Forest management is an industry that uses maps extensively in its operations, for recording inventory, planning, executing logging operations and ensuring that protected areas and land boundaries are adhered to. Lance Case, IT and GIS Manager at Huber Resources Corp, is one of the people responsible for creating and maintaining these maps. "We make big maps of the areas that the foresters will be working in." says Case. Foresters then walk the area, recording their GPS tracks, taking note of the mix of trees in the area, and identifying any features of the terrain that may be a problem for logging equipment. "All of this information needs to get back onto the master map." adds Case.
It wasn't that long ago that low-tech tools such as string boxes and compasses were used to gather forestry information in the field, with everything recorded manually. Then, fifteen to twenty years ago GPS units came along to record tracks which could then be converted to GPX files and shared. However, the GPS units were expensive, single use devices with cumbersome processes for data transfer. "What we did in the past worked well but was a painful process." says Case.
About 4 years ago he learned about Avenza Maps Pro from a forester who had been using the app as a convenient way to maintain location awareness while in remote areas, record GPS tracks and collect other data. Case decided to evaluate the app for his team.
"Foresters can download the maps we make into Avenza Maps Pro on a smartphone or tablet without having to connect any cables - we typically email them." says Case. "We use iPad minis, partially because they are a comfortable size, but also because the forest inventory application we use works well on them."
Equipped with the mobile device, foresters walk the area, gathering data for a statistical analysis of the tree inventory. Foresters can measure accurate distances to plan for roads and equipment, and can also identify problem areas such as cliffs or other features. Because Avenza Maps Pro locates the user on the map, there is much less risk of accidentally straying outside planned areas or property boundaries. "People don't appreciate that professional loggers and foresters are operating all year long, sometimes in the dark." says Case. "Block boundaries are flagged with survey ribbon, but the flags can be difficult to see in the dark, or they could be covered in snow. Being able to see your location on the screen is invaluable."
When foresters complete work in an area, they export their GPS tracks and other data collected to shapefiles, and send it back to Case who updates the original maps and shares the information with support workers who need it. "They come back with a whole bunch of metadata, collected in the app, about what they did and when. I use it to update the master map file and create an updated inventory. It saves a lot of time."
Huber Resources manages over 600,000 acres of forest located primarily in Maine, Wisconsin, Oklahoma and Texas. Eight district foresters and a legion of support workers now use Avenza Maps Pro within Huber’s operations. According to Case, the foresters he trained have also trained harvester contractors and other staff to use the app in their daily activities.
"Our main objective is to practice good silviculture (the art and science of forestry)." says Case. "We need to have good record keeping of where we've been and what we did to maintain the two major certifications - SFI (Sustainable Forestry Initiative) and FSC (Forward Stewardship Council). Avenza Maps Pro has made that task much, much easier."
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