High Tech Forestry: How Drones Are Transforming the Industry

Did you know forestry can be a high-tech job? In the last few years, more and more foresters have been gaining their drone pilot licenses in order to survey tracts of land from overhead. Drones enable the collection of incredibly accurate data, save a lot of time and reduce the need to have workers undertake risky operations on the ground – and they’re fun to fly, too.

Throughout North America, vast tracts of forest are carefully and sustainably managed in order to meet demand for wood products while also providing recreational, ecological and climate-change-fighting benefits.

Managing millions of acres is a time-consuming task, and foresters frequently have to survey the land on foot to measure it, determine the location of geological features that can affect tree growth, count trees that are nearly ready to harvest, keep competing undergrowth under control and check for disease and infestations.

Drones can be equipped with both cameras and surface-mapping lasers, producing highly detailed 3D maps of forests, automatically counting trees, conducting post-harvest waste assessments, detecting fire risks and identifying species. 

The Maine Forest Service recently began using drones for urgent tasks like pinpointing the location of smoke as well as routine tasks like monitoring harvest operations. 

“Uses in Maine also are expanding. For example, the Certified Logging Professional program (CLP) purchased a drone with a grant from the Northeastern Loggers Association last January and CLP instructor Yves Levesque is now a certified UAS pilot. Several videos he’s shot are posted on CLP’s facebook page.

“Drones have great potential to increase our efficiency of monitoring forests, wetlands, and waters, and they can also be a really useful tool for highlighting Maine’s outstanding recreational resources.” said BPL Director Andy Cutko.

Research also is emerging that illustrates the value of UAS in New England’s forests. Benjamin T. Fraser and Russell G. Congalton, of the N.H. Department of Natural Resources and Environment, reported their research in the January 2019 issue of Forests.

“Our results demonstrated the ability to comprehensively map nearly 400 hectares of forest area, using a UAS, in only a few weeks time,” they wrote. “They also showed the significant benefit that could be gained from deploying UAS to capture forest landscape composition.”

Technology and forestry have actually always gone hand-in-hand. Centuries ago, impressive engineering solved the problem of transporting enormous logs over long distances and around tight curves. In recent years, high-tech tools like tree-counting apps, “Connected Forest” data systems, reference libraries of tree DNA and a variety of safety gadgets have made the process of planting, growing, maintaining and harvesting working forests easier, more efficient and a lot safer.

Check out some of our previous posts about technology in forestry and lumber manufacturing:

Top image via Södra