Review of Information Technologies for Consideration in Comprehensive Resource Assessments of Forests

Review of Information Technologies for Consideration in Comprehensive Resource Assessments of Forests

Kim Malafant and Stuart Davey, Bureau of Resource Sciences
February 1996

Table of Contents

Executive Summary
Terms of Reference
The CRA Process and Integration Project
- CRA Integration Assessment
- Product Specification
Classification of Technologies Considered in the Review
Models, Methods and Concepts
- Environmental Domain Analysis
- PVA Analysis
- Irreplaceability
Management Support Systems
- ArcForest
Integration Framework Systems
- Calyx
- Facet
- Whatif?
- Other Systems
Other Tools
- GIS Tools
- Image Processing Tools
- Visualisation Tools
- Mathematical and Statistical Tools
- Database
- Cited References
- Other References
Appendix 1. CRA Integration Project Review Proforma

Executive Summary

This review provides some of the information to facilitate the decisions of the Commonwealth Integration Technical Working Group (ITWG) on an appropriate framework for Comprehensive Regional Assessment (CRA). The integration of the technologies required for a CRA should provide a modular computing structure which can be applied across a number of agencies, with great flexibility.

This review considered a number of methods, concepts, algorithms, programs and packages currently under development or use by State and Commonwealth agencies. Most of the systems reviewed form building-blocks of a larger integrated framework, where these building-blocks or components can be changed for one of their competitors or for a new component as research develops. Most of these technologies were not complete systems for the CRA process.

Terms of Reference

The Commonwealth's Integration Technical Working Group (ITWG) agreed at its meeting on the 19th of January to commence a review of the technologies that could be incorporated into the integration model:

The scope of the review was to include internationally and nationally developed technologies encompassing individual assessments (environmental, economic, resource etc.) and technologies associated with integrating assessments, including trade-off, landuse allocation, reserve selection, visualisation, scenario and optimisation modelling.

Technologies were to be assessed for:

The assessment criteria were divided into five broad functional areas:

A series of question or requirements against each of these five broad areas was developed for use in discussions with interested groups. This proforma is presented in Appendix 1. The ITWG assessed the use of technologies within the context of CRAs.


"The complexity of the environment, the time and spatial scales involved, and the diversity of environmental effects are such that the implications of decisions affecting the environment are not always readily apparent. This complexity and the number of stakeholders involved makes it difficult to arrive at decisions which accommodate all wants and needs" (Qureshi et al. 1995).

This quote holds not only for making ecological decisions, but also for the reviewers of the technologies involved. It is not possible to provide an answer that is acceptable to all. So it is with this review. So first a few disclaimers:

  1. Given the short timescale for the review it is unreasonable to expect that ALL possible technologies can be reviewed. What has been reviewed are the technologies that are generally known, either by the reviewers or from members of the taskforce and their colleagues. As such the technologies will show a bias, but hopefully many of the technologies currently being used will have been included in the review.
  2. We have provided considerably more information on the integration tools than on a number of other technologies. This is in the belief that these tools or toolkits are currently not well known or understood in Australia. Such tools are becoming used for large ecological and management systems in other countries and especially in particular areas or sectors eg. Defence Departments.
  3. The TOR included international technologies. This has been attempted in the short time-scale but is in no way complete. The review has had to draw on personal knowledge of reviewers to identify groups, companies and individuals that may have appropriate technologies.
  4. Like all computer-based technologies, applications and systems change rapidly. Some disappear or are modified dramatically. Others appear and have little initial documentation or available information. We have drawn on the best information for the chosen technologies available - some are incomplete, while others have changed or have been modified from the available information.
  5. The short timescale for the review as well as the unavailability of certain parties has precluded discussions with all interested parties. Those groups that have been visited have either been relatively local, or have been available. Some groups not personally visited have provided background information. This is especially true for the international material for which we have had to rely on a number of international contacts, E-mail and the World Wide Web. A list and summary of discussions with groups visited is presented in Appendix 2.
  6. Where a technology has been the subject of a recent review we have summarised the review results and indicated the reference(s) rather than rewriting the review into this document.

This review is seen as an initial attempt at identifying immediate ways forward and areas that require further development and research for integrating CRA assessments.

This review aims to provide some of the information to facilitate the decisions of the Commonwealth Technical Working Group on an appropriate framework for achieving the integration of the technologies under a modular computing structure which can be applied across a number of agencies, with great flexibility.

