Fernando Magdaleno Mas and Víctor Olaya Ferrero
Although the characteristics of forest science and its related works can be easily integrated into a computerized environment, nowadays the introduction of computer tools in forest management is rare and not as efficient as it is in other similar disciplines and fields of knowledge.
Because of this, current usage of computer tools in forest management is far from correct, and does not take advantage of the power that modern technology could lend to our work. Also, the incorrect usage of non-specific software, together with the lack of forestry-specific applications, causes the teaching of modern computer technology applied to forest management tasks to be almost nonexistent among future Forest Engineers, as well as among the vast majority of environment managers and forestry-related professionals.
This project, the so-called SINFO (Suite INformática FOrestal), aims to develop a software suite that will fill the gap, and provide forest management professionals with a set of software tools for teaching and applying modern forest management techniques. In this way, SINFO will facilitate the introduction of computer-aided techniques in some of the most important fields in this area, such as silviculture, stand management, river and basin restoration, crop harvesting, etc.
Also, in contrast with the proprietary licences under which most of the applications, specific or not, used in this field are released, the applications included in SINFO are released as Free Software (as defined by the Free Software Foundation), contributing to a better development of them and reinforcing the didactic aim of this project.
In contrast to other areas of knowledge, whose practical exercise it is hardly conceived at the present time without the frequent aid of computer science methods for its tidies and more habitual works, the environment of work of the forest engineer, specially in those areas dedicated to the forest management, lack completely of a sufficient number of robust computer science applications of good quality that allow this integration to take place.
Beyond the omnipresent (and sometimes infra or overused, or simply used without the due correction) Geographic Information Systems and other applications punctually applied in accomplishment of projects and planning, the forest engineering environment does not have specific tools for its more habitual work, tools that, in our opinion, should be developed progressively to adapt the forest field to the present social and labour situation.
The immediate consequences of this lack of computer science resources affect as much to the professional work of the Forest Engineer as to the teaching of the knowledge of forest management and its application, being both disconnected of the present reality in other similar fields in which, as we commented previously, the use of computer science methods is something frequent and widely extended.
The main problems that can be identified in this situation are the following ones:
1) Use of non-specific applications that do not include the totality of necessary functionalities for a complete integration between forest management works and the new computer science technologies.
2) Use of excessively generalist tools not focused on a concrete scope, therefore reducing the productivity and ease of use of them, with the subsequent presence of steep learning curves.
3) Use of the few existing specific applications solely at an enterprise level, due, mainly, to the difficult and expensive access to them, remaining thus its use always very far from the educational environment and, therefore, limiting the knowledge and use of such applications to a concrete sector of the labour world.
With the object of solving these problems as far as possible, the present project is aimed at the creation of a software suite that comes to replace the present deficiency of this within the scope of forest works. This package, grouped under the denomination of SINFO (which stands, in Spanish, for Forest software Suite), will come to occupy a still nowadays inhabited place in our field of work like professionals of the environmental management, impelling the development of the own forest work itself and being, therefore, of extreme benefit for the interests of the Forest Engineer, based in the conservation and improvement of the forest patrimony and the forests like sources of life and usable resources.
SINFO represents the joint effort of members of the field of forest engineering, in an attempt to replace the present deficiency of specific and powerful computer programs in a field with an enormous potential of application as ours.
SINFO means an attempt to exploit the high capacities that the forest studies present to be attended by means of modern and effective technologies, and at the same time to maintain and respect the essential human component that must always be present in all process of management or forest work. We are conscious that the forest world has characteristics that do not allow its complete analysis by means of purely mathematical procedures, and it is therefore very far from our pretensions making a product that automates the work of the forest engineer in its classic conception. However, we think that it is necessary and beneficial for the forest group to carry out as fast as possible this adaptation to the present technologies, not simply making use of tools generated for other scopes or with generalist conceptions, but impelling the creation of our own tools focused in the peculiarities of our field of performance.
SINFO is a project opened to everyone, professional or not, that wishes to join with its particular contribution in order to obtain a more effective, useful and user-friendly set of tools.
The primary targets of this work can be summarized in the following ones.
1) Modernise the educational tools in the main areas of the forest knowledge, equipping the new professionals with free and gratuitous tools that allow a suitable formation of them all and a correct adaptation to the technologies within its field of study.
2) Create tools specifically designed to optimally satisfy the needs of forest managers in their more habitual workings, with the aim of improving the present situation regarding the introduction of this kind of tools within the sector.
3) Contribute with general character to the advance of the forest sector and its update and adaptation to the present technological standards. It will result, also, in an associate aid to the improvement of the image of the forest sector and its works.
