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Need to Know Info
Ontario's Algonquin Forestry Authority has a well-established forest management GIS system, but adding ESRI's ArcGIS Server web technology is allowing it to improve workflows and put current information into the hands of the people who need it, when they need it.
The Algonquin Forestry Authority (AFA) is an Ontario Crown Agency that is responsible for the sustainable forest management and the wood supply that comes off the forests of Algonquin Park--which at 7,630 square kilometres, is Ontario's third largest provincial park--to the surrounding mills.
The AFA has been using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in its management practices for about 15 years. GIS is a well-established computer-based tool that shows relationships between features on a map or where they are located in space relative to one another. A forester can access data from many sources, such as aerial imagery, other agencies' databases, Web service data, scanned maps, and add it to the GIS project.
GIS organizes and stores information about the forest as a collection of thematic layers that can be linked to geography. It integrates information in a way that helps people get a clear understanding of the nature of their forests and to make sound forest management decisions.
Recently the Authority has upgraded its GIS by adding server GIS-enabled Web technology to better access forest management information and to share that data with staff and other resource managers.
The Algonquin Forestry Authority is registered to both the ISO 14001 environmental standard and the Canadian Standards Association's Z809 sustainable forest management standard. Following these standards, it's required to comply with mandates for reporting and management practices. Algonquin Forest Authority's GIS team has been using ESRI's ArcGIS software to gather and track information and keep that information updated. By adding ArcGIS Server technology, the GIS team can now author maps and easily serve them along with various tools that other staff can use to interact with the data.
"GIS has proven an essential component in our forest management methods," explains Carl Corbett, Algonquin Forestry Authority general manager. "We are required to track how the forest is growing, regenerating, and responding to various treatments. GIS helps us to document and plan our activities of responsible sustainable management. The task is simply too complex to perform in a paper environment."
Continuing the advancement of its GIS configuration has improved the Authority's work flows and opened up greater opportunities for staff to use forestry data. Moreover, government agencies use GIS in their everyday work processes.
To meet the park's needs at the local level, the Algonquin Forestry Authority uses GIS for a host of applications including strategic and operational planning, stand management, access road planning, values mapping (i.e. cultural and recreational values), wildlife habitat protection, and scientific data gathering and reporting.
Peter VanderKraan, the Authority's supervisor of technology, and GIS technician David Webster were able to set up ArcGIS Server out of the box. They talked with various forestry associates to get advice about approaches and data model organization and then implemented the system on their own.
"We put together a variety of GIS applications that improved staff work processes," explains VanderKraan. "For example, we fed data from the government's Strategic Forest Management Model into the GIS to identify areas eligible for treatment. GIS processes the data, which helps us plan harvest areas based on stand age, time since last treatment, impact on wildlife habitat, and identify areas by a designated period of time for various management activities.
"ArcGIS Server allows us to share data locally," continues VanderKraan. "Moreover, the GIS environment is a seamless fabric that is familiar to that of the whole Ontario government repository. So, whether we are working locally or provincially, the flow of data is the same. ArcGIS software provides us with the type of scalability that allows for an easy evolution of our technology."
GIS is used in large part for forest management and stores Forest Management historical information. Algonquin Park is 763,000 hectares with approximately 56 percent of the total park area available for forestry activities. This forest provides 45 per cent of the Crown wood to the industry in the southern region of Ontario.
The forest is a transition area between southern and northern tree species with two distinct forest types in the park. On the west side is a hardwood forest made up of predominantly sugar maple, beech, yellow birch, and hemlock. On the east side is white pine, red pine, poplar, and white birch. The mixtures of species in the forest create managerial challenges. GIS is used to plan forestry activities and create reports so the public can be assured that the park continues to be managed as a sustainable forest.
A geodatabase of forest inventory contains information about stand species, age, stand classification, and other basic forestry information. The database also includes habitat and wildlife information.
Based on this data the Authority develops a forest management plan of activities. The plan includes forest stand location, how much of each forest type is cut, and during what season.
The majority of harvesting is conducted using partial cutting systems where all trees are individually marked for either retention or cutting. GIS helps foresters determine what areas have been cut in the past and helps them plan what is to be cut in the future.
Variables in formulating this harvest plan include not only the tree species, cutting cycle, and location but other relevant information such as road system by season (e.g. gravel vs. winter road) and proximity to recreational values. Since the Authority is required to make these plans available to the public, labeling, color coding, and legends are created in accord with the Ontario Map Standard for easy interpretation.
GIS also generates allocation maps to guide forestry contractors who perform the work. Algonquin Forest Authority supervisors access these maps via a GIS map catalog that allows them to view a digital map and print it off if they need it.
As part of the work process, once management activities are complete, data is entered into the GIS data base to create weekly and monthly reports. The GIS technician puts this information into the system and maintains an updated inventory of the state of the forest.
Having a current forest database is an essential asset for people managing a sustainable forest. Whether caring for a stream or a raptor's nest, protection policies need to be implemented and recorded. Because GIS is connected to attribute tables, users can easily enter the data and create a new map that includes these changes. Users can select types of information from tables to include in their projects to produce a variety of different maps to show species, age, and habitat, as well as their relationships.
GIS interfaces with other types of software and data. This permits the Algonquin Forestry Authority's GIS staff to create tools adding functionality that can be brought into the workflow to improve efficiency. They have added a notification feature to a GIS routine so that an e-notification is distributed informing supervisors and other relevant people that updated maps are available for their particular areas.
An advantage of using GIS in a server environment is that it makes it possible for an increasing number of staff to use the Authority's data for more purposes.
"Using ArcGIS Server changes the way we store data," VanderKraan notes. "Rather than our people gathering data and putting it in a big vat where they don't see the results of that information, they can be a part of the map creation. This makes it more compelling for our staff to interact with the GIS and the data. This Web accessible interaction affects the way our people approach data. It puts technology capabilities into the hands of even those people who have very little technical expertise.
"Furthermore, we can tailor our workflow to complement our current data structures or data communication flow in the park. We often work in a disconnected environment because we don't have cell tower or satellite access in the forest. But staff can download the information to their laptops/PDA/UMPC in the office at night and in the morning take the new data and updated maps on these devices in the field. We are moving out of a paper environment into a digital environment."
Inspectors, contractors, government workers can all access the Authority's forest data catalogs and get the maps they need, adds Corbett. "GIS not only helps us move toward a paperless form of reporting and analysis, the ArcGIS Server is making it possible for us to improve workflows and put current information into the hands of the people who need it."
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