Thoughts on DxP and Some Cool New Technical Innovations for Tree Marking: Guest Post by Eli Jensen

Note from Sharon.. Based on the earlier discussion Jon started here of DxP,  I asked Eli Jensen of Ironwood Forestry to add his two cents and also talk about some of his cool technologies. I wanted the technologies highlighted, so am putting this up as a guest post.

On DxP

Great discussion so far. I own one of the contract marking crews in N-AZ. Inexperienced crew technicians marking trees definitely is a problem, on both contract crews and district crews. It boggles my mind that TSP technicians are not given even one day of operations training. We go out with the loggers any chance we get.. And yes, tracer paint is very expensive, and is perishable, meaning the sale is only really good for 5-7 years. That makes it problematic to prep the massive acres needed for industry. If something goes awry (again), the cost to remark is the same as the initial remark.

That being said, I am an open critic of DxP. I won’t say that it’s never appropriate, but it is not the magic bullet for forest restoration. There are some key shortcomings.

1) As alluded to above, it shifts the cost from sale prep to sale admin. I don’t know the numbers on the district side, but for the rates I charge for daily harvest inspection and the frequency the USFS wants me out there, I think it would math out the same to just mark it.

2) Uncertainty. This is the biggest shortcoming in my opinion. You don’t know the outcome. Sometimes it’s great, sometimes its not. If its not, there’s nothing you can do. To me, the cost savings to not mark a sale pales in comparison to botching a sale. It feels too much like gambling, except we’re gambling with something that belongs to the public, not us.

3) Accountability. The USFS can claim all day long that the contracts have teeth. The truth as I know it, aside from basal area and eyeballing the spacing, the USFS has almost no way to tell the logger they messed up. The logger can take all the nice trees and leave all the crap, and there won’t be any way of knowing. The evidence is gone. The USFS barely knows whats out there when it’s marked. They don’t map the mark in any way. No drones. No mobile LiDAR. Low frequency point sampling to inspect the contractor and low frequency cruise plots and that’s it.

4) Tree quality. And how do you determine what’s “crap”? When I’m marking, I spend A LOT of time looking at tree tops. I train my crew to incorporate win/win scenarios in their decision making. If there’s a crooked tree with a vigorous top and a straight tree with a trash top, we leave the healthy top and give the logger the straight log. I’ve talked to a lot of loggers and they all do their best. There’s not a single one that I think poorly of. However, the idea that they’re going to have the same awareness as someone on foot, while also paying attention to cutting, and trying to be productive while burning fuel, and with an obstructed view? That would take some convincing.

5) Conflict of interest. I get a lot of flack for this, but the USFS needs to face this one head on. Anytime you mention this in a meeting, they change the subject or brush it off. Having a financial interest in which trees are being cut, and being able to decide which trees are cut IS A FINANCIAL CONFLICT OF INTEREST. I am NOT saying the logger will high grade it. I am NOT saying the logger will try and pull a fast one. I am NOT saying the outcome will be poor. That’s not what that means. And it doesn’t matter if the trees are high value or low value. It simple means a conflict of interest exists, and its a BIG liability to ignore that. My main concern is one day some environmental group will cause up some ruckus about something or another, as they do, on a DxP sale. Look at the Jacob Ryan sale on the North Kaibab. A pretty decent sized controversy on the regional scale. CBD was upset too many big trees were being cut. Luckily it was a marked sale so the USFS ultimately was responsible. If it had been DxP, the logger could easily have been blamed, and who knows how widespread that smear campaign could be. If I were a logger, I wouldn’t want the liability.

For these reasons and others, DxP has fallen out of favor with some districts in N-AZ. We’re actually submitting a bid on Monday to mark DxP stands in a sale we remarked last year, before they re-offer.



Leave Tree Mark using Ironwood’s System (left) and from a competitor using a Panama system (right)

New Technologies for Better Quality Marking at Lower Cost

This sets me up for what I really came here to share with you all. I have been working very hard for a very long time to present alternative options to the USFS and stakeholders. In the last 3 seasons, we have saved the USFS almost a HALF A MILLION DOLLARS on paint. I developed and built my own paint sprayer that saves 75% on paint, and it looks way nicer too. That’s about $30+ an acre. I have presented this to every level of the forest service, from district to the national modernization board. I have not found anyone that cares about saving money on paint, even though it would be just about enough to fund all of the road packages that everyone was so concerned about.

Furthermore, I’ve been introducing increasingly advanced digital tools. In 2020, we started GPSing every tree we marked, with DBH, at no extra cost. That means we can map the planned post harvest stand and know the basal area to the foot. Then I linked it with aerial LiDAR, so you can see a canopy cover map of the planned future stand. Last year, I upgraded that to mobile LiDAR, giving you a high resolution 3D map of the post harvest stand, with census level data (dbh, height, crown height, width, volume) on ALL leave and cut trees. We can turn +-40% cruise data to nearly 100% accurate. We plan to throw a camera module on the scanner to colorize the point cloud for increased realism. It will look like a 3D photograph because it literally IS a 3D photograph.

