Answers in analytics: Forestry management approaches powered by analytics
How can four million acres of forestry and miles of forest roads be managed and maintained without environment or fiscal liability? That question is what the College of the Environment at the University of Washington, Seattle—in collaboration with the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR)—sought to answer when it approached IBM. The College of the Environment is a world-class hub focused on improving our understanding of the interactions between Earth’s environment and human activities.
Maintaining and optimizing the forest requires the ability to easily access it. However, factors such as rain and steep, mountainous terrain often cause washed out roads that prevent heavy machinery from reaching the land for preservation activities such as replacing culverts and bridges. In addition, increased sediment in the system of forest streams can wreak havoc on the environment by compromising habitats for a number of fish species such as salmon.
The College of the Environment staff needed to determine if the forest road network managed by the Washington State DNR could be streamlined for harvest activities. Moreover, it wanted to know if the road network could be simplified in a way that allows for saving money and retiring parts of the road network. IBM responded with a solution that includes IBM ILOG CPLEX Optimizer. This analytics offering enabled the College of the Environment to develop algorithms and solve complex problems, so that it could retire 15 percent of the road network and increase timber revenues by approximately 2 percent.
The public also benefited from the solution because fewer roads and logging trucks meant that people could enjoy the outdoors and gain value from a sustainable forest. Streamlining forest roads increased efficiencies as well, by reducing routes for timber hauling activities and minimizing sediment delivery into the network of streams, which is likely helping save salmon habitats.