Tech

With tablet and smartphone against forest extinction

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Forester Markus Uhr runs across the muddy forest floor with a tablet in his hand. "I can't go out without this device," he says. Uhr has been working as a district forester in East Westphalia-Lippe for 21 years. For two years now, his work has been primarily about crisis management. He now speaks of a catastrophe. Storms, drought and bark beetles made the forest in NRW sick. According to the 2019 forest condition report, only every fifth tree is currently healthy. In order not to lose the overview, smartphones and tablets have become more important than compass and binoculars.



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30 years ago, most forest areas in Germany were around 1000 hectares, as Jens Düring from the Association of German Foresters (BDF) says. Today there are up to three times as much on average. Markus Uhr's territory in the northeast of North Rhine-Westphalia covers a forest area of ​​4,400 hectares, which is about as much as 3,000 soccer fields. This is one of the reasons why pen and paper are no longer enough to keep an eye on all damage and stocks.

For the fight against bark beetles, there have been 20 new colleagues in NRW since spring 2019, equipped with a special app. One of them is Michael Schulz. He searches the forest for infested trees. If he discovers a sick tree, he taps his display once and the app saves the coordinates via GPS. The marked places then appear as red dots on the map of Markus Uhr. It works the same way with storm damage. 13 years ago, during hurricane Kyrill, Markus Uhr recorded all the damage on a card on paper. Two years ago at storm low Friederike, he already had the digital card. Now he has the Beetle app.

With a wave of his hand, Markus Uhr selects the red dots and turns them into an Excel spreadsheet with one click. He sends the data to a forest company that cuts the affected trees. Bernd Marcus works for such a company. His experience shows that when foresters and external service providers work together, too much time is often lost in the search for the right trees. Conventional navigation devices do not know the economic routes in the forest. If the coordinates are given by phone, errors can occur. With Markus Uhr and many other foresters, this is now done digitally.

It is not easy for all foresters. According to the BDF, the average age of German foresters is over 50. In some cases there is resistance to getting involved in new things. "The forest is very conservative, I would almost say backward," says Marcus. Some software developers are partly to blame for this: "Applications should be designed more simply," he is convinced.

Markus Uhr stands in front of a stack of felled trees and removes a piece of bark with a pocket knife. Bark beetles crawl underneath. These logs must go to the sawmill as quickly as possible so that the beetles disappear from the forest. The forester opens an app on his tablet and uses it to photograph the stack. The app draws light green circles around each stem and spits out the number 149. Normally watch would have counted this by hand and marked every single stem with a spray can, so as not to forget any. He sends the photo along with the coordinates of the stack to a removal company that brings the wood to the sawmill.

Digitalization makes processes faster and sometimes less complicated, says Düring. But even the most modern tablet doesn't kill bark beetles, the best app can't plant a tree, he emphasizes. The forest crisis cannot be overcome without sufficient and qualified personnel.