The CRA Process and Integration Project

Comprehensive Regional Assessments (CRAs) will be undertaken in state forested regions. These assessments will lead to regional forest agreements between the States and the Commonwealth. The CRA process involves the application of two main streams of assessment: environment and heritage, and economic and social. Currently, there is no appropriate mechanism to integrate these assessments to enable the recognition and consideration of all forest values in forest use decisions. Without such integration, all values may not be considered in scenario development and decision making, which may lead to preferred options not being considered.

A key problem with the current non-integrated approach is the amount of time required for agencies to give technical advice on revisions to forest use scenarios. There are additional problems with proof of transparency and consistency in their advice. The scope of decision makers to interactively explore forest use options is limited.

The aim of the integration project is to determine the best options to integrate the environmental, resource, ecological sustainable management, heritage, economic and social assessments in forest planning, conservation and industry development. A specific objective of the project is to develop an information technology framework which:

CRA integration assessment

The integration assessment will consist of a data gathering, storage and reporting system for all available data necessary to evaluate resource use options, including the development of spatial visualisation tools and information technology systems. The assessment will adopt a land use planning approach in which a number of forest land units across a region will be represented as consisting of a range of economic (social and reserved) and environmental/heritage attributes. For each forest unit there are a number of allowable land use and management options permitting the calculation of environmental values and sustainable yields under different silvicultural regimes. Assessments will be undertaken in an ESFM context.

For each forest use system (reserve system plus off-reserve management system) there are a number of values. Among these are biodiversity, wilderness, recreation and forestry values. Depending on the availability of information on the economic and environmental attributes of forests, various decision models may be used to explicitly compare alternative options. Where it is feasible to quantify other forest use and non-use values these may be directly incorporated. The decision models chosen will also be related to the important issues and concerns of specified CRAs. That is to say that the integration model will need flexibility to cater for variation across CRAs.

The information technology framework proposed by the ITWG uses a modular computing approach which could potentially be run across a number of computer systems, hence, providing great flexibility in the system. Reflecting the Commonwealth's delineation of CRA tasks, each agency will be responsible for the development of its own assessment methods. The modules which implement these methods would use a common GIS which contains the forest attributes required by the various modules and necessary for graphical representation of forest uses.

Product Specification

The aims of the development of an integration model (or system) for forest management should include the provision of a real time and reliable tool to enable regional level trade-offs, optimisation and scenario modelling, and have the capacity to consider off-reserve management, resource use and industry development options. Successful development of the model will have implications for the assessment of options in terms of forest sustainability, reserve design and industry structure. Credibility, transparency and consistency across States will be valued elements of the model.

Product outputs sought include:

Data outputs from the model to include but not be constrained to:

A more complete outline of the CRA project with special reference to the Integration Project and its guidelines is found in the accreditation document.

Classification of Technologies Considered in the Review

The technologies considered by this review can be divided into five broad categories:

  1. Models, methods or concepts which are technologies or systems that present either a concept, method or algorithm for the production of one, or a small set, of analyses. These may be available in a "coded" form or simply a mathematical description of the algorithm. These form the basic building blocks or modules of more complicated analyses and modelling frameworks.
  2. Management support systems which integrate a mix of models and concepts, generally to solve a specific set of requirements or tasks. These may consist of a mix of the modelling category and framework systems, or may in fact be developed "from scratch". Integration framework systems which have few inherent models, but facilitate the integration of various models or analysis tools into a single coherent framework. They provide the "glue" to form complex modelling systems from many diverse sources. They may have their own modelling paradigm which may be very dissimilar to the paradigms used in the other categories.
  3. Sustainable yield models or calculations.
  4. Other Tools which include Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Databases, Image Processing systems, visualisation and mathematical and/or statistical analysis tools.

Models, Methods and Concepts






6. Environmental Domain Analysis

7. PVA Analysis

8. Irreplaceability


Management Support Systems







7. ArcForest

Integration Framework Systems




4. Whatif?

5. Other Systems

Other integration tools exist which may provide some integration facilities, especially on Mac and PC platforms. Systems which can be considered in this category include:
1. STELLA: This is a MacIntosh based scenario modelling tool (now called Ithink) which can be used to code sophisticated models and interactions. Arguably the best known application of STELLA is the World3/91 model of Meadows et al. (1992).
2. Extend: A PC based system which allows general purpose models to be coded and run. ABARE has considerable expertise with the system.
3. @RISK: A PC based risk assessment system used by many groups including BRS.
4. ModelMaker: A PC based system that uses conceptual or model diagrams to construct models. The system has a number of modelling tools, including optimisation, standard mathematical functions, statistics, sensitivity analysis, interpolation and differential equation tools. Currently being evaluated by NRIC/BRS.
5. Queensberry: "Queensberry is a computer software system which offers facilities that are useful for setting up or analysing rational debates, especially debates about planning" (Macpherson and Grant, 1992). A PC based system using the Smalltalk language.

