Forestry, Preservation and Visualization

Intro:

Growing up in the Canadian wilderness, I can tell you for sure that there are a lot of trees. I was fortunate that  every summer I had the option to walk about and explore a Forestry Canada site and reserve. And there are a lot of things about trees and the surrounding ecosystem that aren't talked about very much. And it should be. I think it's important to have a good background education in forestry and your surrounding ecosystem as a whole. It not only makes you understand your country more, but also gives you a better appreciation for everything outdoors. So let's talk about trees, visualization for forestry procedures, and a bit more.

The Forestry Preservation/Conservation Movement

Forestry is the science of preserving, researching, learning, and using the trees in our environment. It is an essential practice so we can maintain our forests, wetlands, and wildlife populations. It also is an important field when it comes to erosion control around buildings and ecosystems. Forestry is not a new science. It has been around for a few centuries, and has evolved into the current preservation and conservation movements around our ecosystems today. Deforestation and overpopulation is a huge problem, and this science is here to help better control these issues.

This conservation movement is also known as nature conservation. It seeks to protect natural resources, animal habitats,  plant species, and future wildlife space. It considers the protection of all life in our natural forests to be worth protecting. The first start of the conservation movement was started in 1662, by a man named John Evelyn. He was disturbed by England's depleting timber resources, and felt like something should be done. During this year he published a paper to the Royal Society called Sylva, detailing the importance of forestry. It is still considered one of the most influential papers on the subject.  Then in the 18th century, Prussia, France, and British India started to develop further forestry methods to control forest fires. Then in the early 19th century, scientific conservation principles started to be further applied to the forests in India. The British had destroyed so much of the forests for farming purposes that the first big environmental impacts had started. The idea that it was a civic duty to maintain the environment from further human destruction started here. During this time, forest conservation programs were developed. These became the first forest management systems in the world. 

In America around this time, an author by the name of Henry David Thoreau started to look into how humans interacted with nature. As well as if humans could develop a possible middle ground with nature so we could exist in harmony. In 1864, he published his book called Walden which details a section of his life living alone in Walden Pond Massachusetts for a few months. This book would heavily influence how Americans and other authors viewed their natural surroundings. 

 

There were some other important figures in America regarding forestry as well. Sir Dietrich Brandis (1824-1907) was a German-British botanist who also had a focus on forestry. He worked for the British Imperial Forestry Service in India for almost 30 years. After his retirement, he would go on to mentor other important conservation figures such as Gifford Pinchot and Henry Graves. These men would become the first chiefs of the USDA Forest Service.

  • After him, Wilhelm Philipp Daniel Schlich (1840-1925) would also leave his mark on the forestry world. He was a german born forester who went on to work for the British Administration in India. He also wrote and collected a five volume series of books called: Manual of Forestry. (1889-1896) These books would be shared around the world and would set a baseline of knowledge about the science.

  • Carl A. Schenck (1868-1955) was also a huge figure when it came to mapping out the trees of America. He is considered the first forestry educator in North America, and founded the first forestry school in what is now Brevard North Carolina. When he started his career he also became one of three forestry experts in North America at the time.

These are just some of the important figures in this scientific field. There are many more, but I'll leave the rest of up to you to research.

In 1961, probably one of the most important modern day conservation organizations was founded. It would become what we know today as the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). In Canada and the U.S.A it is called The World Wildlife Fund.  It is the largest preservation organization in the world, and have invested over 1 billion dollars into 12,000 conservation projects. The majority of its funding comes from individuals, so it is up for the worldwide community to complete it's tasks.

One important aspect to preserving our landscapes is evidence-based conservation. This is a broad term used to describe how conservation can influence policy making and laws. it takes all the scientific fasts, papers, and proof that we know and uses it to act and protect the environment around us. This is a bit different from traditional forestry and preservation as it was originally based around observations and intuition. This is now considered standard practice for most forestry organizations. 

Why We Should Take Care of Our Forests

After the oceans, forests are the biggest deposits of carbon in the world. Just like when carbon dioxide is released into the oceans, when they are released into the atmosphere, it can cause a fair amount of chaos. Trees are designed to take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and release oxygen. The scientific name for their behavior is called a carbon sink. Carbon sinks are good for the environment, and help clean the atmosphere.  This carbon dioxide is then deposited into their roots, leaves, and trunks. However, when they are cut down, or burned, this carbon is re-released into the atmosphere. This process speeds up climate change. Currently, over a quarter of a trillion tons of carbon is stored in tropical forests around the globe.

