Home » Technology » Nature Conservancy gives forest management a digital makeove…

Keeping a forest healthy often means deciding what to do tree by tree and acre by acre. That’s easy enough with a square mile of it, but what about a thousand? The Nature Conservancy is working on tools that will make it easy for park services, fire control and conservationists to keep entire forests alive, thriving and — you know, not on fire.

Forest management is a complicated industry, but for our purposes what matters is that this part is done in a pretty old-school way.

One approach has someone walking through the forest, scoping things out, and using a can of spray paint to designate certain trees one by one to be cut down or left behind. Nice to have a personal touch, but not exactly quick to execute.

Another has an expert marking up a map with “prescriptions” for each area: what types of trees to cut, what to leave, etc. But not only does this lack the detail of the previous approach, but the loggers who are to cut the trees will move more slowly as they rely on their discretion to determine what fits the prescription’s bill, or argue over which zone they’re in.

Here’s a situation where technology actually can come to the rescue. Neil Chapman at Nature Conservancy is leading a project that aims to make this part of forestry simpler, cheaper and faster. And with the devastation caused by wildfires recently, it’s not merely a question of healthy forests any more, but of preventing serious disasters.

Cutting delays

“Northern Arizona is home to the largest continuous Ponderosa pine forest in the country, and we’ve had a million acres of it burn up in catastrophic wildfires over the last 15 years,” said Chapman in an interview with TechCrunch.

Workers marking trees on their tablets in the field.

“Forestry practices need to be scaled up to deal with the problem. But they do not have the time or the money to be painting the trees on 50,000 acres a year. So we said, there has to be something we can design that will…

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