Other Tools

1. GIS Tools

The dominant GIS systems being used by agencies are the ESRI products ARC/Info and ARC/View. Some mention of SPANS, MapInfo, E-RMS and MIPS is also made but in the larger agencies and the Commonwealth the use of ARC/Info has dominated. It is not relevant to describe these products in any detail other than to say that considerable expertise in their use and a large body of additional software that interacts with the products exists.
On the issue of GIS, almost all agencies are using the ESRI ARC/Info and/or ARC/View products and no other reasonable choice is available given the extensive linkages this software suite has with other systems. The adoption of other GIS systems in CRAs would require considerable modification to possible solutions and require an extensive investment in software, time, training and conversion of spatial data.

2. Image Processing Tools

No one package appears to dominate this area. The agencies involved in the CRAs use a small number of products including IDRISI (PC based), ERMapper and Imagine. Of these ERMapper is the most used in larger agencies, both state (eg. Victoria) and Commonwealth (eg. BRS, AGSO). The Imagine product integrates more seamlessly with the ARC products by providing hot links between the two systems. The cost of this product is reasonably high (approx. $27000) per license.
A number of agencies are using the Australian developed product ERMapper (DCNR, BRS, AGSO), while others use the PC-based IDRISI package. ERMapper does run well on UNIX systems and there is considerable experience with the product in both States and Commonwealth agencies, however, it does not link as seamlessly with ARC/Info as does ERDAS/Imagine. Given that a single Imagine license costs ~$27000 it does not seem sensible to adopt it in preference to ERMapper.

3. Visualisation Tools

The only agencies that appear to be using sophisticated UNIX-based visualisation tools are ABARE and BRS. Both groups use the AVS product which is considered to be the market leader in this software area. AVS is currently developing a link with ARC/Info which is being beta tested by BRS/NRIC and ABARE. However, there is an extensive body of public domain software which can be added to AVS available from the Universities and other groups via the World Wide Web.
The network editor in AVS can be used to develop distributed analysis and visualisation networks and has some potential for building or integrating applications. However, AVS does not contain the broad range of mathematical, analysis and control tools that many of the other integration toolkits contains. It lacks intelligence (control functionality) and extensibility except for a restricted set of AVS objects and types. The cost of individual licenses for AVS are again quite expensive, averaging somewhere around $20000 for each user. The expertise and experience in using the product does exist in the Universities and in ABARE and BRS. The software/hardware configurations for AVS are far from inexpensive so change would be costly. The system has broad market acceptance, a large suite of public domain utilities and a link to ARC/Info (currently in beta test with BRS/NRIC and ABARE).

4. Mathematical and Statistical Tools

Two mathematical/statistical tools currently being used by agencies allow for integration into complex frameworks. These are: Splus and Mathematica. Both tools provide a broad range of mathematical and statistical functionality, coupled with Exploratory Data Analysis, Experimental Design, Time Series Analysis and Graphics displays. Both products allow the addition of external algorithms or code.
Splus has a code development environment which allows it to be called and commands executed from within a program coded in C. This functionality has be used to provide direct linkage between ARC/Info and Splus with data and results being passed from ARC/Info and returned from Splus quite seamlessly - a distinct advantage in providing and integrated framework.
Mathematica is a fine tool especially for symbolic manipulation, but the seamless link that Splus has with ARC/Info places it at the top of the list. Both products are available for UNIX based systems. Both systems also run on PC's. Their costs are: Splus ~$1200, Splus for ARC/Info~$2000 and Mathematica ~$1200.
The SAS system is also used by some agencies, especially ABARE, to handle most types of statistical analyses as well as operations research, links to database and graphs.

5. Database

Most systems considered in this review have no affinity or preference for a particular database system. The IFPS system from DCNR does use the SIR database system for its user interface - which could be redeveloped. SIR is not a mainstream database when compared to ORACLE, INGRES, INFORMIX or SYBASE, and one of these four should be adopted, probably ORACLE or INGRES.


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Appendix 1. CRA Integration Project Review Proforma

CRA Integration Project Review

Technology Questions:

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