Lumberjacks in red and black plaid, logs floating down a river, horses pulling sleighs loaded with timber through the snow. These images might come to mind when thinking about the forest products industry.
However, today’s forestry workers have left the axe behind and rely on sophisticated technology to help them sustainably manage Canada’s greatest renewable resource. The boreal forests rich in Spruce, Pine, and Fir trees typically harvested for softwood lumber are located in remote and sparsely populated areas with little infrastructure. Managing operations in such locations can be a logistical challenge.
EACOM Timber Corporation’s IT team has been working on overcoming these challenges by upgrading programs and tools that incorporate the latest developments in Geographical Information System (GIS) data, satellite imagery, and aerial photography to render 3-dimensional (3D) images of the surface of the Earth. These images are then converted into 2-dimensional anaglyphs that can be viewed with 3D glasses and layered onto a map in GIS.
“Sometimes, the terrain around some of our sawmills like Nairn Centre is too steep for our harvesters. Surveying remotely beforehand helps us plan better, save time, and avoid moving expensive equipment to difficult locations,” explains Paul Tremblay, Forestry IT Manager at EACOM.
Accurate mapping data helps plan future harvests and determine if terrain is operable. Terrain modeling also maps tree heights, allowing foresters to easily determine which species are present and how much can be harvested.
“We used to rely on helicopter rides to visually survey areas slated for harvesting. It was expensive, time-consuming, and subjective to the person observing. This way, we can produce a geo-referenced layer in GIS and that information is always accessible to everyone via smart phone or tablet.”
The biggest challenge in remote regions is connectivity. With no WiFi and limited network access, Paul and his colleagues are always looking for adaptions and solutions to overcome the difficulties of operating technology without access to the worldwide web.
“We constantly get requests and new ideas from foresters and contractors that challenge the status quo. We have gotten very creative in integrating new tools and systems like converting maps to PDFs and making them accessible offline on mobile devices. This is forestry 2.0, we’re working with drone surveys and customized mobile applications, updating maps on a weekly basis, and carrying tablets instead of paper maps.”
As the next generation of foresters enters the field, bringing with them a passion for the outdoors as well as technological savvy, we can look forward to ever-increasingly efficient solutions to help sustainably manage our forests.