New decision support tools to help forest management meet multiple objectives

The immense amounts of detailed data now available about forests mean that we can now weigh up financial and ecological values in forest planning more accurately. The data will become more useful to companies in Mistra Digital Forest’s second phase; with new digital tools, we will ultimately be able to make decisions about management measures at individual tree level.

Urban Nilsson, SLU

Urban Nilsson, SLU

Thinning of forests and other management measures are decisions that are based on the average value of a stand. This can involve areas of up to twenty hectares and, unsurprisingly, they are never completely homogeneous. If instead we can make decisions based on more detailed knowledge, it is most likely possible to take aspects such as nature conservation and timber production into greater account, says Urban Nilsson, Professor at the Department of South Swedish Forestry at SLU:

– We want to know if new, more detailed data can improve thinning and contribute to forest management that balances several objectives, such as striving towards more heterogeneous stands, increased profitability, and promoting the growth of deciduous trees.

In general, these kinds of trade-offs cannot be made based on an average value at stand level.

Tree species are the new big thing

Previous Mistra Digital Forest projects have developed thinning assistance tools, but only for homogeneous spruce and pine forest stands.

– Now we are going to work with mixed forests. This will be possible in the future thanks to new remote sensing data that enables us to obtain information on height, diameter and tree species. Tree species is the new big thing, as this information has not been available before, says Urban Nilsson.

Within the framework of a postdoc at SLU, Maksym Matsala will begin work on the development of models that make it possible to use remote sensing data to predict how individual trees will develop, depending on their immediate surroundings. The next step is to develop digital tools that enable decisions on management measures to be made at individual tree level.

Focus on aids in tactical planning

Karin Öhman, SLU: Foto: Johan Olsson.

In a sister project within Mistra Digital Forest, the researchers will develop a prototype where this kind of high-resolution data is integrated with Heureka, the analysis and planning system developed by SLU, and currently used in large forestry sectors. The work is being led by Karin Öhman along with a postdoc who will soon be appointed.

– Previously in Mistra Digital Forest, we have mainly explored how we can utilise detailed data in long-term planning. We are now continuing along the same lines, but in this second phase we will focus on developing tools that companies can use in tactical planning. We hope that this will increase flexibility and that greater account can be taken of local variation in the forest, says Karin Öhman, Professor of Forest Planning at SLU.

Read more about the work package Desicion support.