Human beings have always considered forests as one of the best renewable sources due to their important role in preserving an environment that is ideal for life. Over the past fifty years, forest management is a discipline that has been adopted by most of the countries across the world.
Forest management has been the driving force behind economics. Economics that deals with the measurement of forest growth, volume, timber harvest, usage and profits.
Geographical Information System (GIS) is an amazing technology that is used to create public policies related to forests and environmental planning. This technology has been responsible for the decision making processes for a couple of years now.
GIS together with other foresting technologies have helped foresters and environmentalists to keep clear records regarding forests and make decisions based on the data obtained. With the rapid advancement of technology, GIS is becoming popular every passing day due to its immense benefits on the environment.
In this article, we are going to discuss thirty GIS applications in forestry. But first, let’s look at forest management.
- Forest Management
With regard to forest management, GIS is an amazing tool because it answers crucial questions that help foresters in forest management departments such as condition, location, modelling and trends make decisions.
Other important fields of forest management that have improved by GIS include forest monitoring, protection, harvest, conservation and rehabilitation. It has also improved climate change and biodiversity.
GIS enables foresters and other specialists to create databases which are crucial in the preparation of work plans, wildlife conservation and soil conservation. Forest sectors can improve their operations by using GIS in managing forests and other important sectors related to forestry.
- General forest data collection
With all the advantages that come with using GIS in forestry, there are a few limitations. The use of GIS has been triggered by poor forest inventory and related systems used to gather data. GIS is dependent on data collected in the field to operate.
If the data is not collected properly, then the system will fail to produce the intended results. Further, GIS is a tool that helps in identifying the problems related to a specific field such as forestry and solving them. For it to do this efficiently, proper planning and the utilization of resources is crucial.
- Forest Inventory
Forest inventory is an important forest management tool because it provides information related to timber monitoring, planning, research, evaluation, yield and sale. It tries to give more information related to the quality, quantity and density of forests.
It also describes the ideal type of land in which forests grow sustainably to manage the ecosystem efficiently. Forest inventory, as its name suggests, provides qualitative and quantitative information about forests in a specific region. The data obtained is used to create long term forest plans to protect and preserve wildlife.
- Reconnaissance (forest)
This class is used to explore and investigate the forest population. This information intends to help foresters make informed decisions about an area or region.
- Forest calculations
The aim of this class is to help foresters conduct a low density investigation in an area with dense forests like a forest reserve. The information provided will be used to calculations, make decisions and plan for the long term.
- Forest operations
This class is used to perform an intense investigation in a relatively small area. The information provided here is normally used for the short term or popularly known as operational planning for instance timber volumes harvested in logging compartments.
GIS has improved forest inventory data thus enabling foresters to improve forest conditions, plan adequately for the short and long term, estimate the growth of forests, calculate wildlife population, discover forest species, assess potential hazards such as forest fires and discover non-timber products in the forest.
- Forest Fires
Forest fires are the biggest of trees and the ecosystem in general. In most cases, forest fire ignites when temperatures get too high in presence of sufficient oxygen and a highly flammable material or product. A forest fire can spread rapidly when catalyzed by the flammable material, slopes or weather conditions such as high temperatures and strong winds.
Young forests are forests that have not exceeded six years. A fire outbreak can prevent natural renewal of a young forest. Foresters have to reduce flammable substances through spraying for instance to prevent forest fires. Other ways to control forest fires include pruning, burning the cuttings, watering, building watchtowers and installing posters and signs.
Deforestation is the destruction of forests permanently for the land to become available for other uses such as housing. A research conducted by United Nation found out that approximately 18 million acres of forest are cleared on an annual basis.
Destruction of forests has led to an increase in greenhouse emissions, unpredictable weather, extreme weather and lack of water. States such as California as experiencing droughts due to deforestation.
While we need timber to manufacture several products and the land to build houses and infrastructure, it is important for us to preserve our forests. Without forests, there will be no life on this planet. Deforestation rates are increasing every year and this will definitely lead to serious problems if not controlled.
Deforestation is done through burning forests or cutting trees down also known as clear cutting. Deforestation releases about a billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere and this is affecting the climate seriously.
Other adverse effects of deforestation include extinction of species, reduced or no rainfall, soil erosion and poor health due to decreased life quality. GIS helps foresters keep track of deforestation rates and test land cover overtime before planting forests.
Reforestation is the opposite of deforestation. It involves planting trees massively to counter the effects brought by deforestation. While there’s some truth in this statement, reforestation cannot alleviate all the problems brought about by deforestation.
The amount of carbon dioxide released during deforestation cannot be wiped out completely through reforestation. However, better half a glass of water than none. Reforestation restores the ecosystem to an extent by reducing carbon, creating wildlife habit and increasing the amount of water.
To prevent deforestation levels escalating beyond the set levels, other effective methods that complement reforestation are being used such as shifting the human diet. If more people have plant-based diets, the need to clear land to nurture livestock would be lowered. GIS allows foresters to conduct surveys using maps online and make plans for reforestation.
- Forest Heights
Forest heights provide important information about the vertical structures and diameters of forest stands. Further, forest heights are used to estimate timber volumes. Forest heights help foresters in reviewing the quality of site and quantifying yield. However, tree height measurements are quite expensive and time consuming.
