Tools of the trade
September 20, 2019

How technology is evolving B.C.’s forest industry

Forestry, an industry which has been a driving force in the province’s economy for more than 150 years, has seen its share of challenges. Today is no exception, as British Columbia’s (B.C.’s) forest sector addresses multiple issues stemming from fibre supply constraints and current economic conditions. Decreased fibre supply is the result of lower annual allowable cut levels reflecting the end of the mountain pine beetle epidemic, forest fire devastation and caribou management planning. While dealing with these climate change impacts on fibre supply, the sector is also facing economic challenges such as high operating costs, difficult market conditions and punitive tariffs on US exports.

With a history of meeting challenges head on, B.C. must now draw on every tool available as it works through this period of transition. Technology is a key opportunity, particularly as it can quickly obtain comprehensive information regarding the health of trees and associated ecosystems. Forest companies in B.C. have always monitored tree growth and development but now the way monitoring happens—from seedling to maturity—is changing through the convergence of new sensing technologies such as LiDAR, and the ability to deploy sensing technology using drones.

LiDAR, which stands for light detection and ranging, is commonly referred to as airborne laser scanning. LiDAR is being used for forest research to more accurately examine everything from the height and diameter of trees to ground terrain evaluation and plot-level wood volume estimates.

In the naturally:wood video Seeing forest for the trees: How technology is transforming B.C.’s forest industry, professionals across the sector comment on the use of technology in the management of B.C.’s forests. University of British Columbia (UBC) forestry professor Dr. Nicholas Coops emphasizes that LiDAR and drone use are just two more recent examples of the forest sector’s technological revolution, and the types of technology incorporated into everyday forest management, “This link between technology and forestry has always been there. I think it just happens to be exploding at the moment,” Dr. Nicolas Coops, Professor, UBC Faculty of Forestry.

Photo: Ainsworth Communications

LiDAR technology can be used with airplanes or drones and involves sending pulses of light down to the ground that bounce back and mirrors the data captured into images. This allows forest planners to measure the topography, depth, height, slope and other values of the land being surveyed.

Across the province’s Coastal and Interior forests alike, B.C. companies, like Mosaic Forest Management and West Fraser are adopting these cutting-edge technologies that provide more comprehensive information on forests along with increased accuracy, productivity and efficiencies.

“As leaders in forest stewardship internationally and in technological development provincially, the forest industry in Canada has long since understood the need to constantly strive for producing the most accurate and sustainable forest management plans possible. That comes from taking full advantage of cutting-edge technologies, such as LiDAR and drones.”

– Domenico Iannidinardo, Vice-President of Sustainability and Chief Forester, Mosaic Forest Management

West Fraser Timber Co. Ltd. was an early adopter of LiDAR. They use the tech in their Quesnel-area tenure operations to get a better picture of the terrain below the trees. The technology has rapidly improved since they started to use it, and West Fraser has found LiDAR is particularly powerful in developing forest inventory where data is currently not readily accessible or easy to develop on a large scale.

“For us, it provided big improvements in understanding the underlying land so we can develop better locations for roads, identify potential safety issues before we arrive on site, improve our selection of areas to conserve or protect in harvest planning and support better seedling planting approaches to improve the forest regrowth.”

– Stuart Lebeck, Manager, West Fraser Timber, Quesnel Woods

Addressing the industry’s domestic challenges is taking a focussed effort from industry, all levels of government and drawing on academics for continued support on how to further evolve B.C.’s global leadership in sustainable forest management. UBC’s Faculty of Forestry Dean Dr. John Innes is convinced industry’s integration and adoption of technology will only continue to build momentum in the future, “Technology is helping forest managers by allowing them access to huge amounts of data more quickly and more efficiently than ever before,” he says. “I believe that the forest industry will continue to use increasing amounts of technology because it will continue to make forestry more efficient, and it’s going to make our practices that much better.”

Enhanced by technology, B.C.’s sustainable forest management means the province’s forests will continue to be a source of jobs and green building products, now and in the future.