It is the 21st century, the technology is developing very rapidly, sometimes it is even difficult to keep up with. Innovative solutions are constantly emerging on the forestry market. Fieldwork is completely different from what it used to be 20, 50, or 100 years ago. Can you imagine a world without GPS, mobile apps, or specialized software? I will take you on a short journey in time and show you, how the approach to fieldwork has changed over the years, what tools were used in the past, and what do we use nowadays.
When your map takes the lead – on the navigation in the forest
Fieldwork mobile apps currently available on the market – mLas Inżynier and tMap – allow us to use multiple maps at once. These programs let you load spatial data (vectors and raster data) by creating customized maps for every need and purpose. Everything is displayed on a device (e.g. on your tablet), and this includes the image and the location of the individual points on the map, as well as their full description.
The origins of forestry in Poland, including forest management, date back to the 16th century. It was then that the principle of dividing forests into plots and the felling order were introduced. In addition, certain activities were already included within the scope of actions carried out in forests, such as delineating the plots, distributing forest ownership, organized felling, and fire protection. In the course of their implementation forest maps were drawn. The State Forest in its current shape and form were established in 1924.
One would start preparing maps at the forest management stage. Paper sheets – precisely drawn as if they were works of art – were sent to the forest inspectorate every 10 years. The foresters used maps in the scale of 1:5000, which were used to perform everyday activities and orientations in the forest. Copying and distribution were performed similarly to creating prints. The outlines of the objects on maps were copied and then colored in, according to a previously determined key. The stand description was also prepared in form of a special paper document. Whenever someone was interested in finding the necessary information, they had to spend a lot of time browsing the data.
The milestone which completely changed the way people work with maps in the forest was the introduction of a map module in the State Forest Information System. The large descriptive database had been expanded by spatial information illustrating the situation in the field and the location of individual objects in the field. The origins of the System in its forest database form date back to 1991-1997. The map module is a rather fresh solution, as maps for all forest districts in Poland in the Forest Numerical Map standard were included in the central database in 2008.
In the past, it was difficult to update maps and changes were introduced while drawing up subsequent Forest Management Plans. The modifications were made inaccurately on map bases. Such maps were used throughout an entire decade, making them illegible and outdated really fast.
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The introduction of a uniform database and the Forest Numerical Map has made it possible to keep the database up to date and has significantly improved the workflow of every forester. Today, thanks to mobile devices and the mLas Inżynier as well as tMap mobile apps, we can directly use forest maps (together with the necessary descriptive information) during field work. We can pinpoint our location and make use of stand descriptions almost every day. This saves a lot of time, doesn’t it?
Quick dive in the history of surveying
In 2000, President Bill Clinton decided to let people use GPS signals for civil purposes. Prior to that, the signal had been artificially interrupted, hence it was practically impossible to precisely pinpoint any location using satellite navigation systems. Clinton’s decision marked the beginning of a new era. Nowadays, it is difficult to imagine working in the field without satellite navigation systems. Thanks to them we can determine our location, as well as perform surveying. When in a forest, we can easily mark any changes on the map, perform surveying in the area (e.g. after clearfelling) or determine point objects, such as unauthorized landfills, anthills, natural monuments etc.
Previously, field surveying was included in the competencies of the Bureau of Forest Management and Geodesy that performed it within the framework of the forest management plan development processes. The Bureau had the appropriate equipment and expertise to achieve the necessary accuracy. Back then, it was rather rare to see a forester perform surveying on their own. People would use tapes, frame squares, and poles, or the distances were simply measured in steps, rather approximately, basing on the distinctive objects in the area.
Nowadays, we can use mobile apps with a whole range of tools at our disposal which facilitate field surveying. For instance, mLas Inżynier and tMap allow us to measure objects in three modes: basic, averaged, and constant, as well as using a laser rangefinder. We can decide on the degree of accuracy by using a simple GPS module or a more precise external GNSS antenna. We can immediately check the parameters of objects – their area, length, and geographical coordinates.
Bill Clinton knew what he was doing! The introduction of GPS has forever changed our approach towards surveying and fieldwork. It helped us fight localization and object dimension errors. The access to numerical data and maps allows us to update all the information when needed and head right in the field with a complete set of necessary files.