If you work in forestry or are involved in wildfire management, you've likely heard of Forest Health Monitoring (FHM). But what is it exactly? Forest health monitoring is the process of assessing the overall well-being of a forest ecosystem by measuring various indicators such as tree growth, tree mortality, and pest and disease outbreaks.
This information can be used to identify potential problems, track changes over time, and inform management decisions. It can also help detect and respond to forest disturbances such as fires, storms, and invasive species.
It helps to assess the impact of both natural and human-caused stressors on forests so we can take steps to protect these valuable ecosystems.
Many different organizations and programs are involved in forest health monitoring, from local to global. Park rangers might conduct surveys of trees in their park, firefighters may collect data on burned areas after a wildfire, and scientists might use satellite imagery to monitor large areas of forest.
All this information helps us better understand how our forests are changing and what we can do to protect them.
What is forest health monitoring?
Forest health monitoring helps bodies such as forestry organizations or landowners understand the status of the forest biome and identify potential hazards that may contribute to wildfires.
Good forest health monitoring should be able to detect and alert forest management to changes that show a broader issue, like tree disease or drought. This is often on a local scale, and many government-run programs exist to monitor trends on a much larger basis.
Forest managers may be concerned with the following elements of forest health monitoring:
Forest rate of growth
Diversity of ecosystem
Habitat of local wildlife
Methods of forest health monitoring
There’s generally no silver bullet for forest monitoring. Broadly speaking, forest managers will employ various techniques to ensure a healthy forest. The following methods, when used in combination, should lead to robust forest health monitoring.
Forest managers will physically spend time in the forest recording visual data and collecting samples to give a more overall view of the forest’s health — like a spot check. This method is helpful in getting a detailed look at the forest and identifying specific issues, but it can be time-consuming and it’s difficult to cover large areas since it relies on managers, rangers or wardens physically conducting inspections.
Using drones to survey the forest canopy, a forest manager can get a good look at a vast space. Coupled with infrared technology, they are excellent at mapping and surveying landscapes and can also collect data. While aerial surveys are advancing all the time, they lack the specificity of being able to look at something on foot.
Remote sensing techniques
Remote technologies such as satellites to gather data on the forest are still developing but are rapidly improving. Remote sensing can cover large areas quickly and provide detailed information, but it can be expensive and may not be able to detect specific issues.
IoT sensors, or wireless sensor networks, are also a remote option for forest health monitoring but are often more practical. A network of sensors collects information about the natural gases, temperature, and humidity and sends real-time alerts and information using a long-range radio network. This makes forest health monitoring fast and convenient, with sensors needing very little upkeep over 10-15 years.
Data analysis and interpretation
There are various ways to collect data, whether it’s through groundwork or using cloud-based data tools included with technological solutions to forest monitoring.
This information can be used to identify forest areas that may be at a higher risk of fire, such as overgrown underbrush or areas with an increased number of diseased trees. Similarly, when it comes to resource management, the data is instructive when identifying locations where thinning or controlled burns would be beneficial.
Challenges and limitations of forest health monitoring
Forest health monitoring is important but understandably comes with its own set of challenges. Some of these include:
Funding: Monitoring a large area can become costly, especially when you have to take into consideration several methods of forest health monitoring.
Accessibility: Difficult terrain or vast areas to monitor make data collection tricky.
Data accuracy: Accurate data is best collected long term and in large quantities or datasets. Forest monitoring can be tricky as there are a lot of extenuating circumstances and variables, sometimes making it difficult to glean actionable information or insights.
Despite these challenges, the positive impact of forest health monitoring is plentiful and contributes to preventing expensive forest fires. Dryad’s forest fire detection networks can help to provide real-time data on emerging fires at their early smoldering stage, allowing for their rapid and straightforward extinguishing.
Forest health monitoring is essential in understanding the biome and biodiversity of forests and identifying vulnerable areas. By monitoring various elements of the forest, we can more effectively predict and prevent forest fires.
Wildfires impact the climate by releasing large quantities of carbon dioxide and fine particulate matter into the atmosphere. Particles from smoke and the burning of hazardous chemicals can also travel long distances, further reducing air quality and resulting in multiple respiratory and cardiovascular ailments for humans and wildlife.
These gases have long-term impacts on human health and increase the effects of global warming, making the monitoring of the compounds an essential part of forest health monitoring and wildfire prevention.
Dryad’s network of sensors does exactly that and can therefore significantly support organizations’ forest health monitoring activities.
Are you interested in hearing more about the impact of forest fires? Download our free whitepaper to discover more.