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Resource Innovations: Maintaining sustainable forests with Esri technology

Resource Innovations, a leading Canadian forestry management company, is revolutionizing Canadian forestry by harnessing the power of Esri technology and geographic information systems (GIS). Through their innovative use of ArcGIS, Resource Innovations has successfully implemented sustainable forestry management practices to help their clients make better decisions and to drive positive environmental outcomes.

Resource Innovations is a consulting firm that supplies forest and environmental management and planning services to public and private organizations in Canada. Formed in 2007, the company promotes healthy forest ecosystems, sustainability and environmental stewardship with the goal of having a lasting effect on the environment for future generations—and all with the assistance of technology. Customers include provincial agencies like the Northwest Territories Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Newfoundland and Labrador Department of Fisheries, Forestry and Agriculture; Indigenous groups, including NunatuKavut Community Council and Miawpukek First Nation; and private companies like Sexton Lumber Ltd., Conifex Timber Inc., CBCL Ltd., Matador Mining and Emera NL.

I spoke with Adam Anderson, president and CEO of Resource Innovations, about the work his company is doing to enhance forestry practices and increase sustainability among the Canadian forestry industry.

Some common threads emerged, including how technology is improving data sharing; how real-time status updates empowered by geospatial technology are helping forest managers make faster decisions; how user-friendly tools are helping reduce human error during the data collection process; and how GIS is helping the forestry industry move toward more sustainable practices.

Dealing with delay of information

Ever since he started the company in the early 2000s, Adam has operated on the notion that traditional forestry practices can be augmented through the use of technology, and one of the biggest areas of improvement that he and Resource Innovations are trying to solve is delay of information.

Previously, forestry companies would use manual workflows that involved multiple phone calls between field crews and office staff and a significant back-and-forth. This created opportunities for miscommunication, mismeasurement, data loss and inconsistency that sometimes led to inaccurate or biased data. Sometimes, depending on their location, field crews couldn’t connect to cell service to report in—so Resource Innovations knew their clients needed a better information pipeline.

These data systems are also under pressure from the industry, from the amount of data required to run forestry operations and from the amount of data being generated daily. Every day, the amount of forestry data being produced is increasing, and forestry management companies are having to work hard to keep up. But with the help of GIS technology, Resource Innovations’ clients are gathering data everywhere, and all that data can be filtered through to a central database that makes sense of the incoming data for clients. Then Resource Innovations serves up useful tools and insights to help inform their customers’ decision making. This real-time monitoring power enables management to make quick decisions about the location and timing of harvest, how to assign their field crews, how to place logging equipment, and the timing and intensity of silviculture needs. In previous years it might have taken a week to sort through that same data.

Helping clients gain a competitive advantage through real-time status and actionable insights 

In today’s rapidly evolving forestry industry, the growth of Big Data presents both challenges and opportunities for the Canadian forestry industry. To effectively navigate this data-rich landscape, Resource Innovations helps their clients leverage cutting-edge GIS technology, allowing them to obtain data about forestry operations in real time—and with a vastly reduced rate of human error.

Wherever they can, Resource Innovations helps their clients integrate new technology and processes to increase efficiency. For example, using location-based sensors (e.g., GeoTab and FPDat) attached to clients’ forestry equipment, as well as soil, humidity and temperature sensors and other data sources like LiDAR data, Resource Innovations helps clients not only track their machinery and operations, but also get a sense of how the forest is doing at any given moment. This enables actionable insights without the need for intensive field programs.

An aerial image of a section of forest is shown with several areas highlighted in yellow and green. Three icons shaped like heavy equipment are onscreen, each labelled with the equipment number as well as a date and time, showing the placement of the equipment relative to certain patches of forest.

Location-based sensors on harvesting equipment provide important information to the operator, and real-time data sharing enables sound decision making by management.

Knowing what’s going on helps Resource Innovations’ clients identify vulnerable areas, such as those susceptible to wildfires and pest outbreaks, and deploy targeted strategies to protect resources and minimize damage. This allows Resource Innovations’ clients to not only get better informed, but to get a systematic advantage over their competitors.

“It used to be we’d take half a week to collect the data and another half week to process it once we got back to the office,” says Adam. “Now data is collected and processed on the same day, providing rich, meaningful information to our clients in near real-time.”

Building custom GIS solutions to help forestry customers do better business

The biggest sawmill in Newfoundland, Sexton Lumber (Sexton), has worked with Resource Innovations on many projects. Sexton gave Resource Innovations a sandbox in which to experiment by asking for technological advancements that could improve their business. Resource Innovations used ArcGIS technology to play in that sandbox and uncover new opportunities.

