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

The Quesnel RCMP Detachment is one of seven northern police buildings which can now connect directly to Prince George for daily bail hearings. (Observer File Photo)
Bail hearings going virtual in B.C.’s north

A court pilot project will see virtual courtroom cameras set up in seven RCMP detatchments

FILE – Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have agreed to sign a memorandum on rights and title with B.C. and Ottawa, but elected chiefs are demanding it be called off over lack of consultation. (Thom Barker photo)
Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, Lake Babine Nation get provincial funding for land, title rights

Government says it’s a new, flexible model for future agreements between Canada, B.C. and First Nations.

The property on which a residential school (pictured) that was torn down years ago in Lower Post is to be the location of a cultural centre. (Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre photo)
Lower Post residential school building to be demolished, replaced with cultural centre

Project to be funded by federal and provincial governments, Daylu Dena Council

The Dease Lake Airport is receiving $11-million in upgrades funded by the province, Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine and mining companies. (British Columbia Aviation Council)
Major upgrades coming to Dease Lake Airport

Airport to receive $11-million from the province, regional district and mining companies

FILE – NDP Leader John Horgan, right, and local candidate Mike Farnworth greet one another with an elbow bump during a campaign stop in Coquitlam, B.C., on Friday, September 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. won’t be using random individual road stops to enforce travel rules: Safety Minister

Minister Mike Farnworth says travel checks only being considered at major highway junctions, ferry ports

..
Abbotsford nurse at ‘breaking point’ pleads with public to take COVID-19 seriously

Instagram post urges general population to stay home, wear a mask and get vaccinated

A native-to-B.C. wild queen bee (bombus melanopygus for those in the know) feeds on a periwinkle flower. (Submitted/Sarah Johnson, Native Bee Society of BC)
B.C.’s wild bees need messy gardens to survive

The year-long nesting period makes habitat a primary concern for wild bees

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

FILE – Health-care workers wave to people clapping and yelling thank you to the frontline workers during the 7 p.m.-tribute outside the Lions Gate Hospital in North Vancouver, B.C. Wednesday, April 8, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. nurses issue plea for all to follow health orders as hospitalizations spike

Nurses worried about strain COVID-19 is having on hospital capacity, care

University of Victoria rowing coach Barney Williams is photographed in the stands during the Greater Victoria Invitational at CARSA Performance Gym at the University of Victoria in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, November 29, 2019. The University of Victoria says Williams has resigned effective immediately. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito)
University of Victoria women’s rowing coach resigns by mutual agreement

Lawsuit filed last summer accused Barney Williams of verbal abuse

Former B.C. premier Christy Clark. (Black Press Media files)
Former B.C. premier to testify at money laundering hearing today

Attorney General David Eby has been added to the witness list as well

Selina Robinson is shown in Coquitlam, B.C., on Friday November 17, 2017. British Columbia’s finance minister says her professional training as a family therapist helped her develop the New Democrat government’s first budget during the COVID-19 pandemic, which she will table Tuesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. to table budget that’s expected to deal with COVID-19 pandemic and beyond

Robinson released a fiscal update last December that said the impact of the pandemic on B.C.’s economy was uncertain

Most Read