Modern techniques of computer visualization, involving three-dimensional (3D) modeling, computer animation, and virtual reality (VR), are taking their place among decision-support tools for forestry. This article focuses on the emerging role of visualization techniques that simulate the appearance of forested landscapes in forest resource planning, design, and management. It is increasingly recognized that sustainable management of forests cannot be effective without the integration of biophysical, socioeconomic, and cultural factors into the decision-making process. Public pressure for good stewardship of multiple forest resources requires more comprehensive and inclusive processes for decision-making. It is important that forest managers communicate with many stakeholder groups, with varying needs and degrees of knowledge on forest sciences. The complexity of these multiple demands on forest planning and management requires sophisticated decision-support techniques; this favors the use of visual communication techniques that can potentially simplify and explain complex information and improve the process of decision-making.
[...] A limited amount of research on visualization methods in planning has been conducted since the 1970s, much of it grounded in the pioneering work of Donald Appleyard and colleagues at the University of California–Berkeley. The research comes from various disciplines, including urban and environmental planning, landscape architecture, computer science, graphic arts, information sciences, environmental psychology, social sciences, forestry, geography, and civil engineering. Implications for visualization in forestry have to be interpreted from the full range of applications. Some studies have evaluated the effectiveness of visualization media, but there have been few comprehensive experiments to assess the quality or validity of visualizations macross multiple media or forest modeling contexts, and even fewer longitudinal studies relating predictive visualizations to actual landscape changes. [...]
[...] We can expect a new class of exploratory visualization tools to emerge that are more user- friendly, interactive, dynamic, and allow the user to navigate through the available 3D data to see forest conditions across space and time. Visualizations may move from being an end-product of planning activities or stand modeling exercises, to acting as a gateway to the planning or modeling process, through which new model runs or ‘what-if' scenarios can be triggered directly and results browsed. The potential beneﬁts are that it promises to provide easier and wider public access to the issues of forest management than has ever before been possible. [...]
[...] Furthermore, the general health of the forest is often judged by the public (and even experts such as forest certiﬁcation panels) in part by what they see on the ground. The two forms of visualization described above, data visualization and landscape visualization, can be combined in various ways. Showing spatial relationships (e.g., by mapping geographic information systems (GIS) data on to a landscape visualization) in the context of a recognizable place to which people can relate, can communicate complex information on ecosystem processes and patterns of resource values. [...]
[...] Much of the visualization use in forestry has been associated with visual resource management (VRM) in Western nations, notably in North America. The US Forest Service and other agencies have applied various visual simulation techniques since the early 1970s when the National Environmental Protection Act ﬁrst mandated protection of aesthetic resources on public lands. These visualization techniques have been used mainly to support visual assessments and forest design, and are quite widely used for this purpose in several countries, such as the USA, Canada, New Zealand, Britain, and Finland. [...]
[...] Such methods offer a very limited window or slice of the information available: this places considerable reliance on the visualization preparer to select the appropriate view and conditions, in order to represent the universe of possibilities that exist over a long period of time, such as a forest rotation. The general trend in emerging visualization methods appears to be towards more powerful and sophisticated animated graphics and VR displays, more realistic synthetic landscape models, more intuitive graphical user interfaces (GUIs), and wider access to these systems through means such as the Internet. [...]
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