0599-B1

National Forest Information System: Enabling Frameworks to Monitor Canada's Forests

Evelynne Wrangler[1], Rick Morrison, Brian Low, Robin Quenet and Jim Wood


Abstract

Due to their magnitude, Canada's forest lands play a major role in national and global forestry issues. National reporting of forest resource information requires integration of information and data from a variety of sources. The Canadian Council of Forest Ministers has partnered with the Canadian Forest Service, Canada's GeoConnections Program, and the Canadian geomatics industry to develop and implement a nationally distributed system, the National Forest Information System. The system is based on a web-enabled, distributed service architecture.

The vision of the National Forest Information System is to implement an information technology framework to facilitate the acquisition, integration, processing and dissemination of data/information from autonomous, distributed databases in support of analysing and reporting on matters relating to sustainable forest management in Canada.


Background

Canada is a forested nation, holding about 10% of the world's forests and more than 20% of the planet's freshwater. As a result, Canadian forest lands play a major role in the balance of life, and the nation has a responsibility to act as steward of this valuable resource, in terms of both forest-management activities and reporting of those activities. Reporting requirements are associated with many international commitments made by Canada, such as Criteria and Indicators for the Conservation and Sustainable Management of Temperate and Boreal Forests (The Montreal Process), the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, the Framework Convention on Climate Change, and the United Nations Forum on Forests. Despite the range of domestic and international interests, Canada is nevertheless making efforts to ensure that authoritative information is available for monitoring and reporting purposes.

Canada's commitment to forest sustainability is proclaimed in the Canada Forest Accord which describes the unique relationship of all Canadians to their forest resources and outlines some of the provincial, territorial, and federal forest-related responsibilities.

Since 94 per cent of Canada's forests are publicly owned, all Canadians have a vital interest in their management. In Canada, forest management is the Constitutional responsibility of the provinces. In the Northwest Territories, the federal government has transferred responsibility for forest management to the territorial government. Similar transfers are under discussion with the Yukon. The federal government has direct or shared responsibility for industrial and regional development, trade, international relations, science and technology, the environment and federal lands. Various other forest community interest groups also play an important role in the decision-making process.

Source: Canada Forest Accord, 1998 (National Forest Strategy Coalition 1998)

The Canadian Council of Forest Ministers (CCFM) was established in 1985 to give sufficient attention to forest issues and is composed of the fourteen federal, provincial, and territorial ministers responsible for forests[2]. The Canadian Council of Forest Ministers stimulates the development of policies and initiatives for strengthening the forest sector, including the forest resource and its use. It provides leadership, addresses national and international issues, and sets the overall direction for stewardship and sustainable management of Canada's forests. One of its main concerns is with ensuring accurate reporting relative to national and international commitments (such as those listed previously), as well as the Criteria and Indicators of Sustainable Forest Management. The information needs for accurate reporting are varied and depend on multiple sources.

In Canada, the complex nature of responsibility for forest management, the structure of land ownership, and the vastness of the country contribute to requirements that sustainable forest management activities and associated reporting will be conducted through partnerships (Addison et al. 1999). At present, Canada's ability to report on national and international commitments related to sustainable forest management is beyond the individual capacity of federal, provincial, territorial, and non-government information systems (Addison et al. 1999). Because Canada's vast forests extend across the country, responsibility for these forests falls under many jurisdictions and management agencies including governments, industry, and other organizations. Forestry information is collected in different ways, for different uses, and is stored in different locations. Indeed, accessing and integrating this information has been a complex, and often arduous, task.

Canada's National Forest Information System (NFIS)

In 1999 the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers strategically identified that more relevant and timely access to information were needed to enable reporting. It reviewed a business case which involved an innovative way to enhance Canada's capacity for reporting on sustainable forest management as well as Canada's capacity to encourage use of the most current scientific information, be it temporal, spatial, or metadata.

Building on various federal and provincial initiatives to make information more accessible within Canada, the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers instructed its members to proceed with the infrastructure development. The National Forest Information System (NFIS) is being developed to allow data holders, such as provinces, to provide information for national reporting activities while building on that infrastructure for use in their own business activities. Users will have web-based direct access to information held by federal, provincial, territorial, and other government agencies and non-government organizations. Users will be able to discover, integrate, and display current, authoritative, relevant, and accurate information about Canada's forests and sustainable forest management.

