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

Ladysmith’s famous Festival of Lights decorations are still up as of March 1, 2021. (Cole Schisler photo)
PHOTOS: It’s still looking a lot like Christmas in Ladysmith

Festival of Lights volunteers cannot remove the holiday roof top displays due to COVID-19

Island Health chief medical officer Dr. Richard Stanwick receives a first dose of Pfizer vaccine, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
COVID-19: B.C. seniors aged 90+ can start to sign up for vaccination on March 8

Long-term care residents protected by shots already given

Firefighters from three departments battled a house fire south of Nanaimo for more than nine hours Sunday. (Photo courtesy Martin Leduc)
Home in Cedar destroyed by fire

Firefighters from three fire departments battle blaze fanned by strong winds Sunday

Police have identified the vehicle involved in the Feb. 14 hit-and-run in Chemainus and are continuing to investigate. (Black Press Media files)
Police seize and identify suspect vehicle in fatal Chemainus hit-and-run

Investigation expected to be lengthy and involved

A boat caught fire in Ladysmith Harbour early on Saturday, Feb. 27. (Photo submitted)
Search underway for missing woman after boat catches fire in Ladysmith harbour

A large boat caught fire on the morning of Saturday, Feb. 27

Langley resident Carrie MacKay shared a video showing how stairs are a challenge after spending weeks in hospital battling COVID-19 (Special to Langley Advance Times)
VIDEO: Stairs a challenge for B.C. woman who chronicled COVID-19 battle

‘I can now walk for six (to) 10 minutes a day’

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s coronavirus situation, May 8, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C.’s weekend COVID-19 cases: 532 Saturday, 508 Sunday, 438 Monday

Fraser Health still has most, eight more coronavirus deaths

B.C. Attorney General David Eby speaks in the legislature, Dec. 7, 2020. Eby was given responsibility for housing after the October 2020 provincial election. (Hansard TV)
B.C. extends COVID-19 rent freeze again, to the end of 2021

‘Renoviction’ rules tightened, rent capped to inflation in 2022

Face mask hangs from a rear-view mirror. (Black Press image)
B.C. CDC unveils guide on how to carpool during the pandemic

Wearing masks, keeping windows open key to slowing the spread of COVID-19

Churches, including Langley’s Riverside Calvary Church, are challenging the regulations barring them from holding in-person worship services during COVID-19. (Langley Advance Times file)
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

Wildlife advocate Gary Schroyen captured this picture of a one-year-old cougar in the Sooke Hills using a homemade trip camera. Vancouver Island is home to approximately 800 cougars, which makes up about a quarter of the total population in B.C. (Gary Schroyen photo)
Wildlife advocate Gary Schroyen captured this picture of a one-year-old cougar in the Sooke Hill using a homemade trip camera. Schroyen presents Animal Signs: The Essence of Animal Communication on Nov. 30. (Gary Schroyen photo)
Declining Vancouver Island cougar populations linked to wolves

Large carnivore specialist says human development still plays biggest role on cougar numbers

(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

Most Read