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Planning the Cut

A BC company has developed a sophisticated computer-based imaging system that helps forest companies see what a site will look like after logging.

By Jim Stirling

Sometimes what you see is not what you want to get. Knowing how a cut block design is going to impact the landscape after harvesting is an increasingly important consideration, as planning foresters across Canada can readily attest.

Timber harvesting is not restricted to distant valleys and hillsides far removed from general public scrutiny. Companies and contractors have to log under the microscope of public scrutiny, adjacent to where people live, drive and go to enjoy the outdoors. And for most, gazing at a clearcut does not enhance the experience.

Viewscape 3D Ltd. is both the name of a company and a tool to help foresters meet and exceed their visual quality objectives. And, by all accounts, with no nasty surprises afterwards. Viewscape 3D, based in 100 Mile House, BC, combines computer generated imaging with a realistic assessment of what’s actually growing on a given site to predict with accuracy what people will see after logging.

Viewscape 3D began serendipitously about two and a half years ago. Weldwood of Canada’s 100 Mile House operation was participating in the community’s spring trade show. Part of that included a display with drawings simulating the visual impact objectives for developing cut blocks in sight-sensitive areas. Viewscape’s David Balcaen was unimpressed with the limited graphics then available and felt sure he could enhance existing software to produce a more useful product. The upshot of that was a joint venture, pilot project between Weldwood and Viewscape.

"It was a big success," recalls Steve Kozuki, a forester with Weldwood in 100 Mile House. The real clincher was the verification process. Viewscape 3D’s computer generated image of post-logging sites was compared with photographs of the actual cut blocks, from the same view-point. "We looked at the computer image and it looked pretty all right, but was it real? That’s when we learned the answer is yes," says Kozuki. "The prediction is amazing and that exercise has engendered a lot of faith in the work."

Viewscape’s Bruce Bergman describes the typical methodology employed to establish the visual impacts of a client’s proposed cut block. It starts out with obtaining land information about the area in digital form from BC Maps TRIM data. Allowances are factored in for the earth’s curvature, which can cause distortion even across modest distances like five to 10 kilometres, explains Bergman.

Forest cover information from the provincial Ministry of Forests is placed upon that model, permitting a matching of ecosystems for tree species, height and densities according to the digital data. The client’s cut block is put into the model showing the clearcut or selective logging boundaries proposed.

Then Viewscape 3D takes to the field and selects prospective viewpoints to take photographs of on-site, real tree images. A prospective viewpoint might be looking across a lake toward a hillside where logging activity is planned. They have to look closely at each job, as there can be a lot of anomalies, cautions Bergman. He cites one case where the map information indicated aspen stands but a site examination showed the species was absent.

Weldwood’s Kozuki says the company has used Viewscape 3D in specific areas identified with visual values. These include areas of commercial tourism, designated trails and viewpoints, along highway corridors and around lakes.

Similar types of technology have been used before in BC. Managing the viewscape for travellers journeying the waters of BC’s Inside Passage along the coast is an example.

The 100 Mile House Forest District was one of the first in BC to adopt a lake classification system. It’s a way for the public and other approving agencies to tell forest companies the visual priorities placed on an individual lake. An S1 classification requires a full visual impact assessment using a digital terrain model like Viewscape 3D, outlines Kozuki. An S2 rating means some kind of visual impact assessment is required, but not necessarily using a computer program, while S3 indicates no assessment is needed.

Weldwood and other companies had been analyzing the visual impacts of cut block design in sensitive areas prior to the enactment of BC’s Forest Practices Code. But Viewscape 3D has added a new dimension to the process.

"It’s a pretty sophisticated way of matching the natural landscape," he adds. Unlike other programs, Viewscape doesn’t assume all trees in a given stand are the same height or that no standing trees are left in a clearcut. It differentiates not only between conifers and deciduous species but also between, say, spruce and pine, he says. "The public and other agencies don’t have to take a leap of faith because with Viewscape we know what the area’s going to look like after logging."

Ainsworth Lumber Co Ltd. is another 100 Mile House licencee which has used Viewscape 3D to achieve its visual quality objectives. "We’re pretty impressed with what it can do," says Ken Wolf, area forestry superintendent with Ainsworth. "It represents what’s out there for each site." He says other programs are more general in their approach to the landscape and offer weaker graphics.

The company has used the tool on two lake shore blocks, one that was close to a residence and the other near a high recreational value area.

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This page last modified on Tuesday, February 17, 2004