Vision of the National Forest Information System

The vision of the National Forest Information System is to implement an information technology framework to facilitate the acquisition, integration, processing, and dissemination of data/information from autonomous, distributed databases in support of analyzing and reporting on matters relating to sustainable forest management in Canada.

The framework is being designed to:

- provide ready access to the most current, consistent and reliable forest resources information,

- provide the transparent integration of information across jurisdictional boundaries,

- provide consistency and eliminate duplication in reporting thereby increasing efficiency while avoiding different answers being given to the same question, and

- reduce costs through the sharing of information technology.

It will also significantly enhance the capability of participating parties to:

- present an accurate picture of Canadian forest practices,

- provide the strategic context for provincial, territorial and federal agencies to easily and reliably address regional, national and international challenges to Canadian forest management practices, and

- support provincial, territorial and federal commitments to open participation in forest policy to citizens by making available the necessary information for informed debate.

Source: CCFM-NFIS-Updated Overview 2002-03 (CCFM 2002)

Who is Involved

Initial participants in the National Forest Information System are the federal, provincial, and territorial governments, but the system is designed to include information providers from other agencies, as illustrated in Figures 1 and 2.

Figure 1. Conceptual architecture of the National Forest Information System (Low et al. 2002).

Figure 2. Technical infrastructure components of the National Forest Information System (CCFM-NFIS Updated Overview (http://www.nfis.org))

Governance Model

During the development of the system, the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers members struck the National Forest Information System Steering Committee to oversee the development of a work plan, including active definition of services, monitoring progress of initiatives, and identifying future directions for the system. The chair of the Committee is Ontario's deputy minister responsible for forests, and membership includes assistant deputy ministers responsible for forests within their jurisdiction. The National Forest Information System Project Office, housed within Canadian Forest Service, provides support to the Committee and coordinates the development work.

The challenge facing the project in terms of developing a suitable governance model is to provide a structure in which the federal government, ten provinces, three territories, industry, and non-government organizations can work together as partners. An appropriate governance structure was envisaged to be efficient, effective, and able to provide opportunity for government and non-government participation in the National Forest Information System. Any proposed structure should take into account existing initiatives. It should also focus on providing a framework for encouraging and supporting cooperation across jurisdictions and between participants. While there was a recommended governance option submitted to the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers, the Steering Committee noted that further evaluation of the option would be required once the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers' partners are familiar with the technical infrastructure and its potential uses for various business applications. The Canadian Council of Forest Ministers members agreed there would need to be an evaluation of the governance model once the technical infrastructure was developed and delivered to them.

Types of Information

The National Forest Information System is being designed to address a range of questions (CCFM 2002) including:

Building the Framework

The technical participants-Canadian Forest Service information technology specialists, and researchers-in cooperation with provincial and territorial partners and Canada's GeoConnections[3], are working on the National Forest Information System framework. This framework will provide Canadians, and the international community, with authoritative information about the state of Canada's forests and how the forests are being sustainably managed.[4]

The National Forest Information System is addressing the significant and wide-ranging differences of data holdings by adopting international standards and by building a distributed network of servers and applications that allow access to forestry information held by independent agencies (Morrison et al. 1999). The result will be seamless integration of spatial and thematic information for analysis, reporting, and portrayal.

Figure 1 depicts the National Forest Information System's conceptual architecture at full deployment.

Development of the National Forest Information System has been guided by a set of development principles (Canadian Council of Forest Ministers n.d.) and by the key principles of the Canadian Geospatial Data Infrastructure (CDGI). Fundamental development principles include vendor neutrality, adoption of international and other appropriate standards as they evolve, and retention of intellectual property rights to software and other developer deliverables. Within Canada, data are stored in many formats, in many data repositories, and on many software systems. This approach to development ensures that participants can utilize their existing data/information holdings, systems, and software, and they can capitalize on their investments to date. The National Forest Information System's use of international standards enables participants to leverage current investments and to argue that, financially, enhancing existing information systems is more attractive than starting over with new designs.

