The industry leaders have known it for quite some time: drones and drone data can greatly improve forest management processes on multiple levels. Now, two drone experts with extensive forest monitoring experience outline some of the biggest advantages of this technology for you.
Information about the total tree count in forests surely is one of the most important data sets for forest management companies. Knowing the precise number of trees at different points in time helps ensure stable growth and maximize profits. Especially during the first few years after planting, it is vital to ensure general forest health and to know when to intervene with spraying or interplanting.
With drone data becoming one of the most powerful helpers in agriculture, it may come as no surprise that forest management companies are now also discovering the vast benefits of this technology for their own field.
Drone experts Konrad Kern from Falcon Aerial Data and Curt Rogers from TimberDrone have both extensive experience as drone operators and been working with forest management companies on improving the way they determine tree stocking levels for several years. Now, they have shared their top 3 reasons why successful forest management companies seek the help of drone operators to count and analyze trees.
1. By using drone data, forest management companies no longer have to install fixed area plots.
The number of total trees or the number of trees per acre is usually obtained by installing fixed area plots. Even though the number obtained from this go into computerized inventory systems, it remains tedious and does not show the actual tree distribution. Curt Rogers from TimberDrone explains how they solve this for their clients: “We fly the unit with a drone and send the imagery to Agremo to count the trees and deliver a shapefile (SHP) of the stem locations. We then use ground transects in the field to record a selection of 50–100 trees per unit to get species and height information. “
“We can do both the flight and transect in about 1/2 of the time it takes to do a full survey with fixed area plots.” — Curt Rogers from TimberDrone
This, consequently, leads to extensive time savings.
2. Drone data is much more accurate than traditional data collection measures.
Example of a forest area which was processed with an Agremo Plant Population analysis
Even though drone data processing is a relatively new phenomenon, the outputs users get from the right kind of software are still more accurate than traditional measures, which often include a lot of manual work or less accurate estimates. And as Konrad Kern from Falcon Aerial Data explains, “accurate inventory is always necessary to increased profits.”
“Of the few vendors who advertised this service, Agremo provided a vastly superior capability. It is extremely important to base any remote sensing assessment in solid ground truth. Agremo clearly excelled over their competitors.” — Konrad Kern, Falcon Aerial Data
In terms of forest management operations, the need for accurate data for tree counts is important for both mature trees which are about to be cut as well as to relatively young trees:
“On a stand of trees which was ready to harvest, we demonstrated the ability to count trees, provide height and plant health information to an accuracy statistically consistent with ground truth provided forestry management company. Analysis of seedling stands was similarly successful. The forestry management company gained a much more accurate assessment of sellable board feet of lumber they can expect to harvest from a stand. By imaging, counting, and doing tree health analysis of a seedling stand, they can better understand their “infant mortality” problem at the beginning of their production,” says Konrad.
3. It’s not just the total number of trees — the users get to see exactly how each area is performing.
Comprehensive drone data reports allow users not just to quickly find out how many trees they have in total. The right kind of report will also tell them how many trees there are in which area.
“The ability to see where the trees are clustered is extremely valuable to our clients. Areas of understocking show where it may be necessary to interplant with more trees or do some kind of land rehabilitation. Areas of overstocking show where it may be necessary to thin the trees to a lower tree per acre count. If trees are spaced too tightly it can impede growth and wood quality,” says Curt from TimberDrone.
Besides this, drone data is also used to determine the seedling survival rate after the first year or two. By seeing exactly how many seedlings have survived the winter or the summer, forest management companies can monitor their trees’ performance and react in time in case something is not going as planned.
Determining tree stocking levels with drones — how it’s done
Drone data is obtained by firstly collecting aerial data using a drone. Curt from TimberDrone remembers how they first started: “Our first forestry flight occurred almost 7 years ago, and consisted of an Android phone attached to a custom hexacopter… Today, we rely almost exclusively on the Phantom 4 V2.0 for tree countings. Relatively inexpensive, reliable, easy to replace, and equipped with a good camera, the Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 fits our needs well.”
As a next step, drone images are converted into maps and processed by drone data analysis software solutions. Curt from TimberDrone works with Plant Population reports from Agremo, which show the total number of trees (or any kind of plant) in all respective areas. “In the end, our client receives all the information necessary for the inventory system as well as a stem map showing how the trees are distributed across their landscape,” he explains.
Drone operators like Curt and Konrad know that the mere drone images are not what provides value for their customers. The value lies in the accurate data obtained from these images with quality reports and analyses.