UM Graduate Student Researchers Test New Forestry App

March 04, 2019

The study’s co-authors. (Back row, left to right) Luke Robinson, Drew Lyons, Lucas Townsend, Matthew Cunningham, Emily Oja, Abigail Marshall, Graham Worley-Hood. (Front row, left to right) Andrew Larson, Stuart Fety, Eryn E. Schneider, Colin T. Maher. MISSOULA – Graduate students in the University of Montana W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation put the latest forest management technology to the test in a new study published in the Journal of Forestry.

Eleven graduate students, along with Associate Professor Andrew Larson, tested out an Android OS tablet application. The app, developed by University of Washington researchers, conducts real-time monitoring of timber harvest treatments meant to restore forests, reduce crown fire risk and help forests adapt to climate change.

Apps already are widely used for field reconnaissance and forest inventory, but they’re just starting to be used in forest operations – the boots-on-the-ground bit where foresters and loggers decide which individual trees to cut and which to leave.

“In the past, forest thinning operations and restoration treatments focused on how many and how big of trees were left versus cut,” said Abigail Marshall, one of the study’s co-authors. “It’s now widely recognized that the way the trees and the gaps between them are arranged within a forest is also important.”

The study uses the Individuals-Clumps-Openings (ICO) app, a tablet-based application developed for forest managers and forestry field crews to spatially monitor and map forest structure. It’s designed to help technicians know if they are close to their goals as they mark which trees to retain in a forest management treatment.

The students worked collaboratively to design and then conduct an experiment at UM’s Lubrecht Experimental Forest to compare the effectiveness of two different methods of tree selection at achieving prescribed management targets – one approach with the ICO app and one without. They then crunched the data, wrote and submitted their study to the Journal of Forestry. The authors found the app was more effective at producing desired conditions and that real-time implementation monitoring can increase the success of forest treatments.

“We found that this app can be a helpful guide for crews in meeting the target structure and arrangement for the forest they’re managing,” Marshall said.

All of the work was completed as part of UM’s Applied Forest Ecology class.       

“It’s rare for a class project to be of high-enough caliber and novelty to warrant publication in a peer-reviewed journal,” Larson said. “Normally that’s the job of professional research scientists. It’s thrilling to see our graduate students conducting such strong work that they publish their term paper in the Journal of Forestry.”

Co-author Graham Worley-Hood said that the paper took the entire semester to complete. The class started by learning methods for data analysis and the conceptual framework surrounding the research question. The experiment took place mid-semester, and analysis, write-up and revision extended past the end of the semester.

“Professor Larson provided some essential components, but he expected us to figure out how to put all of the pieces together to conduct the experiment and analysis and to compose the manuscript,” Worley-Hood said. “It was an excellent exercise in the scientific process and collaboration, and it especially helped in making the connection between theory and application.”

The co-authors said one of the best parts of the project was the built-in opportunity for collaboration.

“This publication truly represents the combined vision and work of all of us, which is not always the case for multi-author publications,” Marshall said. “Larson gave us the flexibility to figure out how each of our different skillsets and learning goals for his class could best complement one another, and we were able to produce something that we can all stand behind.” 

“Everyone seemed to naturally find their niche in the process, whether it was data analysis, map making, organization, writing, editing or a combination,” Worley-Hood said. “It was also really valuable to learn from the more experienced contributors, especially in terms of thoughts and comments during the review process.”

The study, “Real-Time Monitoring With a Tablet App Improves Implementation of Treatments to Enhance Forest Structural Diversity,” was published Feb. 27 and is available online at https://bit.ly/2GSoM2X.

The Journal of Forestry is published by the Society of American Foresters. Its mission is to advance the profession of forestry by keeping forest management professionals informed about significant developments and ideas in the many facets of forestry.

The ICO app and user documentation are available for free download on Scholarworks at https://scholarworks.umt.edu/ico/.

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Contact: Andrew Larson, associate professor of forest ecology, UM W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation, 406-243-5521, a.larson@umontana.edu.