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Forest One battling Southern pine beetle with technology

Jackson — Usually by the time you can see a Southern pine beetle (SPB) outbreak, it is too late. The beetles have done the damage, killed the trees causing a major financial loss, and moved on to another location. But help is one the way — from space.

The geospatial business Forest One Inc., based in Jackson, has received a U.S. Forest Service grant to use satellite imagery and high-tech software tools to determine the likelihood of SPB outbreaks so steps can be taken to prevent the damage.

SPB outbreaks cost an estimated $100 million per year in damages across its range in the South. Due to rapid population growth and the large number of trees that can be killed, SPB is considered the worst insect pest in Southeastern forests.

Clark Love, CEO of Forest One, said the project being done in collaboration with the Texas Forest Service will provide an automated, cost-effective and accurate means of identifying the likelihood of SPB outbreaks.

“It is very innovative,” Love said. “What we are trying to do is not see where they are, but predict where they will be. That is very new. It is a combination of using not only remote sensing data from a satellite, but also software trying to predict from past experience where the new outbreaks will occur.”

By predicting the outbreaks, preventative maintenance can be done that has the potential to change the character of the forest. Love said the primary preventative maintenance is pre commercial thinning. When a forest is overgrown, the vitality and vigor of trees can be reduced because of competition for nutrients and sunshine.

“By removing some trees, the remaining trees are much healthier, and less susceptible to SPB infestations,” Love said. “The whole goal is to increase the health of the forests and increase profitability for both small tree farmers and commercial and industrial producers.”

Another management technique for areas that may be plagued by SPB is to introduce different species less susceptible to the SPB.

Love said the partnership between Forest One and the Texas Forest Service brings a unique blend of capabilities to address the issue. The Texas Forest Service pioneered the development and application of the technique of SPB hazard and risk mapping at the landscape level. And Forest One has extensive expertise in remote sensing techniques and delivering GIS data layers over the Internet.

“One of the outcomes of this project will be a GIS-based Web site which will deliver SPB hazard maps in an interactive manner to forest landowners and other interested parties,” Love said.

The Texas Forest Service will be offering some subsidies and assistance to tree farmers to conduct the preventative maintenance indicated necessary by Forest One’s work. While the project will initially cover only the forested areas of east Texas, Forest One intends to extend the research product across the entire Southeast pine growing belt and would like to see a risk map created for the entire southeastern U.S.

Forest One is part of a geospatial business cluster based in Mississippi. In addition to work on SPB, the company is also using special hyperspectral imagery to identify invasive plant species in Florida.

“We’re also using another type of technology called LIDAR, Light Detection and Ranging, to inventory forests for trees and to perform engineering and ecological studies,” Love said. “We’re doing some of that work for U.S. Forest Service in North Carolina.”

Love graduated from the University of Mississippi with an engineering degree. With a background in forestry due to his family’s involvement in tree farming for more than 100 years, he merged the two business interests: technology and forestry.

Love said businesses in Mississippi involved in the geospatial industry cluster believe the sky is the limit for business applications for their industry.

“All of us entrepreneurs connected with EIGS (the Enterprise for Innovative Geospatial Solutions) believe this has huge potential globally, and a lot is happening here in Mississippi,” Love said. “We hope to see this whole industry grow locally, both on the Coast, in Jackson and other locations.”

Another innovative business application Forest One is involved in is using remote sensing technology for several large corporations to gauge the forest resources and other natural resources of China and other Pacific Rim countries to see if their productivity will mean these countries will be net importers or exporters of forest products.

“For example, China probably can’t produce enough for all their population, and so they will probably have to import,” Love said. “We’re trying to gauge how much will have to be imported in the future. We are also trying to determine if they build facilities such as lumber mills, where they would be built and what local markets would support them.

“Pulling together accurate information for a country like China or other surrounding countries is a huge challenge. But these technologies can readily address this challenge. The estimates I have seen say that 200 to 400 million people will be migrating to suburbia in China in the next few decades. This will have a global impact on the building supply industry and other industries. Domestic companies in the U.S. need to be prepared, and the data we are generating will help them.”

Love said another geospatial company in Mississippi, In Time Solutions based in Cleveland, is doing similar work regarding precision agriculture across the U.S.
Forest One is an information technology company that provides consulting services, applications development and software to forest products, environmental and land management organizations.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.

About Becky Gillette

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