The neat thing is, the paint savings is less than the cost of the additional remote sensing. It sounds too good to be true, but its not, its just been a lot of hard work and risk taking.

We finally have a project planned for this summer to deliver all of this on a 3500 acre pilot sale. In addition to the above mentioned, we’re testing out a new marking designation, which we are calling Hybrid Flex (HF). It basically a combination of CTM and DxP+ (tablet marking). We expect additional paint savings, now approaching ~93% (97% if we can use commercial paint), significantly increased technician productivity (shooting for 100 acres/day per person), and it comes with all the digital mapping.

We cannot meet the needs of 4FRI with the old methods, but we can with the new. I’m starting to sound like Billy Mays, but there’s more! We’re working towards abandoning paint all together. Augmented reality individual tree marking. No paint. Doesn’t fade. Census level data. 3D photographs of current and FUTURE stands. We could have introduced this over a year ago if we had the buy-in. We’ve got two partners that can do it – one that will do it for free if the USFS will buy the end result, and another that will develop it for a fee and the USFS owns it. Either way, the development would pay for itself in less than a year from the paint savings, just from AZ timber sales.

If you’ve gotten this far, I appreciate your patience in reading all of that. We’re a small company and we’re looking to serve the needs of the USFS and forest restoration in the southwest, but its been phenomenally difficult despite the technical successes we’ve had.

Here is a link to a video we produced after our Dec 2021 demo.

9 thoughts on “Thoughts on DxP and Some Cool New Technical Innovations for Tree Marking: Guest Post by Eli Jensen”

  1. As I was writing this, apparently is was being turned into a post. Good thing I could copy and past what I wrote before. I wrote this in reply to the original comment on the DxP post, not this post in its entirety.
    – – – –
    While I still think there is a good time and place and use for DxP, I commend you for pushing things forward is a positive, advanced way. I hope this can catch on. If it doesn’t in N AZ, the west coast very well could take advantage of this.
    One question – what is the accuracy on GPS points for individual trees? Feet or meters? It may be one thing in the SW, but in parts of the west coast, or where tree densities and/or canopy are so high, GPS data without sub-meter accuracy could lead to more issues than progress. Either way, in AZ, this should be a good game changer.

  2. The method we developed in 2020 was +-10m. This was good enough for rough mapping and tracking BA. For the crew, the main benefit was tracking where they’ve been and updating their map i.e. less time standing around looking around trying to orient themselves.

    The current planned methodology is 1-3 centimeters, and is tied to the mobile LiDAR dataset. Since it’s tied to the mobile LiDAR, we don’t need to take additional GPS points for each tree, just interact with the map, so canopy cover shouldn’t be an issue even in other regions. As long as there’s somewhere open to take control points for the LiDAR, we can get centimeter level accuracy.

  3. Information contained here would reveal that it wouldnt take long for the loggers to decide to never bid on marked tree bids and only bid on dxp and logger gets to decide discretion cutting which in time the USFS is coerced into favoring all sales are dxp one bids on marked tracts..they end needing remarking…how much $ does Randy get paid to run this very unintelligently operated organization called USFS…pretty disgusting – whats really occuring .
    Prescribed burns get out of control destroying the forest and now its becoming clear that mechanical thinning is rife with the same low quality intelligence at USFS..

  4. Color me skeptical, to say the least; looking at the 2022 FS accomplishment report for 4-FRI, I see 6300 acres accomplished! 6300 acres? This new technology looks “whiz bang” and all, but this is the same project that was going to pipe jet fuel out of the forests to awaiting tanker trucks! I am not kidding!

    I imagine few know more about the Southwest in general, and 4-FRI in particular. Of course, I speak from an implementation eye, having finished out White Mountain Stewardship in 2014. One of our old timber staff officers commented that he had poured more cement building his porch than the contractors had in their mill development. Things change, we learn and work continues.

    Maybe this new stuff will work but the real success will be when that accomplishment report reaches 50,000 acres/year! The first 4-FRI service contract was awarded in 2012, and now we are up to 6300 acres of mechanical/year……. will only take 400 years for the first mechanical entry in the pine belt.

    I have absolutely zero concern over the loggers taking advantage of picking a better tree, or bilking the system. In some areas of the country, where industry continues to exist, timber is still valuable. Southwest PP has to be subsidized to ever get the crap removed.

    In all seriousness, it will take new technology to pave the way for increasing the pace and scale of mechanical treatments, especially in the Southwest. I have nothing but high hopes for this new stuff to take hold – IF it works. Meantime, I’ll pull my tanker truck up and wait…..