Technical Infrastructure

The NFIS technical infrastructure includes the information systems and processes for the Web-based access and integrated delivery of data and information sets held by NFIS participants. The technical infrastructure is made up of the following four distinct components:

- Custodial data sets (the data and information held by the participants) to be made available for access,

- generalized data models which allow diverse data representations to be mapped into a common representation,

- the Web-based data and information access and delivery tools and services set, and

- the web Portal.

Source: CCFM-NFIS-Updated Overview 2002-03 (CCFM 2002)

Figure 2 shows the relationship between the technical infrastructure components of the National Forest Information System.

Custodial Data Sets

The data and information content to be accessed and served by NFIS will be defined and identified by the NFIS partners. The custodial agencies will determine what data and information sets will be made available through a distributed access control system and retain full access control of these sets.

There are no transferred or duplicated databases provided to a central coordinating body. The maintenance of the data remains the responsibility of the jurisdiction holding that information. Metadata descriptions of data/information sets will include location, content, format, access security level, and other necessary information relevant to proper interpretation and use.

Generalized Data Model

As depicted in Figure 2, this model provides the mechanism for the data held by custodians to be shared with others via generalized web-based tools. Data that differ by content, attribute definitions, collection procedures, resolution, layout or format, and so forth, are mapped to a common representation. This, essentially, is the translation of many different representations of data to an agreed-upon standard representation of that data. The National Forest Information System's classification hierarchy is being designed based on data models that are currently under development in participating jurisdictions.

Web-Based Information Access, Delivery Tools, and Services Set

The tools and services being developed by the National Forest Information System address a very wide spectrum of functionality, including: security; information access, analysis, and portrayal; and services registries.[5]

The Distributed Access Control System[6] provides the security mechanism for data providers, including user profile identification. Web-enabled service registries are being investigated to allow participating National Forest Information System organizations to register and discover data/information and services. These registries are a key part of the further development and implementation of the National Forest Information System. To address the defined requirements, the system needs descriptions of available services, the associated meta-information and the necessary data/information, and the associated metadata that are essential to invoking a service. Metadata and meta-information capture systems to describe the data/information and services-including derivative products and analytical services available on participating warehouses-are under development. Digital library-technology services that will allow users to capture, navigate, and search journals, reports, gray data/information, and other literature and data holdings, are planned. This technology will use subject classification hierarchies (such as Library of Congress), various ecosystem classifications, and taxonomic classifications. Already in place is the capability to extract and download full-resolution data from the distributed data warehouses. The ability to identify and adopt reference-common geographic units representing authoritative spatial-data layers has been initiated. Report-generation capabilities-including graphical, chart, and tabular formats-are being extended, enhanced, and generalized. Selective data-synthesis and data-analysis capabilities are being developed along with statistical summaries; spatial, real-time, annotation capability; real-time, 3D visualization; and multimedia integration.

Web Portal

As stated in the CFM-NFIS Updated Overview:

The NFIS portal will provide entry to national, provincial, territorial and other views of forest resources information. The portal will:

- interface with the distributed access control protocols,
- maintain jurisdictional/custodial identity of content,
- support navigation and search of... forest resources content,
- support real time object annotation, and
- provide simple spatial and thematic analysis.

Source: CCFM-NFIS-Updated Overview 2002-03 (CCFM 2002)

The portal will enable entry to the Atlas of Canada for synthesized information and to the holdings of third-party information providers.

Deliverables

The CCFM-NFIS Updated Overview (CCFM 2002) states that the adoption and successful implementation of the National Forest Information System's technical architecture and governance model will allow the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers and all associated partnerships to:

References

Addison, P., R. Morrison, and R. Quenet, 1999. "A national forest information system for Canada" in Proceedings of the 13th Annual Conference on Geographic Information Systems (GIS 99), March 1-4, 1999, Vancouver, BC. [s.n.]

Bakewell, D., P. Bhogal, C. Burnett, D. Goodenough, D. Hill, D. Leckie, S. Martin, and S. Tinis, 1999. "An infrastructure for forestry metadata creation and access" in Proceedings of the 13th Annual Conference on Geographic Information Systems (GIS 99), March 1-4, 1999, Vancouver, BC. [s.n.]

Brachman, Barry, 2001. Distributed access control system (DACS)-system architecture. DSS Distributed Systems Software, Inc., Richmond, BC. Unpublished. http://www.dss.bc.ca/dacs-docs/arch-spec.html.

