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thumb_sachsenforstThe Free State of Saxony in Germany has been developing a forest management system that has evolved into the Saxon Forest Geographical Information System (FGIS). The system not only supports forestry but it integrates tightly into the wider Saxony Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI). Both government agencies and citizens can access the system, sharing information and collaborating together. As a state-of-the-art forest and SDI development, this system is now looking to expand its GIS capabilities in other innovative ways.

Sachsenforst – Motor of multifunctional forestry in Saxony
The Public Enterprise Sachsenforst operates as State Forest Administration and state-run forest and service enterprise in the Free State Saxony. The State  borders on Poland and the Czech Republic in the east of Germany and forests cover about 28 percent of the land area. It is responsible for the commercial enterprises relating to the sustainable production and supply of timber and the support of private forest owners in managing their own forests.

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Sachsenforst also provides support in silvicultural strategy, timber harvesting and marketing, and in the application of tree harvesting machines in the forest. In fulfilling its function as forest authority, Sachsenforst supervises forest owners and visiters regarding the compliance with forest and game regulations and laws.

In forestry as in other land management practices the main issue is the careful and sustainable management of natural and renewable resources. Along with financial interests forest management has to consider ecological aspects and public interests. Frequently the respect for the manifold nature protection and recreation functions of forests, e.g. for rare seminatural habitats or recreational forest close to urban areas, sometimes requires the waiving of yields and profits.

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Geoinformation – Basis of decision making in Forestry

Most of the responsibilities and workflows in forest management and forest administration directly or indirectly rely on geoinformation. Both in analog and digital form, they play a decisive role. In the management sector as well as in the administrative sector always the following questions have to be answered:

  • Where a certain forest area is located (municipality, local subdistrict, coordinates)?

  • What attributes does a forest area have (stocking, total standing, age, site, soil and climate)?

  • What topological relations exist between forest areas and other area categories (e.g. nature reserves, forest biotopes, forest functions)?

  • Who does the forest area belong to (forest ownership, parcel)?

  • By which routes the forest area is accessible (forest road network, clearing roads, logistics)

In order to answer these questions not only pure forest management data are needed.  Spatial data is also provided by tand survey (e.g. topographical maps, cadastral data, aerial photographs) and thematic data from other state and federal agencies play an important role, particularly from the field of environment, agriculture and nature conservancy.

In return Sachsenforst provides the municipalties, district administrations as well as other state agencies with forest data. In order to optimize these processes of data exchange, the Spatial Data Infrastructure of the Free State Saxony (SDI Saxony) is expanded – not only in the context of the European INSPIRE activities.

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The Saxon Forest Geographical Information System (FGIS) – Forest geodata management in the Public Enterprise Sachsenforst
The forest data collected by Sachsenforst is predominantly data of forest area objects with its specific properties, like tree species, age, total standing, increment etc. This data is collected on the basis of forest management planning, a kind of business inventory, and then digitized and maintained through several IT and GIS proceedings. Further forest and mapping procedures, such as site investigation, forest biotope mapping and forest damage inventory, feed the wider pool of forest information. Geographic and non geographic data are managed in separate databases and are only combined for publication and investigation.

The entirety of forest geodata and software components of the Public Enterprise Sachsenforst, which are required for data collection and maintenance, form the Forest Geographical Information System (FGIS). Since 1994 the Unix-based ArcINFO workstation by ESRI is applied as the GIS basic software. The coverage data format and the file-based ArcStorm database has proved its worth and are used for data digitization and map production to this day. But these days are numbered, because the transition to modern ArcGIS-Technology and ArcSDE database are currently in progress.

{sidebar id=153 align=right} FGIS data and data of external suppliers are processed and refined by GIS specialists and cartographers according to forest requirements in various shapes to supporting foresters and administration agencies in doing their work. The traditional media to convey geoinformation are paper maps. Once they were printed in high circulation and distributed.

This was followed by the introduction of locally installed GIS desktop applications, such as ArcView and ArcExplorer by ESRI. Now foresters are able to perform individual data exploration and analysis as well as making individual work maps.

But the installation and maintenance of local applications on a multitude of computers as well as transportation and updating of data via DVD or network connections make high demands on logistics and human resources. Hence Sachsenforst focuses on web based solutions and the use of web services for several years. So a Web GIS application and a web based metadata information system (MIS) were developed and introduced.

