Drone Use in Forestry

October 31, 2018

Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), “drones”, are becoming effective and affordable forest management tools. At Stimson we are exploring the use of drones to increase efficiencies in reforestation, harvesting and timber appraisals.

Due to recent changes by the Federal Aviation Administration, it’s now less expensive to obtain drone operator certification. Stimson currently has five foresters with a Part 107 UAS certificate to operate drones and will likely add more in the near future. In addition, the cost of drones continues to decline even with advances in drone technology.

We are currently using two drones for our Western and Inland operations to capture real time video and autonomous aerial photos.

So, how does this all work? The drone software flies the drone at a given elevation and captures overlapping images autonomously. Image processing software stitches all these images into a single photo. Then this photo is imported into our mapping software for analysis. Stimson is using drones to:

  • Count trees
  • Map harvest units
  • Complete inspections in all phases of harvest operations
  • Measure rock stockpile volumes
  • Assess different types of stand damage (e.g. bear, insects, fire, root rot, etc.)
  • View a 3-D image of the area

As sensors (multi-spectral, hyper-spectral, thermal, infrared) become more affordable, we will also be able to identify different species of trees, look for rock sources, identify sick or stressed trees and locate hotspots from fires. Currently, experimental drones can fly seedlings out to the planting crews and potentially spray maple clumps. The future of drones in forestry is looking promising.