Another reason that forests need to stay intact is that Forests also prevent erosion and watershed damage to our personal surroundings. The root systems of trees hold back soil and cement them in place. Without their root systems, soil and rocks can become loose in rainstorms or strong weather. This can then cause chemicals and pollutants to reach waterways. And not only poison the animals in our environments, but also ourselves.

Forests also provide habitats for just over half of the world's species. As well as jobs for over 13 million people across the globe. As well as provide habitats for over 60 million indigenous people. However, between 1990-2015 we've cut down over 129 million acres of forest. For scale, this would be the equivalent of an area the size of South Africa. So we need to be careful or there might not be too many humans and animals left to enjoy their home.

A Jump Into The Canadian Forestry System

So I live in Canada, and have grown up in and around a lot of conservation areas. Particularly the Dundas Valley Conservation area. So I thought it might be fun to discuss a topic that isn't talked too much about up here. Which is the Canadian Forestry system. As well as what it has evolved into. So let's dive right in.

The Canadian Forestry industry started in the mid 20th century. Canada's first forestry school was created at The University of Toronto in 1907, and several other schools would pop up after that. These programs were created after the Canadian Forestry Association was founded in 1900, and forestry preservation became a national issue.  

Currently to this day, Canadian forests span over 347 million hectares of land, and make up over 9% of the world's forests. This means on average there is 10 hectares of land per person in Canada. This is the highest forest area per person ratio anywhere in the world. However, half of this forested area has been approved for commercial use. This means any company can come in and cut down the trees. They just need to get permission from the Canadian Federal Government, and the selected provincial Governments first. Most of the forests are referred to as The Crown Forest, from an act called The British North America Act of 1867. This means the rights of the forests were incorporated into the founding of Canada as a whole. 

Every province in Canada has its own forestry branch. This is great because it allows for every province to look after their forests based on how the ecosystem is in each province. However, because the forests are owned by the government, the funding for these agencies have been cut over time. This is because depending on the type of government running the country, forestry spending might now be seen as beneficial or a personal need for Canadian citizens. 

Between the years of 1900-1940, the forest industry started to pick up pace in Canada. Especially in provinces such as The Maritimes, Ontario, Québec and British Columbia. It was mostly centered around the lumber and paper factories in the area, and these industries were very warry in helping preserve the forests. They saw preservation efforts as a way to control their intake of trees, and actively discouraged the Canadian government to form these programs. It wasn't until a series of insects and diseases started to attack the trees, did they ask for that process to be started.

After 1940, the lumber and forestry industry exploded. Suddenly, there was a need for supervisors to oversee production of tree harvesting. As well as healthy tree practices. However, there was barely anyone qualified for the jobs to fill them. So in the 1970s, more forestry schools and programs opened up across Canada. During this time, more technology started to be incorporated into this field, and better aircrafts started to be used to prevent forest fires. Computers started to be used to log forestry data, and to help track and fight the spread of Dutch Elm disease. 

 

During the Second World War, there started to be a demand for parks and conservation areas for families to visit and leave the city. People also started to become more environmentally aware around this time, and persuaded the Canadian Government to try and take better care of the forests. This movement still continues to this day.

Canada has many different types of forests. There are about 8 of them in total. 

Boreal: 80% of Canada's trees are considered Boreal forests.  These forests stretch from the center of Canada, into the East Cast of the Country. These trees are made up of broad leafed trees, and packed and close knit forests. The trees that reside in these forest types are poplar, White and black spruce, balsam fir, jack pine, tamarack, white birch, balsam poplar, and trembling aspens.

Columbia: These forests exist in The Rocky Mountains. Some trees in this category are: western red cedar, western hemlock, blue Douglas-fir, western white pine, western larch, grand fir and western yews.

Montane: This group is found stretching from British Columbia to Alberta. It exists in a lot of dry regions of Canada. Trees in this group are: the blue Douglas-fir, lodgepole pine, trembling aspen, white spruce, ponderosa pine, engelmann spruce, alpine fir and western white birch.

Subalpine: This group of trees is found in Alberta, and Northern British Columbia. It includes trees such as: Engelmann spruce, alpine fir, lodgepole pine, western larch, white bark pine, limber pine, yellow cypress and mountain hemlock. Most of its trees are also coniferous.

Coast: This group mainly wraps around British Columbia. It contains many types of trees used in the lumber industry, and coniferous trees. Species of trees in this group are: black cottonwood, red alder, big-leaf maple, western hemlock, Douglas-fir, western red cedar, and Sitka spruce. 

Deciduous: This is Canada's smallest forest group. It borders the Lakes of Huron and Erie. But it contains more species of trees than any other group. These trees are: The cucumber tree, tulip tree, black gum, blue ash, sassafras, walnut, eastern white pine, tamarack, eastern red cedar, eastern hemlock and others. 

