Sucess Stories

Earth Observation Serving Europe´s Forested Regions:Operational satellite-based Earth Observation services support the forestry sector

The forestry sector is having to quickly adapt on a regional basis to economic, social and environmental changes. Certain areas are under increasing pressure from human activities while others are becoming settlement deserts. Renewable energy targets are also part of the picture. One big question is how forests can maintain the multi-faceted range of services they offer.

Service provider: ICube-SERTIT
User/Customer: i.e; CRPF Lorraine-Alsace and Cosylval
EOservice: Management forest regions
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Source: SERTIT

Furthermore, in a changing natural environment climatic events are also taking a toll through storm related windfall damage, droughts and conversely waterlogging, and fire events. Parasite attacks can also affect already weakened forests. All of this is occurring during a period of budget cutbacks that make the management of Europe’s vast forests even more complicated. Through long-term R&D collaboration (Interreg and public conventions) and now contracts with SERTIT, the forest sector in NE France (Alsace-Lorraine) accepts that satellite remote sensing can offer solutions, tools to help them manage their forests. The challenge is to continually foster and expand this collaboration and to provide operational results. Moreover, the forest bodies realise that remote sensing does not replace them, but is a useful, timesaving and complementary tool to their work and can be integrated into their workflows. The results often make their work possible and open-up new horizons.

Forests and trees provide numerous services from building material and fuel, contributing to many industrial products. Together with grasslands and other permanent natural land surfaces, forests provide precious habitats and corridors for the movement of fauna and otherwise contribute significantly to biodiversity. Forests and trees also provide healthy leisure amenities, enrich the landscape and reduce urban heat islands. They break-up urban landscapes providing diversity and reducing stresses including noise, visual and chemical pollution. Indeed, terms such as green infrastructure are being used to describe our environmental assets of which forestry is a very important part. Remote sensing derived geographical information can help in the sustainable management of these forests, highlighting trends in forests, an integral part of many European citizens’ landscapes, locating where they are developing or are under pressure, being conserved or exploited.

Earth observation provides a near instantaneous view of forests on a given date. When used for mapping, very precise and exhaustive reference geo-information can be obtained. When combined with archives, trends over fifty years can be mapped to analyse landscape changes from the 1960s to the present day. Forest clearings and plantations and resources monitored can also be aided by remote sensing. Trends like the higher pressure on small forests, and hence the threat to green infrastructure can be illustrated. Storm windfall or fire damage can be mapped to indicate damage extents. Valuable information can be provided on parasite attack die-offs. This work is validated in situ by foresters.
Specifically, in mountainous terrain satellite imagery helps monitor tree-felling amongst the private small-holder plots of the Vosges Mountain Range.

This prized resource is diminishing with little replacement being observed by the foresters inciting the sector to establish replanting funds with calls for this and the remaining resource to be regularly monitored through remote sensing. Here SERTIT works with private forester bodies (CRPF Lorraine-Alsace and Cosylval). In another development the Fédération Interprofessionnelle Forêt-Bois Alsace (FIBOIS Alsace), has funded a multi-disciplinary storm preparedness dossier, including tree-type and 3-D information on forest plantations in-part derived from remote sensing data, to improve post-storm responsiveness. The overall aim is to facilitate the planning and preservation of forestry landscapes and resources with satellite imagery being used to objectively monitor forestry dynamics. In areas of high human pressures on forests, SERTIT has proven the capacity of satellite imagery to efficiently pinpoint tree-felling and whether they lead to changes

As is often the case in this domain it is difficult to come up with hard and fast figures in a quantitative cost justification. The main justification comes in the form of user groups being satisfied and continuing their collaboration while suggesting more avenues to explore. In certain terms satellite remote sensing facilitates work that would otherwise be too expensive to carry out by traditional means giving extensive yet precise information on forests and their dynamics.
From SERTIT’s point of view, the long-term return on investment is evidenced by the increasing number and range of forestry related activities in which foresters include satellite remote sensing derived information.

Another positive point is that the forestry sector is becoming increasingly exigent and coming-up with requests in new domains and with new, more precise demands using more precise satellite data. They increasingly understand the limits but moreover the benefits that remote sensing derived work can bring to their working environments. They also understand that the most expensive part of geographical information related work is the initial costs of establishing and validating an application or service. The costs reduce over time leading to a certain return on investment and an increased usefulness of the accruing information. In the past this work was nearly always financed through R&D and there definitely was air of techno-push surrounding it, whereas increasingly remote sensing derived geo-information layers are seen as part and parcel of the everyday working environment.