For example, using an ArcGIS Enterprise portal and ArcGIS Server, Resource Innovations built a custom timber cruising program for Sexton that quantifies merchantable timber at the block and stand level. It then links that data to harvesting equipment. This way, the client can optimize its harvesting operations while protecting important ecological features.

Realizing the value of this kind of monitoring operation, Sexton pushed Resource Innovations to create more business-enhancing tools, including a widget that pulled specific reporting metrics on a regular cadence. 

This is in keeping with the core pillars of Adam’s approach: finding the best data available; using that data to make better management decisions; and integrating the right technology to get insights that will feed into those decisions.

Migrating to ArcGIS Field Maps forms: a user-friendly approach to field data collection

Another way Resource Innovations has been marshalling Esri technology to their benefit has been by using ArcGIS Field Maps (and formerly ArcGIS Collector). Adam’s team has been using Esri’s field operations tools for many years, and Field Maps is the easiest tool to use yet. By integrating Field Maps with ArcGIS Survey123, he’s been able to make data collection not only more visually appealing and user friendly, but also reduce the human error that can sometimes result from human data collection.

Resource Innovations uses Field Maps to collect field data, including stand metrics (which tree species live here? How tall is the stand? How dense is it and what log size will we get from it?). Their timber cruising team uses Field Maps daily to collect this data. Resource Innovations then syncs the resulting information to their server, runs it through a series of scripts to produce forest stand metrics and overlays it with harvest location data collected from location sensors on forestry equipment.

This enables Resource Innovations and customers like Sexton to monitor the progress of the operation and decide where to place equipment. It also helps operators decide how to protect land features like watercourse buffers.

“We’re getting better information from the field, which, as a forest manager, makes my life so much better,” says Adam. “I can answer company owners’ questions. Having timely information at my fingertips has truly increased our efficiency through the organization.”

Using GIS technology to help the forestry industry move toward sustainability

Sustainability in forestry requires a long-term approach. After harvesting, forest stands require monitoring and several decades of growth before they can be operationalized again. A stand that is planned and harvested today might not be eligible for harvest again until after the team who planned that harvest has retired. As Adam puts it, forestry companies have a responsibility to replenish the resource they harvest and make forestry sustainable, which sets up future generations for success.

But it’s not as simple as applying a one-size-fits-all replanting approach to every harvested tree stand across the country. “Every province deals with different issues in sustainability,” says Adam. This regional variation means that location is a critical piece in the sustainability puzzle—something that GIS is perfectly positioned to assist with.

Vastly different regions of Canada exhibit vastly different priorities based on local conditions. For example, Resource Innovations has used GIS technology to optimize planting operations for previously harvested areas in northern Ontario. They do this by analyzing geospatial data to assess ecological site conditions, pre-harvest stand dynamics and future timber requirements. This helps ensure that the right species is planted on each site, maximizing the potential for planting success. 

The company has also used GIS tools and processes to evaluate how remote, large-scale forest fires are changing forest and vegetation types across areas of the Northwest Territories. Remote sensing and analysis of pre- and post-fire stand conditions shows the impact these types of disturbances are having in remote northern areas.

In British Columbia, the company is using geospatial data and remote monitoring technologies to assess seedling health and growth, helping them determine how various species of seedlings are responding to changing climate conditions. 

What’s next for Resource Innovations?

In line with their interest in getting real-time data from field crews and equipment, Resource Innovations is making inroads into using ArcGIS Velocity, which will help them establish better information pipelines, as well as more powerful data ingest options, for their clients’ daily operations.

Resource Innovations is also shifting away from 3D stereoscopic imagery toward LiDAR data to help develop enhanced forest inventories, helping clients who are used to a traditional way of working with imagery to use point clouds to generate metrics instead.

Overall, the real-time data they’re obtaining helps many different areas of the forestry business—from government agencies who want to maintain responsible forest inventories, to tenure holders who need to track their estates, to management at pulp and paper companies, to forestry techs working in the field, to accountants who need to understand the flow of fibre. Everyone can benefit from knowing something about the current state of the areas they’re responsible for. And GIS is helping them get that knowledge.

By helping their clients in this way, Resource Innovations is leading the industry, bettering sustainable forestry through technology and increasing the value of their clients. It’s a win/win for everyone involved.

To explore the power of GIS in forestry management, visit Resource Innovations on the web or learn more about ArcGIS Field Maps.

About the Author

Dani Pacey is a Marketing Specialist for Esri Canada. She digitized her first map at the tender age of 10 and has been fascinated by the relationships between people and places ever since. An avid technical communicator with degrees in Science & Technology Studies from York University and History of Science & Technology from the University of King's College, Dani has always blended science, social science and the humanities and loves bringing them all together to tell great stories about human life.

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