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

General voting day for the Terrace trustee by-election is Saturday, March 6 at the Terrace Sportsplex Multipurpose Room from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (Black Press file photo)
Terrace trustee by-election: Meet the candidates

General voting day is March 6 at the Terrace Sportsplex Multipurpose Room from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Terrace RCMP arrested two men on Feb. 17 after they were told to leave the Sunshine Inn and then became combative with police. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Terrace RCMP arrest men visiting a person in COVID-19 isolation

Men attempted to strike police with a chair, threatened to kill officers when told to leave

The Terrace & District Chamber of Commerce hosted a virtual all candidates forum for the Coast Mountains School District trustee by-election on Feb. 23, 2021. (Screenshot/Terrace & District Chamber of Commerce Facebook)
Terrace trustee candidates lay out top priorites during virual all candidates forum

All candidates forum was held virtually on Feb. 23, 2021

(Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
Murder charge laid in February 2020 stabbing death of Smithers man

Michael Egenolf is charged with the second-degree murder of Brodie Cumiskey

(Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
Murder charge laid in February 2020 stabbing death of Smithers man

Michael Egenolf is charged with the second-degree murder of Brodie Cumiskey

COVID-19 vaccines were available at a site on East Pender in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside Feb. 25. (Twitter/Sarahblyth17)
Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside residents offered $5 after getting COVID-19 vaccine

It’s an effort to ‘incentivize people to engage,’ says B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix

</p>
A survey by Statistics Canada finds Black Canadians earn less than non-visible minority Canadians despite having higher levels of education. (The Canadian Press file photo)
COVID-19 worsened unemployment picture for Black Canadians

Black Canadians also more likely to suffer other hardships

(Black Press Media files)
B.C. teacher transferred then suspended after students report feeling ‘scared, nervous’

Authorities found that teacher did not create inviting, respectful environment for students

Victoria’s Swartz Bay terminal. (Black Press Media file photo)
BC Ferries offers cheaper, prepaid fare options

Ferry service preparing for busy terminals when travel restrictions are lifted

FILE - Dolly Parton arrives at the 61st annual Grammy Awards on Feb. 10, 2019, in Los Angeles. The Grammy-winning singer, actor and humanitarian posted a video on Tuesday, March 2, 2021, of her singing just before getting her COVID-19 vaccine shot. Parton donated $1 million to Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee for coronavirus research. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File)
‘Vaccine, vaccine’: Dolly sings ‘Jolene’ rewrite before shot

The Grammy-winning legend turned 75 this year

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland speaks about the Fiscal update during a news conference in Ottawa, Monday November 30, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
COVID-19: Wage and rent subsidies, lockdown support to be extended until June

Chrystia Freeland says now is not time to lower levels of support

The area on Cordova Bay Road where ancestral human remains were discovered Feb. 22. (Submitted photo)
Human remains discovery a reminder of B.C. Indigenous culture dug up and displaced

‘These are the people who inspired and birthed the generations that we now have here’

Most Read