  5. Valid concerns Jim Z. There are some key differences though. First, I am not USFS, and this project doesn’t have anything to do with jet fuel, not in content or spirit. Feel good PR stories don’t do me any good. I’m trying to earn a living. I naively started all this thinking if I was better, faster, cheaper, that I’d get more work. I didn’t, so I got even better, even faster, even cheaper. Repeat the cycle for 4 years and here we are. I am a private contractor who’s funded all of this development out of my own (limited) pocket. I’ve done it quickly, and I’ve done it cost effectively.

    No tricks here, just that I’m really good at my job. Iam in it to win it. There simply isn’t a framework for me to win…yet. Most of this isn’t theoretical. The half million $ in paint savings is already in the books. I didn’t get so much as an ‘adaboy. I have over a hundred thousand GPS waypoints on my computer from the trees we’ve marked the last few years, just sitting there.

    I entirely plan on delivering my new ideas this summer. The problem is will anyone care? The technical and economical challenges I am facing are trivial compared to general complacency.

    • West coast private forestry might give you an ‘adaboy and take advantage of all this, but then again I know winters in AZ area awfully nice, even up high.
      I think it is worth pointing out, for kicks, that 100k+ GPS points of individual trees, or small plots, with enough accompanying data, might be some research scientists holy grail of field data dream$

      • I’d thinks so too. Geo located census level data… do that over time and you can do some really phenomenal growth studies based on individual tree conditions. If I was an academic, it’d be a treasure trove. Our full size pilot project is estimated to be 150,000 trees. That’s a lot of data.

  6. USFS in my bid/sale tracts painted at the base of the tree..just one mark not two= half the paint and of course it was easy to see paint on the stump of trees that were not to be felled…im thinking is Randy wants to hire me as his consultant assistant things can get corrected. Of course heads would roll and people would grumble that work orders has returned to forest health and productivity rather than social interactions across the office. Some of us actually enjoy the accomplishments of good old fashion manual labor in the field and then theres plenty who hate hard work, i witnessed that group expend more energy trying to get out of the grind and the latter is whats’ detrimental to a healthy’s who preach prescribed burns the best example and why i commented on the Smoky Wire from the beginning..What happened out in New Mexico this time last year Hermit Peak/ Calf Canyon disaster , would not have occurred had the USFS management in the district been at all involved in the Forest , but they weren’t..people in charge should have been fired or demoted..hundreds of homes and families were certainly ” fired”..Which is how mistakes are addressed and corrected..the stated cause of the disaster, a Calf Canyon smoldering slash pile burn that was lingering for a month past its burning equates to whoever made the pile and ignited/burned it departed the area before all fuels were consumed..not to leave out an apparent lack of cleared area around it…those involved obviously had zero fear of what an unmonitored pile burn can result..who hired those workers and who didnt fire or demote those guilty of negligence are those above and why such events occur..are continuing and ect , ect, ect!! The destruction occurred , and i knew the cause..people in control who were not even outdoors living breathing the forest conditions last spring sum up in my humble opinion about USFS staff- not all but certainly many- their motto must be- ” I am a USFOREST SERVICE Employee and i do my best to avoid being directly involved with the Natural Landscapes of forest terrains” . USFS Staff are quite content with their office and desk , the upholstery of the desk chair and truck seat they know quite well.” They absolutely knew little about the forest in extreme drought, entire landscapes of forest about to succumb and wherein there is zero science in lighting up the ground , heating the ground , evaporating any moisture left in the ground to 10′ height level-something described roughly as root moisture uptake…just inexcusable nonsense and phd’s in other offices got right back on the bandwagon preaching prescribed burning -no doubt their careers and written books in the balance…its all to obvious with USFS policy to allow discretion loggin by the logger is from the same..your USFS employee’ are revealing in all categories that DxP , Prescription Burns , and no doubt in every category, ” laissez faire ” , and cashing paychecks is numero uno.
    My mentor advised me long ago ( he a engineer , section chief , working for a rocket motor corporation who built the Saturn V moon rockets of Apollo missions, a stated IQ of 150) , he explained, in simple and blunt terms, ” when u find a product with a defect seen from the exterior where it can be visually identified , you are very likely to find other hidden defects contained in places not visible from the outside. No doubt seeing the blundering USFS the sources of our National Forest decline are attributable to those in control..there is little to smile about. When you observe someone at the top smiling at you , the public , telling you everything is gonna be allright , just ask yourself why he or she is smiling and you’re not! It is the money honey, take the money and run with is my conclusion that since the Kennedy brothers were murdered the government became dishonest in its approach towards the public and therefore all its employees had to learn to tow the same line if it wanted to cash those handsome paychecks..that is our pandemic!

  7. Thanks for addressing (and supporting) these concerns I raised in my post:
    2) “You don’t know the outcome.” This has implications for the NEPA process and possibly forest plan compliance if that outcome is relevant to those requirements.
    3) Monitoring for accountability. “… the USFS has almost no way to tell the logger they messed up.”
    5) Conflict of interest. In a federal forest management world where trust isn’t the highest, “its a BIG liability to ignore that.”


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