Remote monitoring for forest management

Tree mortality caused by bark beetles in California. Photo credit: National Park Service / Christina Warburg
Mar 21, 2024
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Forests are more than the sum of the species within them. The trees and forests that we all know and love provide critical habitat for biodiversity, clean air for all of Earth’s beings, filter and retain water, and, as is often the talk these days, store carbon

Today, forest managers are not only using traditional methods to track change in their forests but looking to use the latest tools – in the form of satellite imagery, data, and AI – to better track change, outcomes, and understand the land they care about. 

Forest management has always been a complex endeavor and, under a rapidly changing climate with ambitious goals around the world to match, using the latest and best tools is as critical as knowing what a <span class="term" data-def="Biltmore sticks are one tool in the forester toolkit for measuring tree diameter and height.">biltmore stick</span> is.

One place where it’s easy to have all of that and more? Lens. 

(Minus the biltmore stick, understandably.)

Let’s explore how Lens can inform forest management including use cases on baseline setting, tracking forest regrowth, and monitoring threats to forested landscapes.

Monitoring forest resources with Lens

Lens provides access to the latest ecological analysis tools and frequent, high resolution satellite and aerial data for agency partners, timber companies, NGOs, and other forest managers to remotely track dynamic forest conditions over time and across large geographies.

Importantly, Lens removes the barrier to entry for this kind of data, allowing companies to deploy remote monitoring across their organizations. Anyone can learn how to use Lens, and our support team and documents make it easy to do so. From monitoring management activities such as harvests to tracking ecological events like fires or pest outbreaks, Lens enables organizations to effectively and efficiently monitor and steward forests. 

Let’s take a look at a few examples.

Understanding baseline and historical forest conditions

Whether conducting diligence on a prospective forestland acquisition or documenting past management, Lens makes it easy to understand a property’s land use history.

With Lens, customers gain access to the archives of major commercial and publicly-available satellite and aerial providers. Using historic imagery and data, sometimes going back decades, customers can look back in time to understand when and where changes have occurred. 

And because Lens includes not only imagery but also derived data layers, our customers can look back at metrics around past burn severity, forest canopy height and cover, carbon sequestration, and land cover type change, too.

Check out all the datasets available to you as a customer.

Lens’ tools like Analyze Area and Compare Mode make it easy to identify and visualize change across a landscape. In this example in California, we can visualize a managed forest before and after a wildfire and subsequent salvage operation. 

Tracking harvest activity

Whether you’re a timber management company tracking harvests on your properties or an agency overseeing forest management plans, Lens can help efficiently confirm what and when work has been completed without requiring a trip to the field.

With high frequency satellites like Sentinel-2, customers can hone in on when work began and was completed, confirming compliance with regulations and contractual obligations. Paired with high resolution options, customers can zoom in on stands, visualize the extent of harvests, identify equipment still on site, and investigate sensitive areas such as wetlands or riparian buffers. 

Evaluating wildfire and burn impact remotely

As uncertainty and risks around wildfires increase with climate change, forest managers need new tools to rapidly assess the extent of wildfire impact to their land. 

One effective approach for evaluating wildfire extent and severity is through use of the Normalized Burn Ratio (NBR), or what’s informally known as a burn index, to illustrate the impacts of a fire, whether from a prescribed burn or a wildfire. In the following screenshot and Lens embed, we can easily identify where a fire has specifically affected this region in South Africa. The screenshot shows us Analysis in action, along with a chart that's easy to share in a report. In the Lens embed, which lets us share our site to those without a Lens account, the brightest spots indicate a high burn, while the darker areas indicate the less affected areas.

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Lens’ 3D mode can also give an even better angle on the fire damage, and also helps to make inferences about the fire’s behavior. In this screenshot below, we can see an image that captures an active fire with smoke.

Surveying damage caused by pest and invasive species outbreaks

Lens’ vegetation layer provides a reliable way to evaluate vegetation health and changes over time, revealing where pests have damaged trees. This layer measures vegetation vigor using the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI), which indicates photosynthetic activity based on red (visible) and near-infrared satellite data.

Statewide land trusts like Colorado Open Lands have used Lens’ vegetation layers to track tree damage caused by beetle outbreaks. 

Let’s look at an example that takes place in New York, showcasing a forested area that’s suffered a spongy moth outbreak. The below image shows a truecolor image on the left, where it’s a bit difficult to tell where damage occurred. However, the image on the right shows the same area (and positioning) displayed with Lens’ vegetation layer. Dark green signals healthy trees while yellow and orange indicates lower photosynthetic activity – marking where trees were impacted by the spongy moths.

NDVI highlights the drastic change in vegetation health: in the truecolor image, we seemingly see a uniform image of our forested area. However, with the use of Compare mode, Analysis, and the vegetation layer itself, we can easily see the areas across the landscape that have been affected the most, with dark green representing healthy vegetation, and the yellow areas depicting pest damage.

Explore Lens for Your Needs

Lens provides unparalleled accessibility to remote sensing data that makes it easy for organizations of all sizes to understand the forests they study, protect, and steward.

If you’re interested in learning more about how Lens can work with you and your forest management needs, book a demo with us today or go ahead and sign up today. For more information on all things Lens, visit our blog, or get in touch with us at lens@upstream.tech.

Written in collaboration between m, Eve, and Jake.