The demands of the complex forestry environment require us to continually improve the way we provide timber products while minimizing the impacts on the environment. The more we know about the science of forestry, the more we can identify needs for technological innovation. Often it means employing new technologies for surveying, planting, and harvesting. The complex forestry environment, an increasing knowledge base, growing demands, and creative forest managers are the primary reasons why technological innovation will continue to play an important role in forest management.
Washington private forests and wood products sector sequesters 12% of the state’s carbon emissions, and working forests play a significant role in reducing greenhouse gases. Sustainably managed forests provide a renewable timber supply of wood-based goods that retain the stored carbon throughout the life of the wood product, making the forestry industry one of the most effective and natural ways sequester carbon.
Foresters maximize the use of every tree that is harvested, see Wood The Most Natural Resource. From the tree nursery to the mill, technological innovation has pushed open many new doors to 21st century forestry. The driving force behind this technological push is the desire of the forest products industry to meet the public’s growing needs for wood and paper, while lessening the impact of their work on the natural ecosystem. As a matter of fact, in today’s working forests, almost twice as much wood is recovered from each harvested log than was recovered in mid-20th century harvesting and processing. Below are a few of the new approaches that technology have contributed to the last 150 years of forestry.
Biotechnology has increased productivity of our working forests through tree genetics. Breeding trees with uniform wood and higher fiber quality traits help reduce energy consumption during harvesting and processing. It also develops trees that are more tolerant to diseases, insects, and forest herbicides.
Mechanized Harvesting Systems, such as Tree Length Systems and Cut to Length Systems, offer many social and economic advantages to the harvesting process. Speed, lower production costs, and increased safety for the forest workers on-site are a few of these advantages. Machines have also taken the labor force off of the ground minimizing the impact of soil compaction on the forest floor.
Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are computer-based tools that map and analyze the geography of a land mass. By coordinating data collected on the ground or through remote sensing using aerial photography, satellite imagery, laser altimetry, and radar, forest managers can easily monitor and model a working forest. They look to evaluate such things as forest health, erosion trends, land ownership boundaries, and routing of forest roads.
Laser Rangefinders are handheld lasers used by foresters that collect measurement data within tree stands. Measuring distance and dimensions accurately is very important in the surveying and mapping of Washington’s working forests.
Sawmill Technology, with its scanners and automated handling systems, enables wood manufacturers to get the most volume and value from each harvested tree. They also can use smaller, faster growing trees and lower grade trees in their engineered wood products, such as particleboard and fiberboard. Another important focus in sawmills has been the reduction of pollutants in the air and water through environmentally friendly technologies like thermal oxidization and e-tubes.