The main direct beneficiaries of this work, therefore, will be all those professionals of the sector for which the use of computer science tools supposes a greater precision, productivity and ease, as well as, specially, the students of the forest environment and their lecturers.
From a technical point of view, and despite its open nature, SINFO it is a product with homogenous characteristics established mainly to support the objectives of its constituent applications in relation to diffusion without any kind of impediments, use in adapted conditions, ease of use, and educational vocation. The global characteristics of the applications included in this project can be summarized in the following points.
SINFO is formed of applications that can be run in personal computers running Windows 95 or later, with the exception of PDA-INV, developed for its use in PDAs with Palm OS.
These applications are developed using languages widely extended in the former environments, mainly C/C++ and Visual Basic, except PDA-INV, developed in SmallBASIC.
SINFO is an open product that, logically, will adopt the form and structure that their collaborators, developers and users make throughout the time.
However, the present structure in which its development is being based as an integrated suite of applications is the following:
SUSHI (Stands, in Spanish, for Integrated Hydrological and Silvicultural Simulation):
A GIS application with capacities of hydrologic analysis based and strongly influenced by the presence and development of vegetal covers. The main objective of the program is to facilitate a fast and precise evaluation of the influence of the operations and interventions in the forests, as well as of other workings that modify land-cover (reforestation, fire...), in the main hydrological parameters.
MEIGAS (recursive acronym for, in Spanish, Meigas is an Integrated Environment for Forest Management and Silvicultural Analysis):
A precise and visual tool for the forest manager who needs an optimal handling of inventories and diverse data, to enhance his capacity of decision and the establishment of forest management plans and other similar activities. MEIGAS is developed with the objective of combining under the same graphical and intuitive environment the main functions related to silviculture, dasometry and forest management, basic aspects for a correct forest management.
CARMIN (recursive acronym for, in Spanish, Carmin is an Application for the Representation and Modelling of Forest Fires)
An application for the control and simulation of the forest fire behaviour, ready adequate for its use in prediction and coordination of fire fighting.
A tool for PDAs Palm OS and connectable with MEIGAS, destined to the support in the field works in inventories and similar workings.
BASIFOR is an application for the handling of forest inventories and the extraction of parameters and values of interest from the data they contain.
SINFO is free software and it is distributed under the conditions established in the General Public License (GPL), as it is published by the Free Software Foundation (FSF). We think that this form of distribution is the best adapted to the objectives of the project, both from the point of view of obtaining a good product in the future, as from the perspective of its own development. Also, we consider that the distribution of the applications developed under a more restrictive model, despite being equally beneficial for the interests of the professionals of the sector, will diminish the potential of our work like an educational tool, being this one of the most important objectives of the present project.
Today, SINFO is a project in which five applications related to five areas within the field of the forest management are included, each one in a different stage of development and diffusion.
The more developed applications, such as Sushi or Meigas, have been quickly accepted by the Spanish forest community, demonstrating thus one of the initial motives of this project, while verifying this way the existing necessity of applications of this nature within the environment of forest works. Also, these applications have been shown in several communications with a high degree of acceptance, and have been adopted by departments of universities in which forest knowledge is taught, as part of their educational tools. These aspects prove the important confirmation of the convenience of the actual development of SINFO.
Besides, SINFO has wakened the interest of a great number of professionals and companies of the sector, who in some cases have incorporated these tools to their work successfully and are a valuable test of the effectiveness and validity of the ideas and concepts by which the contents of this project are held.
The free distribution scheme under which the applications included in this project appear is contributing to a better and faster evolution of them, being responsible, directly or indirectly, of the following positive facts for the forest sector:
1) Increase of productivity. The applications can be modified to adequate to the necessities of their users, from the existing base in the original model of each application. The code reusability means an economic advantage and a better adaptation of the programs to its final users.
2) Optimal adaptation to the diverse models of education. Again, the possibility of modifying the programs freely allows, as has been already done in some of them, that lecturers and students can express in the applications an optimal form of solving their necessities, accelerating this way the introduction of educational contents related to new technologies in a sector that, today, is not totally integrated in them
3) Acceleration of the process already initiated of modernisation of the forest sector. This fact, also, will lead to the improvement in the image of a group that, facing the outside, habitually presents an excessively classic face nowadays, founded mainly on the little formation that their members have in the field of the new applied technologies.
4) Optimal Development. The open nature of SINFO, inviting to the participation of all kind of professionals, will contribute to adapt, once its development has begun, the form of this project to the necessities of its users, since they are directly implied in its evolution and creation.
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