Electronic inventory system recognized

LANSING — Michigan’s foresters are saving time, effort and paper when they conduct inventories of state forest resources.

The web-enabled Michigan Forest Inventory system — called “MiFI” for short — replaces previous, cumbersome data-recording systems with computer tablets when foresters are working in the woods. The innovative system earlier this month won a top award from the National Association of State Chief Information Officers, according to a news release from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Staffers use computers to inventory forests.

“We have 80-plus field staff out on the ground with a Panasonic Toughpad instead of using paper data sheets,” Brian Maki, natural resources manager in the Geographic Information Systems unit of the DNR’s Forest Resources Division, said in the release. He accepted the award Oct. 2 at the association’s annual conference in Texas.

The system was developed with assistance from the Department of Technology, Management and Budget. It wasn’t Michigan’s only award-winner in the NASCIO competition. The state’s work in training a corps of volunteer civilians to assist in cyber emergencies also won a top honor. Projects to improve Michigan State Police analytics and to establish a single login identity for users of multiple online resources also were recognized as finalists out of more than 100 entries from 31 states and the District of Columbia.

DNR staff inventory 10 percent of the 4 million acres of state forest each year, which allows for a comprehensive review every 10 years. The system of recording inventory data on paper could take up to 40 percent of a forester’s time. An electronic collection system introduced in 2012 was more effective, but difficult to use.

“What we needed was a more intuitive tool,” said Jason Stephens, DNR state forest inventory specialist. “We were kicking off the development of the more-efficient system at the same time.”

Data that used to be stored across two databases now is in one, and information is recorded only once instead of recorded in the field, then added to the database.

“Before we struggled to meet year-end deadlines in many areas, and needed more support staff,” Stephens said. “We’ve been able to lower the support needs and training levels while allowing the staff that were focused on those areas to diversify and take on other projects that have increased our abilities to be good stewards of the state forest.”

As part of forest inventory, foresters collect data in sample plots, including the number and diameters of different tree species present in the forest canopy and the types of trees present in the sub-canopy.

Learn more about how Michigan manages its public forests at michigan.gov/ forestry.