FGIS_online – The map and inquiry platform for foresters
In 2005 the developement of FGIS-online, a Service-oriented Web GIS solution, was started. Step by step all forest relevant spatial data has been optimized for the publication via web technologies. On the basis of mapserver software the data was published via map services and embedded in FGIS_online. In this manner forest geodata and geoinformation are accessible for all employees. The advantages of the web application are:

  • The program can be run on every computer within the intranet without previous installation (only a web browser is needed)

  • Software and data can be maintained and updated on central servers

  • Data is always up-to-date, because it is embedded via web services directly from the data provider

  • Presentation of state-wide datasets is no problem (Free State Saxony)

  • The use and maintenance of secondary stored resp. foreign data can be reduced (data derives directly from the servers of other state agencies – e.g. as aerial photographs web service by the state surveying agency)

Restrictions for the use of FGIS-online, and web solution in general, arise on some forest field offices, which are situated afar from cities. Due to the non-existence of high-speed data cables in these areas, those offices are connected to the company intranet through 128 kbps-connections. The poor work performance, resulting from that, is the reason why desktop applications here are still dominant.

The functional range of FGIS-online was designed according to the special requirements of foresters. Therefore prospective users were involved in the development of the conceptual design of this software. FGIS-online offers the following options:

  • Visualization and Inquiry of forest relevant Geodata on the monitor screen

  • Integration and use of map services of other data providers of the GDI Saxony

  • Designing and printing maps for administrative tasks and the outdoor work

  • Search for objects (e.g. forest area objects and parcels) via gazetteers and navigation to these objects in the map

  • Inquiry and research in the meta data catalogs of the free state Saxony (GeoMIS.Sachsen) and the Public Enterprise Sachsenforst (GeoMIS.Forst) with the option to embed services in FGIS-online

  • Drawing and Editing of individual user objects in the map and storage in the database (user themes)

  • Drawing and Editing of forest business objects in the map and storage in the database (state-wide business themes, e.g. forest damage objects)

  • Storage of individual map views in the database on the basis of OGC Standard Web Map Context Files (WMC)

  • Integration of business databases and Generation of business reports

FGIS-online has modular and service-oriented system architecture and consists of a multitude of components. Along with ESRI basic software (ArcIMS and ArcSDE) components of the sdi.suite framework by con terra (a GIS solution company from Münster, Germany) are used. The latter consequently focus on OGC-conform Interfaces and provide extended functionality for the integration of geodata and metadata services from Spatial Data Infrastructures.

Furthermore FGIS_online uses Open Source components, such as Geoserver, that provides functionalities for the integration of gazetteers and geometry editing on the basis of OGC-WFS services.

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The forestal Metadata Informationsystem GeoMIS.Forst
In order to retain control over a variety of geodata with varying thematic and topicality and to provide easy access to available data to all users, Sachsenforst is about to develop the forest metadata information system GeoMIS.Forst. It is designed as a web-application and bases on the product terraCatalog by the company con terra. GeoMIS.Forst manages metadata using ISO standards. As Database management system Postgres is used. Now, after the system environment has been completely installed and configured, step by step metadata for all vector and raster data have to be collected and published by the editors responsible.

GeoMIS.Forst provides users with the following functionalities:

  • Collection of Metadata on the basis of ISO-Standards 19119 and 19115

  • Publication of internal (only for Sachsenforst in the intranet) and public metadata (for the GDI Saxony in the internet) via OGC CSW-interface (Catalog Service Web)

  • Integration of found data at a click of a button in ArcGIS

  • Integration of found data at a click of a button in FGIS_online

Because the web clients of FGIS-online and GeoMIS.Forst derive from the same product line, both solutions feature high interoperability. On the one hand you can search for services in the GeoMIS.Forst catalog through FGIS-online and visualize them in FGIS-online mapClient. On the other hand you can inquire GeoMIS.Forst directly and start FGIS-online at the click of the button with a certain service visualized.

Exchange and Sharing of Geodata within the Saxon Geodata Infrastructure (GDI Saxony)
Among others working on the basis of the European INSPIRE-Directive, the Geodata Infrastructure of Germany and the Free State Saxony are making progress. The idea of a GDI is: The various originators of geodata, such as state agencies and municipalities, publish their geodata and metadata in the form of Services according to Open Geospatial Consortium standards (OGC standards). In Saxony those services are binded into the central internet portals Sachsenatlas (for geodata) and GeoMIS.Sachsen (for metadata) and can be shared by state agencies, citizens and commercial users. In addition the integration in individual GIS applications can be performed.

Within the Free State of Saxony the exchange and sharing of geoinformation via Web Map Services (OGC WMS standard) works fine. After initial “growing pains” and performance problems arising by the new technology, map services are now a stable alternative to the physical exchange of datasets. They feed numerous Web-GIS solutions of the Public Administration, such as FGIS-online of the Public Enterprise Sachsenforst.

