A drone operator with Terra Remote Sensing, one of the sponsors of the B.C. Natural Resources Forum. (Terra Remote Sensing image)

A drone operator with Terra Remote Sensing, one of the sponsors of the B.C. Natural Resources Forum. (Terra Remote Sensing image)

‘Digitizing the forest or mill’ a key part of B.C. industry’s future

Drones help manage land, inventory with COVID-19 restrictions

B.C.’s forest industry has been buoyed by high construction demand and prices during the COVID-19 recession, and public health restrictions have pushed the industry into new areas of innovation.

“Remote sensing” is a term familiar to the mining industry, where Geoscience B.C. has a long-standing program to scan vast areas from aircraft to look for magnetic signatures of mineral deposits. At this week’s virtual B.C. Natural Resources Forum, participants heard about the growth of virtual forestry using drones.

Mike Wilcox, president of a Vancouver startup called FYBR Inc., told a forest industry panel about the growth of his company that accelerated as pandemic restrictions forced new ways of doing business.

“We bought our first drone, we set up our office at the entrepreneurship building at UBC, and we started cold-calling,” Wilcox told the forum in a video conference Jan. 27. “We started cold-calling mines, bulk terminals oil and gas companies and forest companies.”

Growing up in Kamloops in the heart of the B.C. Interior led him to focus on forest industry to find specialized solutions.

“We collaborated with the integrated remote sensing lab at UBC to start to answer some questions such as, can we use drones to assess forest inventory throughout the harvest cycle?” Wilcox said.“Can we identify early infestation or burn severity? Can we accurately measure wood inventory at pulp mills, sawmills and pellet plants?”

Travelling to B.C.’s forest industry competitors in Scandinavia and the southeastern U.S. showed the need for B.C. to innovate or fall behind. FYBR Inc. is currently managing inventory for 50 mills in North America, and processing thousands of hectares of forest imagery each month. And with travel and in-person meetings restricted, the technology found new uses like meeting governments’ increasing demand for environmental reporting.

“Digitizing the forest or mill and bringing it to a virtual boardroom has been incredibly powerful, especially during this pandemic when we can’t all physically be in the same room,” he said. “We saw older, experienced foresters using this information to share wisdom with younger, tech-savvy foresters who were keen to take on the role of drone pilots. We saw industry working with government to adopt a new technology and a new process to improve fibre utilization and reporting.”

RELATED: B.C.’s low-carbon plan depends on faster industry permits

RELATED: Pinnacle extends Japan wood pellet deal with Mitsubishi

For the B.C. government, maintaining inventory of the vast Crown lands of B.C.’s Interior and Coast has long been a challenge. The forests ministry needs to not only monitor harvest licences and watershed protection, but measure the extent of forest fire damage to replant forests.

At a separate panel with B.C. cabinet ministers Jan. 28, Forests Minister Katrine Conroy said B.C. planted a record 300 million trees in 2020. “They did it without a single COVID outbreak in any of their camps, which is pretty incredible,” Conroy said.

The federal government has made a further commitment to tree planting, although there hasn’t been a federal budget in more than a year to dedicate funds to a plan that also extends to urban areas.

A Seattle company called DroneSeed is using large drones to drop what it calls “seed vessels” on burned areas of forest, but it isn’t as good as boots on the ground setting seedlings by hand.


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Coronavirusforestry

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A GoFundMe campaign for Riley Stevens and his family has raised more than $5,700 since launching last week. (Contributed photo)
White Rock mom of sick tot ‘totally blown away’ by donations, offers to help

GoFundMe campaign to help family of Riley Stevens crests $5,700

Hospital outbreaks included in Fraser Health update Feb. 28, 2021. (Black Press file)
Fraser Health declares COVID-19 outbreaks at Chilliwack General and Surrey Memorial

The medicine units are temporarily closed but ERs remain open, according to Fraser Health update

High winds Friday made perfect conditions for kite-surfers near the White Rock Pier. (Aaron Hinks photo)
PHOTOS: Kite-surfers take flight near White Rock Pier

Aerial performance put on near iconic waterfront attraction

An animated Gordie Hogg introduces his 'Community Connections' videos. (YouTube screenshot)
Community Connections: Gordie Hogg speaks with Lorne Ginther

Former mayor, MP began posting conversations on YouTube in June

Det. Sgt. Jim Callender. (Hamilton Police Service screenshot)
B.C. man dead, woman seriously injured after shooting in Hamilton, Ont.

The man was in the process of moving to the greater Toronto area, police say

(Black Press file photo)
Child in critical condition, homicide investigators probe incident near Agassiz

The child was transported to hospital but is not expected to survive

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Sewage plant in Lower Mainland, operated by Metro Vancouver. (Metro Vancouver screenshot)
‘Poop tracker’ launches as researchers test Lower Mainland sewage water for COVID-19

‘Studying the virus in wastewater allows researchers to look at an entire population…’

(Pxhere)
Compensation fund opens for B.C. students negatively affected by incorrect exam marks

Marks for 2019 provincial exams were incorrectly tabulated

The humanoid sensing robot has a 3D printed finger cap that measures oxygen levels. (Dr. Woo Soo Kim)
Medical care robots being made with 3D origami in B.C. lab

Would you let a robot take your temperature?

Most Read