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.”
Forestry officials from across the southern United States have unveiled a new web application designed to help communities, investors and wood buyers determine the supply of available forest resources in a given area and make more informed decisions on where to locate wood-based businesses in the South.
“This tool could be a game changer in attracting and growing more forest-based businesses to the South,” said Southern Group of State Foresters Chairman Scott Bissette, assistant commissioner, North Carolina Forest Service.
Developed by the Southern Group of State Foresters and the USDA Forest Service, the Southern Timber Supply Analysis web application is accessible at southerntimbersupply.com. It uses maps that allow users to estimate the amount of timberland, standing timber, and growth and removals within a user-specified distance or trucking time of any site in the southern United States, the Southern Group of State Foresters said in a news release.
The Southern Timber Supply Analysis web application is the first of its kind in the nation, granting public access to timber supply data in a user-friendly format to anyone with access to the internet, according to the release.
By Dylan Love
Called Forester, this robot uses a technique called “sounding” to help arborists identify sick trees and diagnose them.
After hearing a radio program describe the labor-intensive work of forest pathologists — basically, tree doctors — Maksim Mikhailov had an idea: what if a robot helped collect their data?
Mikhailov is a 16-year-old student at ITMO University, the renowned science and technology institution in St. Petersburg, Russia. As a member of the school’s Youth Robotics Lab, he was perfectly positioned to bring his idea to life. With a full team working on the the project, the robot won the gold medal at last year’s World Robot Olympiad; it can record tree locations within a forest, identify their species, measure the widths of their trunks, and even identify if a tree is healthy or not.
Its name is Forester, and most of its job is to explore forests and hit trees with its mallet. It’s a robotic adaptation of a technique that human tree experts often use, called “sounding,” to help their appraisal of a tree’s health.
“The robot hits a tree and its microphone records the sound,” Mikhailov explained. “Since sick trees have cavities or low wood density in their trunk, they make a sound with a lower overall frequency than that of a healthy tree.” The robot makes use of an algorithm that analyzes the recorded sound to determine if it came from a healthy tree.
Forester also takes a photograph of the tree and feeds the image to a neural network, identifying 12 different species of trees with accuracy better than 90 percent.
Peter Krzystek, Professor for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing at Munich University of Applied Sciences tells about new investigations into the 3D mapping of forests.
Modern remote sensing sensors offer completely new possibilities for an extensive and detailed 3D capture of tree populations, making it possible to map at very large-scale. In particular, LiDAR is today an established technique for fast and highly accurate 3D scanning from the aircraft, helicopter or drone where pulses of visible or near-infrared laser light at a particular wavelength are used to create 3D images. These 3D images are typically made up of a high density of data points, known as ‘point clouds’. The new full waveform technology, which reconstructs the complete path of the laser beam through the vegetation, makes it possible to map the forest structures in 3D more precisely. Moreover, digital aerial cameras enable a detailed reconstruction of the forest surface and provide – if fused with LiDAR data – extra spectral information in the infrared range for a characterisation of the tree species. All in all, these new technologies are ideally suited for the automatic and cost-effective collection and characterisation of forest stands.