Foresters has increasingly complex demands being made on their skills, resources and time. The often conflicting demands of forest users require careful decision making that allows for primary use objectives to be met without disturbing the frequently fragile ecosystem that sustains such objectives in the long term.

When adequate data is available or can be collected, improved management programmes can often be implemented to ensure the sustainable utilisation of the available resources for timber, construction, fibre, fuel, furniture and so on. The key issue to many foresters in this context is that of sustainable primary use; for others anxious to exploit inherent natural wealth the issue is more often that of mapping and exploitation; still others seek the maintenance and development of forest areas for watershed management and inter-related environmental concerns such as global warming, lake siltation, rural-urban migration etc.

The complexity and number of problems that confront foresters as planners and managers are enormous. Diverse data sets from disparate sources are required by foresters, decision makers and those who watch over them (environmentalists, legislators, politicians) often within strict spatial and temporal constraints in order to coordinate the planning, development and exploitation process. The ability to collate and analyse that data, to extract from it the pertinent information that allows for cost-effective and justifiable decision making, is central to strategic forest planning.

The use of remote sensing for data gathering, allied to the introduction of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) as a powerful tool to process that data in conjunction with information collected using traditional field techniques permit the forester to be a more effective component of that planning process. Through the adoption and utilisation of these tools the forester becomes an integral part of the data collection, collation and storage framework and the principal analyst in the processing and manipulation of both the satellite data and the databases established as part of any forest inventory. Objective analysis can then be made and presented on the basis of hard data putting the forester in the driving seat.

These tools, specifically aerial and satellite borne imagery permit the discrimination of different forest types as well as the multi-temporal appraisal of land cover/land use change and of the impacts of that change. Traditional forest inventory data can be combined with GPS technology to facilitate the development of accurate and up-to-date databases. Integration of image derived information, digital databases and other data, especially that of climate, soils and terrain (DTMs), permit sophisticated modelling of potentials and constraints for different areas under different forest management options. For example, it would be possible to assess the suitability of currently degraded land to be returned to forest under silvicultural, industrial plantation or alternative management regime on the basis of slope, altitude, soil, rainfall and accessibility.

GISL Limited's experience in rural development and land resources planning projects includes the design and implementation of socially acceptable, technically feasible, cost-effective and sustainable methods and techniques for the resolution of land and water resources difficulties. In developing countries satellite imagery is often used as a primary data source because the partial or complete absence/availability of topographic and thematic maps are prohibitive to the development process.

Remote, poorly mapped areas where agricultural development is the key to equitable and sustainable livelihoods require regional development strategies that include forestry as an economic and environmental component of the socio-cultural systems; this recognition must be manifested in the establishment of coherent policy options, in the identification of specific programmes and projects and in medium to long-term monitoring and evaluation.

In the implementation of forestry projects in Ghana and Ethiopia and in other rural development projects in Namibia, Belize, Somalia and Sudan satellite imagery has been fundamental in the delineation, beyond dispute, of forested areas as well as of land cover, land use change and soils and in contributing to the establishment of the land suitability and land capability mapping so useful to resource planners in developing countries. Satellite image interpretation permits the preparation of base maps, terrain evaluation, land use classification and land degradation. Coupled to intensive practical training in image interpretation, field verification and survey methods, the capabilities of regional authorities have been expanded in response to local needs.

Forest and associated vegetative phenomena are dynamic; correct appraisal of conditions at any time is essential for forecasting trends and patterns in land cover, processes and yield/biomass. The synoptic view and the repetitive cover afforded by satellite data allows multi-temporal observation of seasonal changes. To make best use of such information it is necessary to combine it with other data. Traditional cartographic techniques are cumbersome and error prone; the need for a marriage between remote sensing, earthbound survey, cartography and spatial and statistical analysis techniques is readily apparent and finds it's solution in geographic information systems.

GIS are now widely adopted as part of an innovative but cost-effective and sustainable approach to the multifarious problems facing the resource planner. The range and volume of data gathered in the course of project identification, feasibility studies, design, impact assessment, implementation, monitoring and evaluation has often been a hindrance to the formulation of coherent management strategies. With a GIS the forester, planner and manager have the facility to actually exploit the data to help achieve given objectives. These systems and methodologies represent an essential tool for the enhancement of traditional management techniques and structures and embody the professional, innovative and sustainable ethic essential for effective development.

GISL Limited work with the client to ensure that GIS solutions are adopted at the earliest possible stage where relevant and that the necessary steps are taken to ensure that the adoption of such an approach is effective and efficient - awareness seminars, cost-benefit analysis, management issues etc. This avoids unnecessary effort and facilitates both the design and the project management process. This applies equally to industrial plantations, silvicultural/agroforestry and forest park programmes: information is the key but data only becomes information when it is of value to the actual users. By enabling traditional data sets to be accessed, analysed and presented in a coherent manner the new tools are a powerful weapon for cost effective, efficient and sustainable forest management.

GISL Limited also provide a single focus point for the specification, procurement, design and installation of solution oriented systems. Other aspects addressed by GISL Limited include the identification of alternative data gathering options including airborne videography, satellite imagery and design of field data collection surveys as well as in-house data capture, processing and output production.