By Myles Donncadha, Colm O'Kane, and Martin Stoecker
Coillte, Ireland's largest commercial forest management company, operates in forestry, land-based businesses, renewable energy, and panel products. The company employs approximately 1,100 people and was established in 1988. It owns more than 445,000 hectares of land, approximately 7 percent of the land cover of Ireland.
As the key holder to Irish forests and a commercial forestry and forest products company, Coillte has to make the final decision about the detailed operation of each of its forest sites. The management of the forest estate is done according to responsible forest management principles to balance the social, economic, and environmental aspects of Coillte's business. Local participation is one main pillar in the planning process. This input enhances forest managers' understanding of how decisions impact all forest users and neighbors, improves decision making, and helps create a positive working environment for staff and contractors.
Recently, Coillte struck out in a new direction by opening its forest management plans to public consultation using web-based technology. Since 2008, it has been possible for the public to comment on the forest management plan and influence forestry planning operations via the Internet.
The solution the company selected to support public participation was called the Forest Management Plan (FMP), which uses sdi.suite from Esri Partner con terra GmbH and ArcGIS Server web technologies to provide digital area information about the planned forestry operations.
Together with representatives of the responsible ministry, certification organizations, and environmental organizations, Coillte developed this public participation process. Each forest district informs its stakeholders directly and through national newspapers about the opportunity to examine and discuss the forest plans.
Besides the development of the solution, the hosting of Coillte's forest management plans was also outsourced to con terra GmbH. The necessary ArcGIS Server and con terra web technologies are provided via the web hosting environment. For necessary updates or changes, the responsible GIS specialists from Coillte provide the actualized geodata; the hosting team from con terra GmbH actualizes the data and implements the necessary changes.
Coillte staff uses the web to efficiently organize the FMP review process. During the different phases of the process, all necessary information is provided online. Important components during this process are mentioned on the web GIS, which shows users FMP information on the map. Staff must log in with a password. A map window provides standard functionality for spatial search, zooming, and panning to help users understand points, lines, and polygons. Users can also add comments to selected objects and send them via e-mail during the FMP review process to the department responsible for the creation of the FMP. Users' e-mail addresses and further contact information are integrated automatically so that requests are possible.
This process enables site visitors to submit suggestions and concerns regarding the plans. Coillte considers suggestions as part of the planning process and, if possible, incorporates them into the final forest management plans. The stakeholder is informed of the outcome. This web solution is now intensively used by the Irish population. In the week after the official launch, more than 200 users registered.
Coillte and con terra GmbH developed and released the first version of the Forest Management Plan in 2008 in just one and one-half months. For Coillte, the solution is an efficient way to provide access to its sustainable management plans, giving people the opportunity to comment and ensuring a transparent forest management planning process.
Myles "Mac" Donncadha is a forester and manager who has worked for Coillte since 1998 in research, GIS, IT, district management, and resource planning. Colm O'Kane is a GIS analyst who has worked with Coillte since 2008. Martin Stoecker is a GIS professional and forester who has worked for con terra GmbH since 2004 as project manager responsible for the forest and timber market.
For more information, contact Myles Donncadha, resource optimization manager, Coillte (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).