The commitment being shown to technology and innovation is helping to drive Canada’s burgeoning forestry industry.

In recent years, Canada’s forestry sector has been through an exciting transition. Conscientious industry leaders have partnered with the research sector to pull forestry in Canada into the 21st century. As Canada continues to recover from the economic downturn, investment in our forestry industry – which is one of the top five contributors to the nation’s net trade – makes perfect sense.

“Innovation is playing a major role in Canada’s forestry sector, and without it other countries would be catching up to our success,” says Denis Cormier, Research Leader for Silvicultural Program at FPInnovations. “The only way that we can keep ourselves in front of the crowd is to strive to remain innovative.”

Drones in Canada’s forestry sector

Drones have enormous potential to increase the efficiency with which the health and development of our forests is monitored. They can be used to carry out a lot of the work that used to be done from the ground, in a much less time consuming way, including surveying an area of forest from above, indentifying the trees and the state of their health, and the mapping of forests.

Equipped with high-resolution cameras, drones provide quality, up-to-the-minute image data, enabling forestry operations to be arranged flexibly and at short notice. “Although drones are at the beginning stages of being used in forestry, since 2013, the civil application of drones has exploded,” Cormier says. “On the forestry side we’re starting to see a lot of service providers beginning to propose certain solutions to the forest industry with the use of drones.”

Leading the way with LiDAR

LiDAR (light detection and ranging) is a remote sensing technology that is improving the ways in which Canada’s forests are being managed. One way in which LiDAR does this, explains Vincent Day, Fibre Flow Coordinator for Canfor, involves monitoring and analysis related to Sustainable Forest Management (SFM). This includes mapping sensitive features, such as unstable terrain, small streams, wet ecosystems and identifying critical wildlife habitat and archeological formations.

“The second way LiDAR is improving Canadian forest management is through operational improvements,” says Day, “such as finding and estimating suitable stands to harvest, as well as identifying safe and stable road locations and drainage structures.”

Wood fiber innovations

The research and development of wood fiber technology could play a major role in increasing the efficiency with which major products are manufactured. Cellulose filament (CF), a flexible, wood-fiber-based additive, is at the leading edge of this research, and a not-for-profit Canadian research institute has developed a sustainable process that uses mechanical energy to produce it. Cellulose Filament can be used to create more flexible and durable packaging, paper, plastics, adhesives and composites.

“These new products have a lot of potential, but the question is how do we get businesses, like car manufacturers, to start substituting the material they’re currently using for the new materials that are being discovered,” explains Dr. John Innes, Professor and Dean, Faculty of Forestry, University of British Columbia. “We’re at a fairly early phase in their development, but I think the time will come in due course.”

A bright future

This array of technological advances is helping to grow an industry that is a major employer in many parts of Canada, especially in remote and rural locations. In 2013, the forestry sector generated over 320,000 direct and indirect jobs and contributed $20.9 billion to the country’s GDP.

This growth is not expected to slow down. As more forestry companies embrace the innovation that we’re seeing in Canada, there will be even more jobs created for skilled workers who are technologically attuned and able to operate a drone or interpret LiDAR data.

“The Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC) has estimated that the industry will need 60,000 new recruits by 2020,” Dr. Innes says. “It’s an exciting time and there are lots of potential employers who are keen to take students on. We’ve seen the number of students in our faculty rise from around 450 in 2006 to almost 900 today; students are realizing that a career in the forestry sector is exciting, innovative, and well worth going into.”