Don Brunel’s Commentary: Drones Help Restore Burnt Public Forests

Don C. Brunel

Regenerating millions of acres of western forest burned by a large wildfire can be a daunting task, costing hundreds of billions of dollars. However, healthy growing forests are essential to reduce atmospheric CO2 and provide people, crops, fish and wildlife with abundant clean air and freshwater.

According to the National Interagency Fire Center, nearly 3 million acres have already burned in the United States this year, primarily in Arizona, New Mexico and Alaska. By the end of the year, that total could exceed 2019, when more than 5 million acres of forest were burnt in California, Oregon and Washington.

According to the European Union’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service, wildfires emitted 1.76 billion tonnes of CO2 worldwide in 2021. This is more than double the annual CO2 emissions of Germany.

There is a terrible shortage of reforestation funding for federal forest areas. Currently, the fight against wildfires consumes 60% of the US Forest Department’s budget, but many forests desperately need to be thinned to avoid wildfire fuel buildup. On the day of the $ 30.5 trillion federal deficit, additional funding is unlikely.

What if the Forest Department identifies the land that needs to be thinned and uses the proceeds from the sale of the thinning to plant trees? Those logs may be processed to make wood products and provide jobs in the local community. The prototype program is already underway in the Colville National Forest.

Replanting trees as soon as possible after a wildfire is one of the most important ways to reduce CO2, control erosion and prevent floods. But now we are fighting a defeat. Every year, 15 billion trees are destroyed by fire and pollution around the world, and despite the government spending $ 50 billion annually on tree planting, a net loss of 6 billion trees remains annually.

Financing is one thing, but the actual planting is completely different. That’s where drones come in. Experienced and energetic tree planters can plant 800-1,000 seedlings on more than 2 acres daily. Two drone operators, on the other hand, are 150 times faster and 4-10 times cheaper than hand-planting.

DroneSeed in Seattle has used a swarm of drones to develop sophisticated 3D ground mapping software and precision tree planting techniques. The drone maps the area thoroughly, and the data identifies “microsites” such as stumps that cover the seedlings and provide additional nutrients from rotten wood. The drone then launches a biodegradable capsule filled with seeds, liquid nutrients, and animal repellent to the exact location on the ground.

DroneSeed introduced this technology four years ago in southern Oregon. Hancock Forest Management, an international forest owner with approximately 11 million acres of forest, signed a contract with Drone Seed in 2018 to reforest some of the wildfire-stricken land.

In the Okanoganwanachi National Forest, scientists from the U.S. Forest Department surveyed the 2018 Cougars Creek fire site (41,107 acres) and found that 30% of the soil in the Mad River drainage channel was badly burned and retained water. I found it difficult to grow trees. For an alternative forest.

When damaged, the soil can no longer hold water. It increases the risk of floods, erosion and streams filled with muddy streams. These conditions are harmful to fish, wildlife, and people. Bare forest areas cannot capture carbon.

In cases like the Cougar Creek fire, planting drone seeds on steep slopes is worth a try, especially to dramatically reduce carbon emissions. Instead of sterile barren wooden lands, fast-growing forests will convert CO2 into oxygen, which gives human life.

Forests produce 40% of the clean water of the world’s 100 largest cities. Trees stabilize the slopes of the basin, grow trees and purify the greenhouse gas air. Hopefully, drone planting will work as designed and accelerate reforestation. This is a “game changer” and worth a try.


Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He has retired as chairman of the Washington Business Association, the state’s oldest and largest corporate organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at

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