Forest Technology Changes in the Information Age

The author of this article, Becca Kernahan, is a GIS Specialist with Forest Resource Consultants, Inc. in Macon, GA.

The timeline of human civilization is discussed and understood by analyzing and categorizing time periods defined by major moments in history. Every historical period has integrally changed the way society has perceived, interacted with, and understood the world. Since the mid-1700s, these periods have been characterized by technological innovation. These innovations have led us to where we find ourselves today: the Information Age.

While there are some holdovers from preceding eras such as the Renaissance and Industrial Revolution, technologies developed in the Information Age affect virtually every aspect of our lives. The exponential growth of information technology in the digital era has given us tools to answer questions that may have been difficult or even impossible to answer in the 20th century. Whether it’s understanding a business’s efficiency, a city’s crime trends, or a landowner’s timber inventory, we find ourselves asking one overriding question: what is this information worth? Ultimately, the answer differs depending on who you ask. Information that is worthless to one person may be essential to another. Even with these nuances, having access to such an immeasurable amount of information is invaluable to society and is a major driver of the 21st century economy.

For more than 50 years, Forest Resource Consultants, Inc. (FRC) has helped landowners maintain property attribute data on well-managed and financially productive timberlands. As a consulting firm, we leverage individualized expertise and new technologies to collect and organize attribute data, utilize this data to seek and deliver solutions, and then maintain this information as property conditions change. While individualized expertise comes from our employees’ diverse backgrounds, we must also stay up to date with emerging technologies. These new technologies offer exciting opportunities to improve the accuracy of our work product while also gaining process efficiency and improving our project delivery timeline. Some more recent emerging technologies include advancements in Forest Management Systems (FMS) and the use of LiDAR to estimate standing timber inventory.

FMSs are not new to the forestry industry. However, a system that integrates all forest attribute data and activities while easily adapting with emerging technologies has proven challenging. The ability for both foresters and clients to remotely access real-time FMS data from the field or their homes is a feat many industry participants are navigating. FRC is currently focused on developing systems that allow clients to view their ownership and operational data on-demand. Whether the client is taking a hands-on or hands-off approach, we strive to customize solutions that meet and exceed their overall expectations. For more hands-on clients, we are developing a dynamic forest management system that is easy to use, syncs with ESRI technology, and displays property and activity information in interactive dashboards. For less involved clients, our forest management system will ensure accurate and consistent data is maintained and available to support the development and execution of our client’s ownership goals.

Another emerging forest technology is the use of drones equipped with LiDAR to estimate a property’s standing timber inventory. While LiDAR technology was first used by NASA in 1971 for aerospace applications in the Apollo 15 mission, its use in the commercial and consumer markets did not begin to emerge until the late 1980s as GPS technology became more widely available. Even at that time, its usage was extremely limited. The cost associated with the use of LiDAR is currently its biggest limiting factor. However, the technology will continue to advance and the cost of implementing a LiDAR inventory strategy will likely become more economical with time. The potential applications for LiDAR are extensive, and its use in forestry is still in its infancy. Thus, only time will tell if LiDAR becomes a tool that is widely utilized in our industry.

The forestry industry has historically been slow to adapt to technological change. This is due to the exorbitant costs of adapting to new technologies as well as the ever-evolving nature of technology that makes business investments much riskier. Nevertheless, the early stages of a developing technology are often the most opportune time to push for research and experimentation. When successful, technological gains lead to increased efficiency and improved accuracy that result in better overall financial performance.

 

 

Contact us today! We can help you develop a well-informed management plan that will achieve your timberland ownership goals.

 

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