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Protecting Canada's Forests

Forestry in Saskatchewan? Polytechnic Working on Sustainability-Focused Innovation

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Sponsored by:

Kurtis McAdam

Social Assistance Employment Training Manager, Big River First Nation

Robin Smith

Director, SLICE, Sask Polytech

Leila Benmerrouche

Senior Research Associate, SLICE, Sask Polytech

Saskatchewan Polytechnic is trailblazing the forestry industry with advanced research techniques and dynamic projects with community partners.

For many, Saskatchewan brings to mind never-ending fields of wheat and canola. In contrast, it’s actually home to a significant foresting industry. Though not often associated together, over half of the province is covered in forest, about 34 million hectares—most of it being located in the northern part of the province. This industry is a key economic driver that’s well-positioned to continue to flourish.


Saskatchewan Polytechnic is one of the many organizations working to strengthen the province’s forestry sector. The institution’s Sustainability-Led Integrated Centres of Excellence (SLICE) is dedicated to solving complex sustainability challenges through collaboration. With forestry as one of their areas of expertise, SLICE offers students the opportunity to work alongside researchers and industry professionals in applied forestry research.

Thinking “circular” 

Saskatchewan Polytechnic researchers have high-level expertise in specialized, state-of-the-art technology. They use Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR)-equipped remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) along with augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) for multiple applied research projects with the forestry industry. Their techniques have enhanced forestry management practices and created climate-friendly initiatives. 

“We take a ‘circular economy’ approach that impacts the industry in real time,” says Dr. Robin Smith, SLICE Director. The idea focuses on materials and resources being re-used, recycled, and repurposed to minimize waste and improve efficiency. “It’s inspired by the natural world, which functions in cycles, too. Our sustainable practices should be similar.” 

 “We also work directly with businesses and community partners to integrate innovative environmental practices and exchange knowledge,” says Leila Benmerrouche, Senior Research Associate. “It’s thinking like this that led SLICE to develop the Indigenous heritage resources project with our partners at Big River First Nation.”

Combining tradition and technology 

Saskatchewan Polytechnic researchers and Big River First Nation are coming together to improve forestry management planning processes. The project utilizes technologies such as LiDAR sensors in tandem with First Nation oral history and land knowledge. SLICE is using drone technology to scan (through the tree canopies) the forested areas identified by Elders as culturally significant. Over this three-year project, the team anticipates locating historical heritage sites, artifacts, traditional footpaths and much more.

In the north of the province, 30 per cent of forestry workers are First Nation or Métis people. “We’re giving Saskatchewan Polytechnic inherent family knowledge about the land, passed down generation to generation. And it’s been pretty accurate so far,” says Kurtis McAdam, Social Assistance Employment Training Manager at Big River First Nation. They’ll oversee the project’s discoveries along with the Saskatchewan Archaeological Society to ensure they’re properly protected. “We’re building best practices that can be used to identify Indigenous cultural heritage sites in the boreal forest for better planning and protection,” Dr. Smith explains. 

Leading the way

The project will help forestry management make informed decisions that are economically sound while also respectful of cultural heritage sites. “Consultation is the key to industries working harmoniously with their surrounding communities,” says McAdam. “By working together, we can protect our heritage and plan for a sustainable future.” 

Learn more about SLICE at

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