Acadian: This group of trees wraps around the The Great Lakes, and some areas around Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and the other Maritime areas. Trees in this category are: black spruce, white and grey birch, red oak, white elm, black ash, beech, red maple, trembling aspen and balsam poplars.

Great Lakes-St Lawrence: This is Canada's second largest forest region. It covers most of The Great Lakes, and contains tree species such as: Eastern white pine, red pine, eastern hemlock, and yellow birch, Sugar and red maples, beech, red oak, basswood, and white elms.

Currently, there are a lot of representatives of the forestry and conservation industries trying to make the preservation of Canadian Forests better, as well as create better education and research development overall. The Canadian Forests Website (HERE), is one of the best websites on Canadian forests and the world around them. It includes links and information to government forest websites, first nation content, and other information about trees. It is run by some independent researchers based in British Columbia. Elizabeth Ruiz and John Roper are doing their best to make sure this site stays updated, and educate people across the world about our forests here up North.

RePlant.ca is another amazing site for reforestation in Canada. They host in person and online events to promote reforestation, and education around the world. They work with conservation areas across Canada to maintain their ecosystems, and monitor their progress. As well general health tips for tree planters, and when their tree planting sessions take place. I highly recommend checking their site out. they have been around since 1998, and they have planted over 110 million trees

Visualization of Deforestation

As we have previously mentioned, deforestation is a huge problem across the globe. In order to keep track of how much forest area we are using, tools have been developed to bring attention to these clearcutting efforts.

  • The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has developed a 3D forest visualization system that they use quite a lot. It incorporates their library of photography, with 3D technology to accurately depict forest management and activities. They have also customized it to visualize entire landscapes, or small sections of woods.

  • Global Forest Watch (HERE) is an organization built around providing data for forest management. They have a variety of visualization tools for people to use. Such as datasets for tropical forests,  worldwide land use, and much more. Currently, they have over 100 datasets for you to explore. It is used by forest enforcement companies, advocacy groups, supply chain monitoring, and much more.

  • The Worldwide Research Institute also helps visualize deforestation. They also help fund studies on how to protect our natural landscape. They are mostly centered around reducing carbon emissions and achieving pollution goals. They have noted that halting deforestation and restoring areas that have already been logged could reduce 7 billion metric tons of Carbon Dioxide from Earth's atmosphere. They've estimated it could help achieve up to 40% of emission goals that countries have agreed to, and would stop the majority of climate change.

3D Models and GIS Mapping

There are many different types of 3D software and systems that forestry workers use when mapping large areas, trees, forests, or landscapes. Some of the most popular methods of mapping large sections of geography are: GPS, PEM mapping, Digital Elevation models, Terrain Stability Mapping, Data conversion, and more. But there are some programs on top of these worth mentioning.

  • ArcGIS is an online tool for scientists to use to map data with interactive maps. GIS stands for Geographical Information System. It is a framework for gathering, managing, and analyzing data. It can take spatial locations and organize data from those locations into layers for 3D visualization. 

  • ArcInfo is also another popular software. It is a full-featured geographic information system, and was launched in 1982. It was originally just a text command software. It is primarily used for industries such as forestry. It is somewhat related to ArcGIS.

  • MicroStation is also used in this field. This software is a CAD software for 3D design and modeling. For any visualization project, you will need assets to show in your scene. This software allows scientists to do that, and add 2D/3D vector graphics into their scenes.

  • 3DNature is also a pretty amazing 3D software. It allows for designers to create landscapes, and is considered the world's best GIS/photorealistic terrain modeling program. However, this program is probably one of the few that also combines 3D visualization operations with GIS data. The majority of programs do not do this.

How VFX Artists Can Help

I think we can all agree that visualization in any field is important. The best way people learn is through visuals, and we need people to create them. Currently, I haven't met anyone or heard of many VFX artists who work in the forestry field. But that doesn't have to be the case. As artists we have a bunch of tools under our fingertips that we could be using to help this field.

Houdini has some really beautiful visualization tools when it comes to generating assets, and proceduralizing those processes. Houdini tree generators already exist on the market for many artists to use. The software also contains L-systems for quick and easy generation of growth systems. And with Houdini's height field tools, landscapes and terrain generation wouldn't be that hard to do.

Outside of Houdini, there is also a software called Speed-tree that is available for tree and shrubbery generation.

Bringing in forestry data into Houdini might be another challenge. We know depending on what forest you would like to generate, what trees you'll need to build. However, let's say you wanted to visualize forest fires within the software. That might be a bit harder as you'll have other environmental factors to take into consideration. Such as if there is wind pushing the fire along, how dry the forest is, height of the flames, and how trees start to burn.

