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Digital photography to aid in forest research (7/03)

New digital photographic technology is being brought to market to assess Northern Ontario's forests.

New digital photographic technology is being brought to market to assess Northern Ontario's forests.

The project, led by Thunder Bay-based company GeoSpatial Timberline and Confederation College's Forestry Centre of Excellence, received $582,615 in funding from the Living Legacy Trust (LLT) for the purchase and testing of the effectiveness of large-scale digital photography technology in forest research and management.

The project will be based at Confederation College in Thunder Bay and involve the co-operation of forest management consultant company GeoSpatial Timberline Inc., Lakehead University, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and the Centre for Northern Forest Ecosystem Research, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Bowater and Buchanan Forest Products.

"It involves getting stereoscopic images digitally using cameras mounted to a boom under a helicopter," says David Archibald, co-ordinator of the forestry technician program at Confederation College, adding that the images can be fed directly into a computer for analysis.

"Over the years, this kind of photographic work has been done using film, which is then developed and scanned into a computer," he says. "You lose a lot of valuable resolution, that way. Using this equipment, we will be able to get resolution down to 15 centimetres. We want to be able to identify the individual species of trees, their height and stage of growth and their crown width, which will tell us the volume of wood - the finer resolution you go, the more detailed the information you can get."

The equipment will be particularly useful in four areas. The first is in silviculture effectiveness monitoring.

"Instead of sending people onto the ground, we can fly over and see how the trees are doing," says Archibald.

A second area of use is for monitoring how a forest is recovering after a major disturbance, such as fire. A third is in monitoring the growth and yield potential of a forest and the fourth is in monitoring water crossings for disturbance and potential disturbance of fish spawning habitat.

Archibald says the effort will result in the development of technical manuals and workshops for companies that are involved in forestry and need accurate information on the state of their forest. This will be "another tool in the toolbox" for foresters who need to monitor and inventory available forest resources.

"This isn't going to eliminate people going into the bush. This will augment the field presence and allow individual companies and government to monitor forest land use in a more effective manner," he says.

The study will be conducted on a variety of forest types and conditions across forest sites in northwestern Ontario between Marathon and Fort Frances.

"This is the most recent of two LLT funding approvals with related research outcomes. Researchers on this project and the Upper Lakes Environmental Research Network project evaluating the same technology for wildlife habitat and forest resource inventory will collaborate as the projects are implemented," says Living Legacy Trust executive director Karan Aquino.

"I expect this enhanced co-operation will pay dividends by ensuring that data and research findings can be shared and utilized," she says.