VICTORIA — A First Nation on Vancouver Island is the first in Canada to use digital twinning software to improve mapping and resource management across its territory, says the Victoria-based creator of the platform that looks almost like a video game.
TimberOps is the software that functions as the "digital twin" of more than 350,000 hectares of unceded Mowachaht-Muchalaht territory near the west coast of Vancouver Island, said Charles Lavigne, CEO of the LlamaZOO, the software's creator.
"With this digital twin, you can effectively fly down to the ground floor and see the individual trees and fly up into the sky and see the rivers and the roads and the communities," he said.
It's a three-dimensional illustration of the territory's topography, including hundreds of rivers and lakes, as well as mountains, roads, trails and buildings, and it integrates those features with both cultural knowledge and data from timber operations over the last century.
"It kind of looks and feels like a video game, but it's a very complex data analysis system and application," said Lavigne, whose expertise stems from the gaming industry.
There are about 76,000 timber cut blocks and nearly 87 million trees represented, he said, noting further layers of data could be added in the future, such as fish stocks and water-flow monitoring.
By bringing together different file formats and types of data that are not normally so accessible, TimberOps creates continuity for different stakeholders when the nation is negotiating with government officials or resource extraction companies, Lavigne said.
Dorothy Hunt, lands manager for the Mowachaht-Muchalaht First Nation, said TimberOps will help the nation identify "absolute no-go zones" where industrial activity is not welcome.
That could include the locations of old villages and archaeological sites, areas for fishing and gathering berries and cedar, as well as trees modified for cultural purposes, all of which were recorded in the nation's traditional land use assessment and integrated into the software, she said.
In other locations, there may be fewer alarm bells over resource development, she added, and the software also helps identify those areas.
TimberOps will also help the nation's leadership preserve certain areas and visual standards while fielding requests from logging companies, Hunt said.
"The nation is really striving to build an economy around tourism, and they kind of clash when you think you're going to be bringing your guests down an inlet and on both sides of the inlet the mountains have been logged."
She noted the software allows users to visualize what a mountain might look like if the trees on its slopes were logged or kept growing, showing the trees' height at different points in time.
It will also save the nation's own logging company time and money, said Hunt, as it offers detailed, real-time information about different parcels of land from a distance, in contrast to costly site visits.
Mowachaht-Muchalaht is the first nation in Canada to adopt digital twinning technology, said Lavigne, adding the company's goal is to ensure the software is as cost efficient as possible.
"We think this is applicable all across Canada and could potentially bridge other First Nations and other communities around the world with their stakeholders," he said.
Hunt echoed Lavigne's sentiments, saying the software has the power to change how First Nations make crucial decisions about their territories.
— By Brenna Owen in Vancouver.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published August 2, 2020.