Forestry & Wildlife
AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – Technologies are often viable tools for land owners and managers. A prime example of this is the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), most commonly referred to as drones. Their many uses prove them to be beneficial tools in land and forest management.
“Drones can be flown by natural resource managers to capture aerial imagery or scout tracts for a wide variety of management issues,” said Beau Brodbeck, an Alabama Extension community forestry specialist. “These include monitoring harvesting progress, identifying insect outbreaks, evaluating storm damage and updating stand or harvest maps.”
Online aerial images, while helpful, only receive updates every couple of years. Drones can assist land managers in achieving crucial up-to-date images. The drones can be programmed to autopilot transects across a given area.
Computer software can piece these images together to form updated maps. Additionally, the resulting images will have a resolution seven times greater than online aerial imagery. In some cases, the images are so clear, people can see individual leaves on trees.
Up-to-date high resolution images are also beneficial to hunters interested in map hunting locations, planning access routes, delineating wildlife openings or needing to quantify the acreages of timber harvested, thinned or damaged by insects or storm events.
A common misconception is that all drones can be extremely costly. This, however, is not always true.
“Drone technology has evolved to a point where it is both accessible and relatively low-cost,” Brodbeck said.
Many UAV systems make use of mass production. As a result, many are readily available today. This has allowed a decrease in cost of production, creating some UAVs ready for purchase starting at $1,200.
According to Brodbeck, the technology for drones is becoming increasingly easy to use. Automated flight is often encouraged to reduce pilot errors and instead allow pilots to monitor flights and view live imagery. This imagery is available for direct transmission to tablets or smart phones.
“The use of software programs, combined with the internal GPS in the drone, allows users to plan flights over the target areas,” he said.
Image Stitching Software
Aerial image stitching software is necessary to make maps and calculate acreage. This image can be costly, but there are certain benefits.
“For building aerial images similar to Google Earth, a UAV has to fly back and forth over a tract, taking overlapping pictures every few seconds,” Brodbeck said.
Software programs stitch together the images taken by the drone. These programs line up each individual pixel in the images, meaning it can take two or more hours to develop a fully georeferenced image.
According to Brodbeck, this map making technique comes at a significant cost. Multiple companies offer cloud-based online applications that can process the image stitching. They often require yearly fees, which start at approximately $1,000. Some applications include a per flight cost as well.
For more information on drones, watch the video below, visit www.aces.edu or contact your county Extension office.