How drones are helping Northern Ontario forestry companies manage tree inventory

A North Bay company is leading the way in drone data collection, which makes land management easier for forestry companies. Digital Timber uses special software to help collect forest inventory information. 

Forestry companies are provided up-to-date, hard data on what tree species are growing in specified area

One of the drones used by Digital Timber to collect tree information for forestry companies in Northern Ontario. (Digital Timber web page)

Drones are being used for more and more cool things these days: real estate photography, package delivery, and the latest — the taking of tree inventory.

A North Bay company is leading the way in this new practice, which makes land management easier for forestry companies.

Remotely Piloted Aerial Systems (RPS), also known as drones, have been used in the forestry industry for a number of years.

But what is different with what Digital Timber does, it uses software developed by a Finnish company to help collect forest inventory data. 

Eric Rayner, general manager of Digital Timber says the information they collect is then used by forestry professionals to make better management decisions.

Rayner has a background in environmental science. It was about four years ago when Rayner started using drones to scan roofs to collect data for building products.

His company formed a partnership with MosaicMill in Finland. Digital Timber is the only North American licence holder for the Finnish tree-inventory software.

In the past, forestry companies would simply estimate their inventory or they use timber cruisers, field sampling or satellite imagery. However, many are switching over to digital.

The work that Digital Timber and its partner are doing provides their clients (forestry companies) with up-to-date, hard data on what tree species are growing within a specified area.

Rayner says once the client specifies the area they want scanned, Digital Timber crews fly the RPS overhead with high resolution cameras and multi-spectral imagery. The Finnish software then processes the footage to extract individual tree inventory information.

The information includes tree species, tree heights and ratios for Diameter at Breast Height (DBH), which is the diameter of a tree trunk at 1.4 metres (4.5 feet) above ground. DBH is used for volume calculation.

"It's now allowing them to not estimate anything. It's giving them hard current data that they can base their best management practices off of," Rayner said.

Canadian versus Finnish trees

One interesting adaptation Digital Timber had to deal with is adapting the Finnish software to the Northern Ontario landscape.

"Canada has so many different species of trees," Rayner said, adding that Finland only has four main species.

Digital Timber had to create a Canadian Tree Index, and then calibrate the software to identify Canadian trees. They've also had to calibrate it for different regions where specific tree species grow.

With files from Jonathan Pinto


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