A New Liskeard-headquartered forest management company is close to commercializing a proprietary remote sensing technology to calculate forest inventories.
First Resource Management Group has developed a flagship timber inventory analysis and management tool, SkyForest, and is conducting various trials this year with a number of prospective clients across Canada.
The 20-employee forestry consultancy, and now tech firm, aims to deliver digital maps to forestry clients to make better and more cost effective decisions in sourcing wood.
“There are always little tweaks to do but we’re there, we’re patenting it and we think we’re off the races,” said company CEO-chairman Philip Green.
The technology has caught the eye of industry legend Frank Dottori, CEO of White River Forest Products, who arranged their biggest trial to date. On the White River Forest, First Management produced a digital terrain model on a 612,000-hectare management unit within 16 days.
“And we didn’t need to send anybody on the ground or an aircraft up in the air. That’s phenomenal when think about it,” said Green.
The terrain model shows land elevation, where the volume of wood is the highest, classifies the species, and indicates tree heights.
When First Resource was established in early 2010, its core group of employees was drawn from the Timiskaming Forest Alliance, who’ve been managing the area forests for 20 years.
The company primarily oversees the Timiskaming and Abitibi River forests on behalf of the licence holders.
The idea for SkyForest was incubated from listening to clients, who were dissatisfied with the forest resource inventory (FRI) and the outdated information provided for management units.
Companies need accurate and more timely information, and Green believes SkyForest checks off all the boxes.
Using airborne photographic and satellite imagery that’s freely available from the Ministry of Natural Resources and the various space agencies, with SkyForest they can produce an evaluation of an entire management unit within two or three weeks.
“It can be used to speed up the process in developing an FRI,” said Green.
“Right now, it’s taking up to 10 years to get an FRI after the acquisition of the imagery. So we wanted something that could be done very quickly.”
The company worked hand-in-hand with University of Quebec-Montreal professor Benoit St.-Onge, a renowned remote sensing and LiDAR researcher.
“It’s been a two-year research project which we’ve pretty much finished,” said Green.
The multi-layered GIS maps they provide indicate the percentage of hardwood, softwood, mixed wood, shrub and also recently harvested areas. In displaying canopy height, forest managers can differentiate between pulp and saw logs.
“It tells them every square metre of the management unit,” said Green.
Ultimately, it helps companies save money once they get on the ground.
Green said one client using a SkyForest terrain model identified a shallow valley that shaved more than $1 million off roadbuilding costs, a natural feature that might not have appeared on conventional topographical maps or by timber cruising on foot.
Individual tree species don’t appear, but Green said that level of detail isn’t necessary for forestry operators. For that degree of accuracy or for academic research purposes, more expensive LiDAR technology is the way to go.
“For a company wanting to make a volume estimation on a 100-hectare block, they don’t need to know everything in a stand of trees.”
Besides working on the White River project, they’re in their second year of trials with the Saskatchewan government with SkyForest and various forestry companies are also sampling it. So far, the feedback and results are “extremely positive.”
There are further discussions with potential clients across North America and Europe. “This has global applications,” said Green, which would allow First Management to do remote inventory data conceivably on the other side of the world without setting foot on foreign soil.
“The beauty is that this imagery is already there,” said Green. “There are zero data acquisition costs.”