Canadian Council of Forest Ministers, n.d. NFIS-National Forest Information System-development principles. Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service, Victoria, BC. http://www.nfis.org/principles_e.html.

Canadian Council of Forest Ministers, 1995. Defining sustainable forest management: a Canadian approach to criteria and indicators. Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service, Ottawa, ON. 22 p. http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/cfs/proj/ppiab/ci/framain_e.html.

Canadian Council of Forest Ministers, 1998. National forest strategy, 1998-2003: sustainable forests, a Canadian commitment. Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service, Ottawa, ON. 47 p. http://www.nfsc.forest.ca/strategy4.html.

Canadian Council of Forest Ministers, 2002. Canadian Council of Forest Ministers National Forest Information System (CCFM-NFIS)-updated overview 2002-03. National Forest Information Project Office, Victoria, BC. http://www.nfis.org/02-03overview_e.html.

Kucera, H., E. Keighin, and P. Lafond, 1999. "A technical architecture for NFIS" in Proceedings of the 13th Annual Conference on Geographic Information Systems (GIS 99), March 1-4, 1999, Vancouver, BC. [s.n.]

Lake, R., M. Power, and H. Kucera, 2002. Reference architecture for the National Forest Information System. FirstMark Technologies Ltd., Ottawa, ON. Unpublished.

Low, B., R. Morrison, and R. Quenet, 2002. "Building a web-enabled distributed service-based architecture for Canada's National Forest Information System" in Forest IT Forestry Information Systems 2002, Helsinki, Finland-Proceedings. [s.n.]

Morrison, R., B. Low, G. Kucera, and H. Kucera, 1999. "A spatial data warehouse for NFIS" in Proceedings of the 13th Annual Conference on Geographic Information Systems (GIS 99), March 1-4, 1999, Vancouver, BC. [s.n.]

National Forest Strategy Coalition, 1998. Canada forest accord. Ottawa, May 1, 1998 (reprinted April 1, 2001). http://www.nfsc.forest.ca/accord2.html.

Quenet, R, M. Gillis, B. Low, and T. Niemann, 1999. "Implementing criteria and indicators reporting in NFIS" in Proceedings of the 13th Annual Conference on Geographic Information Systems (GIS 99), March 1-4, 1999, Vancouver, BC. [s.n.]

Quenet, R., R. Morrison, B. Low, and J. Wood, 2000. "Building a national forest information system for Canada" in Forestry Information Systems 2000 Workshop, 16-20.5.2000, Hyytiälä, Finland-Proceedings (myös cd-rom). [s.n.]. 7 p.

Richards, T. and J. Reynolds, 1999. "Global forest information service-technical options paper" presented at the Global Forest Information Service Side Event, Third Session of the United Nations Intergovernmental Forum on Forests (IFF 3), Geneva, May 11, 1999. IURFO Occasional Paper No. 12.


[1] Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service, Pacific Forestry Centre, 506 West Burnside Road, Victoria, British Columbia, V8Z 1M5, Canada. Tel: 1-250-363-6000; Email: ewrangle@pfc.cfs.nrcan.gc.ca; Website: www.pfc.cfs.nrcan.gc.ca
[2] See http://www.ccfm.org.
[3] See http://www.geoconnections.org.
[4] The guiding principles, approach taken, and description of some initial application services in the development of National Forest Information System are outlined by Addison et al. (1999), Bakewell et al. (1999), Kucera et al. (1999), Morrison et al. (1999), and Quenet et. al (1999). The conceptual design and approach very closely parallel those outlined by Richards and Reynolds (1999) in the technical options for the Global Forest Information System (GFIS). Lake et al. (2002) describe the architecture framework in terms of operational, technical, and system viewpoints. Low et al. (2002) describe the operational application of National Forest Information Ssytem's web-enabled, distributed, service-based architecture to meet local, regional, provincial, and national reporting requirements and to meet international reporting commitments.
[5] Some examples are described by Addison et al. (1999), Morrison et al. (1999), Quenet et al. (2000), and in the CCFM-NFIS Updated Overview (CCFM 2002).
[6] The distributed access control system is designed to facilitate the cooperation of autonomous organizations to control users' access to information services delivered through the web and provide a uniform way for users to identify and authenticate themselves (Brachman 2001).