It’s a digital world in today’s forests
Over the past 30 years, natural resource professionals who collect data in the field have moved from paper plotting sheets to field devices that store data electronically.
Initially, these devices simply stored data for later use on another computer. But the power to perform calculations in the field, integrated global positioning systems, improved displays and computing speed to use aerial photos and GIS data more efficiently.
One of the most common concerns about using electronic devices outdoors is whether they will withstand water and other abuse that can happen to them from prolonged use in the field.
Most mobile computing devices designed for forestry are “hardened” with heavy plastic shells and other features to protect electronics. Unfortunately, ruggedized devices don’t come cheap – prices range from $ 1,000 to $ 4,000.
Compared to ruggedized forest mobile devices, smartphones and tablets have certain features that make them attractive to family forest owners (and many foresters). They’re relatively inexpensive – between $ 100 and $ 700, depending on your cell service plan, they’re lightweight and can be used for other purposes besides logging.
These devices are generally not designed for use in the field. But they have become more durable over time, and you can usually buy cases to protect them. Even if they are damaged in the field, you could burn two or more of these devices and pay even less than the cost of a hardened device.
Their lower price also makes it less painful to upgrade to a newer device for significant improvements.
The inclusion of GPS (from satellites, not just cell phone towers) is what sparked a lot of thinking about logging possibilities for mobile devices. Some of the newer devices can even access GLONASS (Russian GPS satellites), as well as US satellites – more satellites often means more GPS accuracy, especially under forest canopy or in canyons where line of sight satellites can be difficult.
At least a dozen apps will display screens on a device similar to what you would find on a GPS receiver (like GPS Essentials, GPS Status, etc.). Google Maps will even give you detailed driving directions on your device, just like automotive GPS devices do.
Some of the best apps integrate the device’s GPS capabilities with aerial photos, maps, or other data loaded to the device from the internet. Such features are increasingly described as “augmented reality”, a view of the real world augmented or supplemented by computer-generated sensory inputs such as graphics or GPS data. Mapping and GIS applications typically display your location relative to a type of map. So when you see your location live on the map, you can also see nearby roads, forest cover, the type of soil you are on (an app called SoilWeb), topography, or any other delimited information on the map.
Most people are familiar with Google Earth and Google Maps for their personal computers. These programs are also available as apps. There are also several other apps that do similar things including Oruxmaps and BackCountry Navigator. Even ESRI, one of the leading providers of GIS software in the United States, now has an application (ArcGIS). There is a range of sophistication in these applications; Google Maps is quite useful for most people out of the box, while the ArcGIS application may require more familiarity with GIS to be fully utilized.
If cellular data is not available where you work, you will not have live access to these maps. However, many of these applications allow you to save maps or other georeferenced data (data related to a location) to the device; you can download this data in advance for use in the field.
Field guides can be heavy to lug around, but there are apps to help you identify trees, understory plants, and weeds.
One of the best such apps is the “1,100 North American Weeds” Android app, which helps you identify weeds using plain language rather than obscure scientific terms, and includes access to over 4000 color photos to help you identify books, plants, trees, mushrooms, etc. which can be downloaded and read on a mobile device with “reader” applications such as Kindle.
One of the first uses of electronic devices in forestry was to collect forest measurement data.
Many basic spreadsheets can be used for this purpose. You can enter plot data in some cells and then enter formulas in other cells to turn those metrics into usable information, such as number of trees per acre, volume of trees or stands, or other stand characteristics.
There is also a wooden cruise app that does a part of that for you – Plothound stores georeferenced plot data from a mobile device to the “cloud” (a computer network accessible via the Internet), where you can get it. recover from another computer.
More and more people are engaged in the effort to collect more data to support better science. For example, the “EDDMapS West” app allows anyone to provide georeferenced data (location-related data) on sightings of invasive alien species (such as noxious weeds) they encounter.
Phenology is the relationship between a periodic biological phenomenon (flowering, migration, etc.) and climate. An application called Natures Notebook, allows you to enter all kinds of phenological data for a given location for use in the scientific community and for your own benefit.
If you like to check your rain gauge, the CoCoRaHs app helps you store your recordings in a cloud and share them with others (you need to register as a CoCoRahs volunteer first – go to www.cocorahs. org).
There are many other applications that can be useful for a forest owner. For example:
• Want to know the slash pile burn forecast tomorrow? Try the Weather Channel, Weatherbug, or other weather forecast apps.
• Want to convert feet to meters or chains? “gUnit” helps you convert more than 30 types of measurements.
• Do you want information on the current snow conditions near you? Install the SnoTell NRCS & RFC Stations app on Android devices.
• Want to estimate the height of trees? Use the Measure Height app, but be aware that the results will be in meters.
• Want to know the slope of a road or a hill? Try the Clinometer app.
• When will the sun be the best place to take a photo at a given site? LiteTrac has the answers.
Don’t forget your device’s web browser. For example, if you are using SoilWeb to determine soil type, you can refer to the online soil survey to get more details on the capabilities and limitations of this soil type for road construction, plantability of soil. trees, etc. identification and other resources that may not necessarily be routed through a dedicated application (such as the Oregon State University tree identification site, www.oregonstate.edu/trees/).
Smartphones have the obvious advantage of allowing you to make and receive phone calls in addition to apps. But for mapping applications, a larger screen makes it easier to display maps on a larger scale, which makes a tablet more appealing.
A lot of people who really use apps get both. You may or may not need to have data plans for more than one device. If your smartphone can serve as an access point, you may be able to use the phone to access data and get data for the tablet through your phone.
Apps are generally free or relatively inexpensive (typically less than $ 25). A more difficult issue may be the cost of data plans and where you have data service.
Some of these applications require real-time data access to function properly (such as mapping applications). Since family forests tend to be a bit closer to towns, you may have more access to data in the woods than you might think.
Check to see which cellular service providers have the best data coverage in your area.
Even if you have access to field data, consider downloading maps or other large data sets through a connection to your home wireless network. It can be faster, and you won’t incur additional data charges if you have a limited data plan.
There are several accessories to consider when using mobile devices outdoors. For example, GPS reception can often be improved with an external GPS receiver. Garmin makes a small external GPS receiver that connects to a phone or tablet via Bluetooth.
Placing the device where the signal is the best (above your head or away from the base of a tree canopy) should increase accuracy.
Consider purchasing a case that will protect your device in the event of a drop or exposure to water. If you plan to spend more than a day in the woods, look for additional power options such as extra batteries or portable chargers. There are also a growing number of solar devices capable of charging phones, tablets and other portable electronic devices.
Finally, if you plan to store a large number of maps, field guide apps filled with photos, or other large data sets on a device with expandable memory, consider purchasing an SD flash card for additional data storage.
Note: Mention or display of any trademark, proprietary product, or company in text or numbers does not constitute endorsement by the United States Department of Agriculture or the extension of University of Idaho, and does not imply endorsement to the exclusion of other suitable products or companies.