At Alpine, our experience is built from the ground up. We build the most detailed and thorough long-term plans in the country because we take the process all the way through: we cruise for inventory, examine streams, walk boundaries, survey wildlife habitat, organize the data, and build maps. We work with land owners, field foresters, and regulators to build 100-year large landscape plans. We have the best software in the industry, developed in-house to meet the unique challenges of California forestry.
To make Visual Forester Professional the world’s preeminent forest simulator, we are combining exacting detail with limitless scale, while bringing our experience in silviculture, wildlife, regulations, data management, forest economics, and of course, software development. We are building Visual Forester Professional because of our commitment to the best possible management of California forests. Forests are important to many different people, organisms, and services. Even with many interests at stake, we believe that it is possible to find success in very diverse goals if you can gather a superior depth of information and communicate it effectively between all parties. In this way, we make the most of every decision, and we have always seen visualization’s ability to support this ambition.
In 1993, the California Forest Practices Act was expanded to require that large industrial landowners build and submit a 100-year long-term plan. The plan would support economic and environmental goals such as ownership-wide sustained yield and fifteen percent retention of late seral habitat, thereby improving the general public’s confidence in the landowners. However, creating this type of plan was a difficult task, and forest professionals scrambled to find answers utilizing the best available computer technology. Many experts found success combining growth models with linear programming, but the results were oftentimes difficult to interpret and implement on the ground.
After opening business in 1989, Alpine Land Information Services became the first company to create a computer application designed specifically to meet the spatially explicit requirements of the new legislation. However, Alpine’s software went far beyond the base requirements of a solution. Alpine’s software could take in vast quantities of data, leverage the best growth models available, apply scenarios built by the field foresters, and communicate the plan in an easy to interpret, graphical manner. Rather than inputting and outputting lines of code interpretable only by a high-level forest planner, Alpine provided a tool that used charts, graphs, and maps. This first move towards data visualization brought more people into the planning process, including the field foresters. This was critical to successful forest management because the field foresters knew the ground the best, but previously were unable to communicate in the same terms as the linear programmers.
Today, we see topics such as cumulative impacts, carbon storage, wildlife habitat planning, and alternative silvicultural systems place increasing importance on detailed inventory management and long-term planning. This trend has created an increasing reliance on tables, graphs, and thematic maps which may show theoretical stands in the distant future. Forestry experts with years of experience glancing between tabulated data and real forests can easily perceive this data. However, conveying the same information to students, new hires, regulators, or members of the public is an unsolved challenge.
With Visual Forester Professional (VFP), we are providing a tool which gives users the ability to move beyond tables, graphs, and maps. We are allowing people to comprehend forest data the way we were meant to: peering curiously into the trees.
A picture is worth a thousand words, and a VFP forest is worth at least a few hundred tables (we can prove it!). Simulation and visualization are extremely powerful tools, which is why they have been adopted to some extent by every major industry. Some industries have gone to incredible heights; consider the effort the U.S. Airforce has put into simulators which train pilots, or the work-hours the construction industry has spent on visualization of future projects. Simulation demonstrates concepts which you can’t see in person and provides training which would be infeasible in reality. Simulation is essential to forestry because a forest takes a lifetime or more to grow. Visualization makes sense of complex data and brings people to mutual understanding. Visualization is essential to forestry because our big decisions aren’t made while standing in the woods.
Visual Forester Professional is an all-inclusive package for simulation and visualization in forestry. VFP has the potential to “train the eye” for students, offers an environment to learn and experiment for newly hired employees, and provides a platform for long-time professionals to demonstrate and display the expected results of a project. We know that the future of forestry is with our students, which is why Alpine plans to introduce VFP at the university level. From there, we are excited to see where the technology of Visual Forester Professional will lead.