recent presentation to the NZ Institute of Forestry – Auckland Section by Hamish Marshall highlighted the role and history of LiDAR (light detection and ranging) in the New Zealand (NZ) forest industry. LiDAR was first tested and studied in 1960’s so in itself it is not a young technology. Worldwide the forest industry starting looking at the potential of LiDAR in 1975, with the first commercial use in forestry dating back to 1990. Here in NZ, Ernslaw One Ltd flew one of the first forestry focus aerial surveys of LiDAR in 2006 on the East Coast with an Australian remote sensing provider coming over to NZ to complete the survey. The LUCAS survey in 2007/08 followed and then a range of field trials completed by forest management companies such as by PF Olsens, Nelson Forests, Pan Pac, Blakely Pacific, Rayonier and Timberlands.

LiDAR’s ability to see below the canopy cannot be understated and has been the focus of “cool pictures” of the forest landscape (Figure 1 and 2), capturing the minds of forest managers and research teams for a number of years.


Figure 1 – LiDAR 3D Forest Landscape View


Figure 2 – LiDAR dataset with aerial imagery used to colour the point cloud creating a 3D view of a forest just to the side of a skid landing.

Immediately the benefit to forest engineering was realised by most with an increased definition and more accurate digital terrain models (Figure 3), enabling better forest engineering planning of roads and harvest settings including sometimes large cost benefits just by better classicisation of terrain by harvest method (cable vs ground based). With this now well accepted many forest managers are looking to LiDAR as the only viable source for updating their terrain models, allowing for better decision making and net cost savings.


Figure 3 – Typical NZ Topo 20m contours compared to LiDAR dataset generated 10m contours.

The use of LiDAR and its adoption for forest resource inventory was also taken leaps recently with Interpine and Future Forest Research’s (FFR) work on the kNN (k-nearest neighbour) modelling process (Figure 4). This has been recently trialled across 3 forest estates by Interpine and FFR, with the Australian LiDAR forest industry research group also starting to develop this methodology from this initial work here completed by Interpine. Interpine have continued working with Timberlands Ltd in 2013 on adopting kNN for the assessment of their 200,000ha estate.


Figure 4 – kNN Approach of Forest Classification with each pixel of LiDAR attributes getting an associated yield table.

You can download the fill presentation here: NZIF – Auckland – Nov 2013 – LiDARs Role in the Forest Industry – Hamish Marshall or contact Interpine if you would like to know more about LiDAR and its adoption and commercialisation across the forest industry in NZ and Australia.