with open arms. But forest management requires more than managing trees, it requires managing people. Coordinating 25,000 full-time employees and 10,000 seasonal hires is no simple feat.

For the complete article click here.

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