GIS Changes Management of Forests

Harnessing the power of geographic information systems has transformed the way forests are managed in the province, says the chief forester with J.D Irving, Limited.

"The questions we'll answer in five minutes today using our GIS (geographic information system) are the things that a forester would spend their career answering when I first started in this business," Blake Brunsdon said.

"It's been a complete game-changer that's really allowed us to be more efficient and optimize and reduce the cost of forest management."

In late October, J.D. Irving, Limited was given an award of excellence for the innovative and widespread use of GIS technology within its daily operations. The award was presented during a conference held recently in Fredericton by ESRI Canada, the company which developed the world-leading Arc-Info GIS system being used by JDI.

In essence, GIS merges cartography, statistical analysis and database technology into a set of tools that allow the user to interpret and understand data in visual formats.

The system makes it easier for users to spot relationships, patterns or trends from the inputted data through the use of maps, reports or charts.

Brunsdon said JDI has used GIS technology in one form or another since 1982 when it was first developed, but the company never had a central database that all districts and employees could tap into.

Over the last three years, JDI merged all of its existing GIS systems into one centralized database in which office staff, field operators and wood-workers are all connected to each other with the click of a button.

"Before this migration we had half a dozen GIS systems in each one of our districts and nobody was linked in real-time," Brunsdon said, noting the company manages more than six million acres of land across New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and northern Maine.

"Now, it's all on one central database where everybody is on the same system and it's all getting updated every night."

Brunsdon said JDI is using the technology to build more efficient roads for its forestry operations or choose the ideal location to plant specific trees in its sylviculture division.

GIS is being used to coordinate and schedule the company's trucking operations, leading to shorter lumber loading times and more efficient planning.

It has a safety application, noted Brunsdon, as the company can identify in seconds the exact location of a driver under distress or a lumber harvester that's broken down.

David Young, a management forester with JDI, said the technology also helps the company make better decisions when it comes to environmental sustainability.

"We live in a very complex ecosystem and there are millions of combinations of the right decisions to make," Young said. "Having your information up to date and current is a huge enabler in order to do sustainable forest management."

For example, Young said a surveyor who spots an eagle's nest in a section of forest slated for harvesting can load the coordinates of the nest into the GIS and a buffer zone will be placed around it.

Alex Miller, president and CEO of ESRI Canada, said JDI was recognized with the award because it uses GIS technology to its full potential.

"Every aspect of their operations, whether it was harvesting or planting trees, habitat protection or building roads, all of their corporate systems that look after those operations are embedded within GIS," Miller said.

"They're probably ahead of everybody in the country at collecting data right in the field and having that flow through to their central database."

Source: telegraphjournal
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