September October 2005



Predicting the Future

UW introduces industrial-strength
timber management software for
non-industrial landowners

By Bob Bruce

Recognizing that scientific research into timber forest ecology and management was outpacing the methods that foresters and landowners were actually implementing on the ground, the University of Washington and Washington State University teamed up. They secured some funding from the USDA Forest Service Cooperative Programs, and in 2000 established the Rural Technology Initiative (RTI). The goal of the RTI is to move knowledge from the university labs out to the field as quickly as possible so that it can be put to practical use. It’s called “technology transfer,” and it’s a concept that has been used for many years in the aerospace industry to bring technologies such as Teflon coatings, Mylar films, and freeze-dried foods out of R&D and into common daily use.

Planning Ahead

In this particular instance, university and Forest Service researchers have for years been developing all kinds of computer programs to model, chart, predict and manage things like stand density, growth rates, insect and fire damage, runoff and erosion, and the rates of re-growth depending on various combinations of thinning, replanting, and cultivation. From a practical usage standpoint though, until recently unless you were a grad student used to long lists of numbers and charts with lots of squiggly lines, using these computer programs was a bit of a challenge.

Then along comes the Landscape Management System. Running under the familiar Windows ™ computer interface, the LMS coordinates the interaction between and the information flow into and out of over 20 different computer programs that “format, classify, summarize, and export information; project tree growth and snag decay; manipulate stand inventories; and present stand- and landscape-level visualization and graphics.” The intent is that in doing so, both commercial and private landowners will be better able to plan and manage timber growth and harvesting whether the desired outcome is carbon sequestration, recreation, habitat improvement, esthetic value, maximized timber yield, or continuously renewable harvesting.

No Cost to Landowner

The LMS software is free, can be downloaded off the Internet, and is accompanied by online help, frequently-scheduled training sessions at UW and around the state, and telephone support the rest of the time by real people at the UW College of Forestry.

James McCarter is a Research Scientist with the Rural Technology Initiative at UW’s College of Forestry. He explains that the starting point for any computerized analysis is a good set of forest inventory information for the tract you want to investigate — the better the inventory data, the more useful will be the predictions.

“You can use growth and yield models to project what those trees are going to look like in the future,” he says. “You can do that with and without management or disturbance. For example, you can say ‘I’ve got this stand of trees today, what’s it going to look like in the future?’ Or you can say, ‘I’ve got this stand of trees and I want to manage it by thinning it, or perhaps insects or fire will come through and some of the trees will be killed — what’s it going to look like in the future?’”

The program was originally designed to be used in connection with National Forest timber management at the district level, as well as in the private timber industry. McCarter points out, though, that most of the major commercial timber operations have their own in-house software packages for managing timber growth and harvest.

Forest Management Training Helpful

“More recently, because of the Rural Technology Initiative, we are applying it to non-industrial landowners and making it available,” he says, but then adds that in order for a small private landowner to make the most effective and accurate use of the software, it’s probably a good idea to have someone on your staff who has received formal forest management training.

“You have to do an inventory first and you have to have some fairly detailed information,” he says. “Either that’s from going out and actually doing plots, or we have used it in times where someone with reasonable forestry knowledge has described, ‘This is what the stand looks like,’ and we can enter that information.”

While a general description of the plot probably won’t result in predictive results you’d want to base your business plan on, it can at least generate comparisons of what the plot will look like — in general — ten, twenty, or thirty years in the future.

Studying Treatment Consequences

“The goal is to help landowners understand what they have, and understand the management consequences of doing this treatment versus that treatment. And one of the treatments is obviously doing nothing. The message for landowners is that through active manipulation of their stands, they can achieve their goals whether their goals are financial, habitat-related, scenic, carbon sequestration, whatever. They can influence the growth rate of the stands and achieve their goals more readily by doing some active management.”

The LMS program does not tell you how much to thin or what to thin or when to thin. Those decisions are left to the landowner. The primary purpose of LMS is to take an existing stand of trees, apply some kind of change to it, and then project out into the future what will be the effects of that change. What makes it all possible are the growth models that have been developed over years of data gathering in the field. “We recognize that the science behind the analysis and projection is technical,” says McCarter, “and we’ve tried to make the software easy to use. We’ve had pretty good success teaching people how to use it over the last several years, so the complexity of even a system like this can be overcome quite a bit just by a little bit of training. We have been doing up to eight training sessions a year hosting them around the state.”

To find out more about LMS software, you can call directly or go online and view all kinds of example charts and graphs, as well as read a number of case studies showing how the LMS can be used for various forest management purposes. Contact: Rural Technology Initiative, College of Forestry, University of Washington, (206) 5430827,


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This page was last updated on Tuesday, November 15, 2005