The Nature Conservancy has begun using a drone to aid its reforestation efforts in northeast Minnesota.
By Cody Nelson and Jiwon Choi
To understand the health of a forest, conservation workers typically hit the ground and survey the land acre by acre.
It can involve trudging through the woods with hiking boots or snowshoes, looking for gaps in the forest canopy that need restoring.
But this summer, the Nature Conservancy’s Minnesota branch found an easier way to survey the large swaths of forest that comprise some of the over 60,000 acres it manages in the state.
The conservancy began using a drone to aid its reforestation efforts in northeast Minnesota. It has helped in several ways from making highly detailed maps to providing flyover video in key areas.
“It’s almost like another staff member,” said Chris Dunham, the nonprofit’s forestry manager. “We’re a small, small forest team here and we can use every advantage we can get.”
While the forest may look quite thick from the bird’s-eye view, the vantage point can be misleading. The nonprofit has estimated hundreds of thousands of acres of North Shore forest is in need of some help.
One of the Nature Conservancy’s focuses in Minnesota is on restoring riparian gaps — or places along rivers and streams in the forest where trees have died or been cut down.
Restoring these gaps is good for preventing erosion into the river, sequestering more carbon in the forest and creating better wildlife habitat.
There’s still ground-truthing to do once the drone footage in hand, Dunham said, “but you can be way more efficient if you’ve already taken a cruise above the trees and know where you’re headed.”