NAU students using drones to monitor the forests for wildfire risks, drought conditions
The Northern Arizona University seniors say using drones in forestry is a new and emerging field, but could be a gamechanger.
FLAGSTAFF, Az (3TV/CBS 5) - About 20 minutes outside of the Northern Arizona University campus, there’s a sea of green. And if you look closely, potentially the future of forestry.
“Using drones in forestry is a very new and emerging field,” said Jacob Shelly, a senior at NAU. “We are currently using it to create photos by motion.” Recently Arizona’s Family got to shadow Jacob and Savannah Bunn, also an NAU senior, in the Centennial Forest. It’s a classroom for both of them. “You eat lunch in the forest. You take your 30-minute nap in the forest,” Bunn said. “It’s hard work, and it’s exhausting.”
But it’s where Bunn wants to be. “Being out here and having this job, it adds to the fact that all of the education I’ve gone through the last few years has been worth it,” she said. Researchers have been studying this particular plot of land since the 1970′s, but drones have really changed the day we all see and study the forest. The last time measurements were taken on the plot Arizona’s Family visited was back in 2010. Up in the sky, the drone is essentially creating a 3D model of the forest.
Shelly thinks drones have the possibility to be more efficient than the current planes that are often used. “So we get digital elevation levels really well from the aerial view from the drone, which can show us stuff like the slope we see right here,” he said. “And the height of trees.” On the ground, the students have tools to measure the trees and take core samples, reading the tree rings to see how much they’ve grown and ultimately trying to answer the question: how are the ongoing drought and wildfires impacting our forests? They are measuring so they know the fuel load in the forest and the treatments needed to avoid high-intensity fires.
“Our regen growth rate is very low,” Bunn said. “So for instance, A: it’s dry. And we have fires that come through. And it’s very hard to tackle those and get them under control.” Bunn said that when it comes to Mother Nature, humans can’t control everything, but that we can mitigate and learn about the forest which brings so much joy to Arizonans
. “I grew up coming up to Flagstaff a lot, so the recreational opportunities that are out here, I would like for those to be available for future generations.”
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