You could also create historical animated scenes of landscapes. For example, you could create a visualization to see how a site looked numerous years ago, or how it might age in the future.

I would also argue that VFX and animation programs are way better when it comes to visualizing high quality landscapes, than traditional tools from this feild. In production, the goal is to create something as realistically as we can. So our tools need to be at a certain level of quality before we show their results on the big screen. So I think if we really wanted to revolutionize computer graphics and information tools in the world of forestry, VFX and animations would be the way to go. 

References:

Forest Visualization for Management and Planning in Wisconsin: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/233503585_Forest_Visualization_for_Management_and_Planning_in_Wisconsin

Here’s a great way to visualize the huge potential of forest conservation and restoration as ‘natural climate solutions’: https://news.mongabay.com/2017/12/heres-a-great-way-to-visualize-the-huge-potential-of-forest-conservation-and-restoration-as-natural-climate-solutions/

Forest Monitoring Designed for Action: https://www.globalforestwatch.org/

Map: https://www.globalforestwatch.org/map/?map=eyJjZW50ZXIiOnsibGF0IjoyOC4yOTc0ODYxNDA4OTQwOTcsImxuZyI6LTM5LjA0MjQ4NDI4MTUzNzMyfX0%3D&mapPrompts=eyJvcGVuIjp0cnVlLCJzdGVwc0tleSI6InN1YnNjcmliZVRvQXJlYSJ9

Culture and communication: Can landscape visualization improve forest management consultation with indigenous communities?: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0169204605000678

Using self-organizing maps in the visualization and analysis of forest inventory: http://www.sisef.it/iforest/contents/?id=ifor0629-005&v=abstr

Finding a “Disappearing” Nontimber Forest Resource: https://www.srs.fs.usda.gov/pubs/ja/ja_hurley001.pdf

Visualization of Heterogeneous Forest Structures Following Treatment in the Southern Rocky Mountains: https://www.fs.fed.us/rm/pubs_series/rmrs/gtr/rmrs_gtr365.pdf

Forestry: https://www.esri.com/en-us/industries/natural-resources/segments/forestry

Visualizing Forest Futures: Linking Traditional Knowledge with Modeling and Visualization: https://www.houstonforesight.org/visualizing-forest-futures-linking-traditional-knowledge-with-modeling-and-visualization/

Forestry Jobs in Canada: https://www.canadian-forests.com/job.html

GIS Mapping: http://tyhee.ca/index.php/gis-mapping

Forestry: https://www.lakeheadu.ca/programs/undergraduate-programs/forestry

Technical Blog: Global Forest Watch’s 2018 Data Update Explained: https://blog.globalforestwatch.org/data-and-research/technical-blog-global-forest-watchs-2018-data-update-explained

Map: https://www.globalforestwatch.org/dashboards/global/

What is GIS?: https://www.esri.com/en-us/what-is-gis/overview

The importance of forests cannot be underestimated.: https://wwf.panda.org/our_work/our_focus/forests_practice/importance_forests/#:~:text=The%20importance%20of%20forests%20cannot,erosion%20and%20mitigate%20climate%20change.

Conservation movement: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conservation_movement

Visualizing Trees and Forests: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/227249230_Visualizing_Trees_and_Forests

Techniques for Visualizing the Appearance of Forest Operations: http://forsys.cfr.washington.edu/viztools/Visualization%20techniques%20and%20tools.html

The Virtual Forest:
Advanced 3-D Visualization Techniques for Forest Management and Research:
 https://proceedings.esri.com/library/userconf/proc98/proceed/to350/pap337/p337.htm

Visualize Your Forest—Using Forest Simulation Software to Communicate Forest Management Concepts to Private Forestland Owners: https://academic.oup.com/jof/article/105/1/15/4599225

Visualizing forest spatial patterns in 3D: https://warnercnr.source.colostate.edu/3d-forest-visualization/

Visualizing forest landscapes using public data sources: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0169204605000095

Forest carbon: https://www.nrcan.gc.ca/climate-change/impacts-adaptations/climate-change-impacts-forests/forest-carbon/13085

Forestry: https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/forestry#:~:text=Canada's%20first%20forestry%20school%20was,open%20its%20doors%20in%201921).

Vast and abundant forests: https://www.ccfm.org/healthy-forests/vast-and-abundant-forests/#:~:text=Forest%20coverage,in%20the%20world%20by%20area.&text=Nearly%2030%20million%20hectares%20(or,in%20legally%20established%20protected%20areas.