{sidebar id=155 align=left} The central Saxon web client Sachsenatlas functions as platform for the publication of OGC map services of the various state administrations and is used by the public. All public Saxon map services can be accessed, arbitrarily combined and queried through Sachsenatlas.

Also Sachseforst currently publishes two map services on the internet, the WMS “Forests in Saxony” and “Bridle Paths in Saxony”. Further map services, covering forest functions, forest biotopes etc., will be published soon. The service “Forests in Saxony” e.g. contains information on the current forest cover of the Free State Saxony as well as on forest administrative divisions and forest classifications. The service “Bridle Paths in Saxony” contains data on the current Saxon bridle path network. Both services can be viewed though Sachenatlas or embedded in individual applications.

In order to stay up to date with the availability of existing geodata and services in the Free State of Saxony, the central metadata portal GeoMIS.Sachsen can be queried. It provides metadata on geodata of the Saxon administration according to the ISO Standards 19119 and 19115.

For instance searching for the keyword “forest” (in German: Wald) results in several found geodatasets, services and applications of Sachsenforst. These metadatasets include a brief description of a data resource regarding thematic, spatial reference system, contact information and e.g. an URL to access services.

The Sachsenatlas additionally provides the opportunity to find and bind services out of the GeoMIS.Sachsen catalog.

An additional Saxon GDI portal, which is currently being developed, is the Geoshop Portal. On the basis of the WPOS standard (WPOS stands for Web Pricing and Ordering Service) data and services of the Saxon administration will be offered and available here.

Sachsenforst as an Active Member of the GDI Saxony

Sachsenforst is both a service producing and a service consuming member of the GDI Saxony. Sachsenforst publishes numerous map services on topic forest in the intranet of the Free State Saxony (The Saxon intranet is called Info Highway and connects all state administration facilities of Saxony).

Currently two map services are available in the World Wide Web. These services can be used by other state agencies and municipalities by integrating them into their GIS applications. Furthermore Sachsenforst provides a CSW catalog service on the intranet. The public metadata portal GeoMIS.Sachsen can access this service (GeoMIS.Forst) via the CSW-Interface and harvest forest metadata that is declared as public. Those metadata then will be available on the internet by a “distributed search” functionality of GeoMIS.Sachsen.

In return Sachsenforst uses GeoMIS.Sachsen and embeds map services of the State Surveying Agency, the State Agency for Environment and Geology and other state administrations in FGIS_online.

{sidebar id=156 align=right} Between the Public Enterprise Sachsenforst and the Saxon GDI the following services and applications regarding workflows exist:

  • Consequent usage of services of the Saxon GDI in the forestal Web GIS FGIS_online

  • Publication of relevant metadata via a OGC-conform catalog service (CSW) on the Saxon Info Highway on the basis of GeoMIS.Forst

  • Publication of OGC-conform map Services (WMS) on the internet and of ArcIMS services on the intranet (ArcIMS Services provide extended functionality but are not a open standard. Hence, they are only used business-internally.

  • Query of GeoMIS.Sachsen for new Services within the GDI Saxony and its manual integration in FGIS_online

Within the GDI Saxony OGC Web Feature Services (WFS) currently doesn’t play an important role for the publication of geodata, yet. But within the next few years this situation will probably change and a considerable increase will occur. This is because WFS services provide an extended functionality (similar to ArcIMS services) on a basis of an open standard.

New Demands on a Future Geodata Infrastructure
In forestry as in other land management practices people traditionally not only work in the office. A bulk of work has to be done outdoors in the forest, where often no network connections are available. This is because in areas far away from cities the mobile phone network has substantial gaps. So web applications and the usage of web services from the GDI Saxony have limited work capability here.

That implicates that for the mobile field geodata still has to be obtained, copied and physically stored on a multitude of devices. WMS services are not accessible outdoors and offline. Thus mobile devices can not yet benefit from geodata infrastructures to the full extent. There are no OGC standards that support data caching and transactional editing functions to be used offline. So we’ll wait and see what the future development will provide in this field.

Within the next few years also Sachsenforst has to meet the challenge to put geoinformation as well as data querying and editing functions on mobile devices, such as PDAs or Tablet PCs. Foresters and administrative stuff have to be supplied with an efficient technology to support their business and administrative tasks (e.g. timber accountancy and timber logistics).

As a forester working in the field of geoinformatics you become aware of, how different the time categories of forests and geoinformatics are. A forest generation develops over about 100 years and is then displaced by a new generation. Compared with a geoinformation system, this process only takes tenth part of the time.

Andreas Hergert – Referent WebGIS-Entwicklung / FGIS-online, Staatsbetrieb Sachsenforst, Abteilung Finanzmanagement/ Forstliche Informationssysteme Referat fgis/ Kartographie/ Vermessung. More Information:

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