For many forestry leaders bark beetle can feel like an army marching across the forests of Northern Europe, causing devastation, and reducing timber prices and margins in its wake. Each successive year seems to threaten more damage than the one preceding it. According to Landskogsbruk in Sweden 17% more timber has been harvested than during the first five months of last year, primarily due to the army of beetles, and of course, we’re seeing timber prices drop in response to the surplus.
It’s hardly news that warmer seasonal temperatures driven by climate change is one of the biggest contributing factors to this growth. But what’s especially worrying is that entomologists are noting that with the increase in beetle populations, and the requirement of this army to feed, they are increasingly targeting healthier trees as opposed to rotten ones. Another impact on margin.
What’s to be done? Well despite those first two paragraphs of doom, don’t panic. To beat an army, you just need to think and act like one.
That process starts by recognising that modern warfare is a balance of the tried and tested ancient techniques developed hundreds of years ago by military leaders such as Sun Tzu, combined with the modern machinery of warfare, and that’s where the gap appears.
For many foresters, conducting ground surveys hasn’t really changed since the early 1900s, with the welcome exception of GPS referencing to improve it’s location accuracy. Teams go out into the woods, armed with tape measures, pencils, and a pad of real paper… They inspect the trees health in several small sample plots and use those estimates to gauge the entire forest.
We’re seeing the same ‘sampling’ approach with spruce beetle. One Nordic newspaper reported recently on the forester who is training his dog to sniff out bark beetle, we’ve met organisations that have bulk purchased drones and are hiring students to operate them across thousands of square kms of forest. It’s not that any of this is wrong, but it’s in danger of being the approach of a bunch of guerrilla troops – not an equipped and disciplined force.
Now, before anyone gets too offended, we think the brutal reality of bark beetle, and other invasive pests, is that Foresters need to assemble an army – with all the weapons and troops at their disposal. That might include dogs, drones and even, perhaps spy beetles able to penetrate enemy ranks and pass back messages on their movements. The key isn’t in whether they’re old or young, big or small, tried and tested or cutting-edge – they key is in how and where you choose to deploy them.
However, before you deploy your troops, as a great general you need to able to survey the battlefield. That means gaining the best vantage point. You need to get high. That used to mean hills, helicopters or planes. Today that means frequent satellite surveys. Anyone not regularly using satellite to identify spruce beetle outbreaks as close to when they start as possible, is risking reputation and margin. Yes, we would say that, we’re the leader in satellite-derived data analytics for forestry, but we still meet foresters who don’t trust satellite data, or use an annual snapshot (or even less frequently) to map an army who moves in weeks not months – and certainly not years. They are either too low, too little or too late.
Once you’ve surveyed the battlefield then you can decide where to send the dog, the drones and the teams. The key is focus and speed. Deploy your expensive resources exactly where you need them based on good intel, not where you think you might need them based on an outdated espionage technique.
It’s the combination of intel and resources that makes the difference to protecting profitability. Spotting beetle quickly, and deploying teams effectively can rescue lumber value, and may even help control disease spread.
The fundamental rules of battle haven’t changed in thousands of years, all that has really changed are the tools to wage it with. But above all, in the battle against the effects of Spruce Beetle, our message is clear – meet an army with an army.