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Harvest planning can be one of the most important tasks in the overall management of a timber stand. This doesn’t take away from the potential complexities of inventory analysis, seedling selection, or timing of thinning, but the effects on income and future productivity of a stand can be linked to the decisions made during harvesting operations. I’ve seen a few great timber sales become ecological nightmares because the operator entered tract without a plan for how they were going to harvest the timber and determining potential problem areas. One of many benefits that can be gained from using LiDAR data in forestry is that you can determine areas of concern (wet areas or stream crossings), or potential road issues prior to entering the tract.

Forest Road Delineation

Perhaps the backbone of planning a successful harvest operation is to know the extent and condition of the current road network. It is possible to use a LiDAR derived Digital Elevation Model (DEM) to map existing roads and most trails. Leading Edge Geomatics goes a step further in this process and uses alternative relief visualization methods regularly used in archaeology. This can include access roads, haul roads, woodland trails, and even past skid trails. Additionally, road condition can be determined by use of a local dominance grid to determine if rutting exists. With this type of information, an operator can have a much better idea of the equipment they’ll need to give quick access to the harvest tract.

Image 1: Aerial imagery captured by LEG in which a road
network is moderately discernible from the tree canopy.
Image 2: LEG has used LiDAR data and local dominance
grid to delineate roads and trails.

A major issue that is commonplace in former farmlands found in the southern US is improper placement of legacy roads and inadvertent negative impacts on local water quality. Often, legacy roads were installed on the top of slopes with poor drainage and skimmed multiple times in previous logging operations during wet weather. Some of the roads can be in such poor condition that runoff mitigation efforts aren’t effective and sediment from the road will make its way to the closest stream crossing. This often leads to remedial action required by the local governing body and added costs to the operator, delays in wood shipment from the tract, and extra equipment being trucked to the site mid-operation. By preplanning a site using high-quality data as mentioned above, much of this can be avoided. Current road location can be assessed, and potential issues identified. Sometimes it’s more efficient and ecologically sound to abandon and relocate portions of a legacy road before it becomes an issue. Proper preplanning to take these issues into account before the harvest even starts, saves time and money.

Unmapped Streams and Wet Area Mapping

As you’re aware, water quality impacts can be profound from a poorly executed harvest operation. Therefore, it’s essential to know where any potential wet areas or streams may be on a tract scheduled to be harvested. By using a high-quality DEM produced using LiDAR data, LEG can accurately map flow accumulation pathways and identify likely unmapped streams. This is key as the resolution of legacy products were often too coarse and would miss many ephemeral streams that could have large impacts on an operation. In conjunction with locating unmapped streams, LEG can also predict what areas are more likely to be “wet” using the Wet Area Mapping prediction tool.

Image 3: This Wet Area Product produced by LEG shows areas predicted to be “wet” in cooler colors and
areas not predicted to be “wet” in warmer colors.

By combining current road locations, locating previously unmapped streams, and highlighting areas that have the potential to be wet, potential issues can be identified or avoided altogether. A bonus is that you can use these tools to gain a better understanding of the equipment you’ll need on site.

Bringing it All Together

Getting the full picture is essential when planning a timber harvest. With ever thinning margins in harvest operations, preventing surprises is key to a successful operation. Not only are profits at stake for the operator, the local water quality and future productivity of the site can be affected. Call Leading Edge Geomatics today to see how we can put this high-quality data in your hands to better prepare for your next timber harvest operation!

For more information on how Leading Edge Geomatics can support your Harvest Planning needs, contact our experienced forestry team.

Matthew Colbert, Forestry Account Executive | 506.446.4403

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