By Jim Stirling
In a relatively short period of time, drones have evolved into an increasingly cost effective and versatile tool for British Columbia’s forest industry.
The usually small, unmanned aerial vehicles can quickly and efficiently perform a range of assigned tasks for forest industry managers. When fitted with sophisticated high resolution cameras, the images produced and interpreted provide a wealth of essential forest management information for a specified area.
“The use of drones has taken forestry and natural resource management to a whole new level,” reckons Frank Varga, general manager of the Burns Lake Community Forest in Central B.C. It has always been a challenge for forest managers to acquire an accurate and timely assessment of any given section of forest land from which to base the optimum management decisions. Now drones are increasingly flying to the rescue.
“I started using drones around 2016,” recalls Varga. “Now with the information they provide, we’re able to react faster and more productively on the landscape,” he says.
The Burns Lake Community Forest, a subsidiary of Comfor Management Services Ltd., encompasses an area-based tenure of 92,000 hectares in the Lakes Timber Supply Area. The community forest was established in 2000 and is one of the largest in the province. The community forest’s work is directed by a six member board comprised of three public members, and one each from the Ts’il Kaz Koh and Wet’suwet’en First Nations and the office of the hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en.
The Lakes Timber Supply Area was one of the hardest hit in the province by the protracted mountain pine beetle epidemic. The legacy from the epidemic is very much in evidence throughout the region. Indeed, ‘Beyond the Beetle’ is the name given for a 10-year strategic plan developed to help steer the Burns Lake Community Forest’s activities forward through the post-infestation era. Drones have a practical and important role to play in the ‘Beyond the Beetle’ remediation process.
Varga explains drones have applications from pre-planning to post harvest assessments. They are best assigned projects which encompass small and medium size areas. On the other end of the scale, LiDAR (Light Detection and Range technology) is better suited to much larger areas that can justify the costs of the fixed wing aircraft employed.
“We typically will operate our drones at a height of 175 metres on a line of sight basis and utilize an 80 per cent overlap technique to obtain the ground detail most helpful to us,” adds Varga.
The high resolution photos produced by the drone’s cameras provide a wealth of detailed data to assist good decision making. “It’s such a powerful tool.”
The community forest employs outside specialist companies with the sophisticated software required to produce the highly detailed three-dimensional images of the subject areas specified. One of the major advantages from drone use in forest management is getting more work done cheaper and faster than the traditional methods. It’s expensive to dispatch a truck and quad out in the bush for a day of ground-based surveying for example. A battery powered drone zips across the hectares with ease and precision.
Drones are being well assigned for identifying potential hazard abatement locations. The Boer Mountain area within the Burns Lake Community Forest is a multi-use recreational destination. It was subjected to the impacts of the mountain pine beetle epidemic, including the creation of extensive areas of blowdown. Accurately identifying the areas requiring the most urgent attention is an ideal drone work assignment. Removing the worst of the hazards enhances the safety of people using the region, as well as protecting the sustainability of the community forest itself.
Similarly, drones have a role to play in implementing the community forest’s forest fire management program to better direct ground-based harvest and salvage efforts. “The use of drones has been very positive for us so far and we anticipate that will continue into the future,” concludes Varga.
Taking forest management to a whole new level—literally—with drones
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