Also, since tree crown apices are the aspects that are measured in scattered plots, data will only be available for small sections or areas in the forest. With little information about an area, there is nothing much that can be done to improve it. In most cases, forest inventories are repeated after ten to twenty years.
This means that there are no measurements available for long periods of time. Due to the rapid advancement of technology, measuring information systems such as LiDAR data have improved accuracy and frequency of measurements thus allowing foresters to make informed decisions.
- Vertical Point Profile
Vertical point profile is an aspect that helps foresters have a better understanding of tree height and structure. Researching and obtaining important information about trees has been the key to scientific revolutions over the years.
Knowing the right type of trees to plant in a specific area will definitely improve the environment in general. The use of satellites and LiDAR software has improved the accuracy of research and results thus paving way for better decision making processes.
- Tree lines
Tree lines can be defined as geographical limits where trees cannot thrive. Tree lines are mostly used in high altitude areas such as mountains or areas with extreme weather conditions such as deserts and polar regions.
The tree line is very evident when observed from a distance but on the ground, the tree line is not evident. In fact, it starts to lose its importance as trees become shorter or fewer in number. Tree lines are characterized by ecology or geography.
Some of the tree lines available today include the Arctic tree line, Alpine tree line, Desert tree line and Antarctic tree line. GIS helps foresters and researchers to determine and draw the tree line.
- Illegal logging
Illegal logging is the cutting down of trees without permission form the authorities. One major cause of deforestation is illegal logging. Technology allows foresters to keep count of forests in a specific area to ensure that illegal logging doesn’t happen.
According to edubirdie, illegal logging can be prevented through fining people who indulge in these heinous activity high fines and educating people on the importance of forests in their lives.
- Forest Carbon Reserves
The goal of every environmentalist and forester is to reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. As we said earlier, carbon is mainly caused by deforestation. And reforestation can reduce the amount of carbon but not completely. Carbon can be reduced through creating forest reserves and monitoring them using technological tools such as satellites.
- Agent Based Simulation
Agent based simulation involves mimicking the spread of an agent such as a fire caused by a random event such as lightning on a measured landscape. Through the use of a GME Cellular Automated Model, foresters can gauge the level of destruction that can happen in area and take action on time.
- Global Forest Watch
Foresters and other experts can work together through an integrated forest watch online platform to monitor forests and make informed decisions. Collaborating with other specialists will help in brainstorming ideas and taking necessary action with regard to the environmental aspects.
- Drones for the Indigenous in Indonesia
Forests can be sustained and promoted through the use of drones in Indonesia. Drones are quite effective because foresters get to analyze and review a hugely covered area and ultimately make wise decisions.
- Wild Fire Rescue
Wild fire rescue saves many lives and resources which would have been destroyed by wild fires. The rescue teams use wild fire satellite monitoring to ensure that everything is in order. Foresters can prevent wild fire by reducing and/or eliminating flammable materials or products both horizontally and vertically.
Good infrastructure is also a crucial element when it comes to minimizing forest fires. For instance, good roads and adequate water supply will prevent forest fires from spreading wildly and affecting human beings. It’s important to remember that different trees and plantations have different flammability levels.
- Vegetation potential
Analyzing and researching on growth and distribution of trees is important for the preservation of the environment and human life. GIS has made it easier for foresters and experts to understand vegetation potential clearly.
- Leaf area index
Calculating the total area of leaves in a ground or square unit helps foresters draw important conclusions which will determine the next course of action for a better future.
- Amazon Rain Forest
GIS has helped in maximizing the satellite view to reduce soil erosion, climate degradation, extinction of species and destabilization in Brazil. The Amazon rain forest is home to thousands of creatures.
- Remnant Rain forest
Using technology will help forest experts understand why remnants of rainforests always slope or face towards the east which is protected by the dry westerly winds.
- 4D GIS
This technological innovation helps in understanding the basics of timber harvesting and vegetation growth in different parts of the world.
- Age trees
Understanding and analyzing the rings of trees and their positions in the forest database helps foresters understand the age of trees.
- Forest disease
Researching on the spread and impact of forest diseases such as mountain pine beetle helps us understand the effects we will experience on the environment and economy. The Google Disease Map can help a lot on this.
- Wildfire simulation
Automating the spread of fire in forests using 3D virtual software such as Capaware helps foresters to prepare for such situations and eliminate the factors that could lead to fire outbreaks early enough.
- Traffic sign deterioration
Analyzing the effects of air pollutants through the use of Traffic sign deterioration will help in conserving forests and the environment.
- Wetland inventory
Wetland inventories classes different types of wetland by function. Through the use of National Wetland inventory, we can understand wetlands better and make informed decisions.
- Dead zones
Having a clear idea where marine and forest life is not supported is crucial for the preservation of the environment.
- Environmental assessment
Analyzing the effects of a proposed development project on forests and the environment is important to avoid destroying our planet.
Technology has revolutionized every aspect of our lives. Forest departments have not been left behind. Without forests, we cannot survive. Therefore, it’s important to preserve our environment by planting trees and discouraging deforestation.
Wild fires are also a serious concern that technology has helped resolve in the forest departments. Different studies have been conducted with regard to forest fires and experts recommend planting trees and shrubs with low flammability and consumption levels to reduce the risk of forest fires. Young forests are more vulnerable to forest fires than mature forests. Let’s do our best to protect our forests for the sake of future generations.