During a summer internship at a large western timber company, forest supervisors encouraged University of Idaho senior Jordan Williams to master deciphering airborne imagery before she graduates.
The imagery, called lidar, for “light detection and ranging,” uses reflected laser energy to measure structures scanned from a drone, helicopter or fixed-wing aircraft to generate precise, 3D information about trees, brush, terrain, streams, roads and rock formations.
In her forestry classes at U of I, Williams had already learned that lidar data are used to digitize forest structure. Forest managers use this information to accurately inventory forests on a computer screen, significantly reducing time spent in the woods counting and measuring trees using traditional practices.
“A lot of traditional foresters don’t know how to use this technology,” Williams said. “It’s a generational thing. As the next generation, we’re expected to know how it works, so we can teach others.”
In the past, the industry relied on foresters to measure trees to learn about dimensions, volume, species and disease. Modern foresters use lidar-produced measurements to inventory forests with much less time spent in the field.
“It helps us collect more data faster and more accurately than having boots on the ground,” Williams said. “It lets us see the species of trees in different stands, measure timber volume, the levels of vegetation from the ground to the canopy, and how much heat and humidity is stored on different landscapes.”