Drones can help replant forests – if enough seeds take root

Researchers have identified 10 tree-planting drone companies as well as university research in India and government rehabilitation efforts in New Zealand and Madagascar. In Myanmar, Thailand, and the United Arab Emirates, drones have been used to help plant mangrove trees, a potentially impressive development, since trees planted near the equator contain more carbon than those planted elsewhere.

But researchers say a few companies have shared success rates or research into how seeds are sold after being dropped by drones. They urged those involved in drone sowing to be more open about their results. They call the pledge to grow one billion trees a year “publicity.”

Mikey Mohan is a PhD candidate at UC Berkeley and lead author of a research paper. He thinks the promises to grow one billion trees are basically companies ’promotional strategies to raise funds from investors. He said half of the social media posts he saw about planting trees with drones were related to the promise of planting one billion trees.

The seeds that grow in the tree after two or three years are actually important, he said.

Researchers quoted a study by Dronesid in 2020 as saying that the survival rate for some conifer seeds ranged from zero to 20 percent, similar to previous attempts to land seeds from planes or helicopters in the United States in the 1950s and 1960s. Like other companies in the field, Droncid has declined to say how many trees it has planted to date. The company did not name customers but said it was working with three of the five largest timber companies in the United States, as well as nonprofit conservation groups such as Nature Conservancy.

Last month, five-year-old Droncid bought the 130-year-old company Silvacid, the largest private forest seed supplier on the U.S. West Coast. For instance, more seedlings are grown annually than at the Silvassid Cal Fire Refreshment Center. Grant Canary, chief executive of Droneside, told Wired that the acquisition was due to the fact that the Climate Action Reserve, which tracks the environmental benefits of emissions-reduction projects, now includes benefits from renewal.

“What we see with restructuring and carbon credits is that we are now able to take the burned land and make sure it has the resources to rehabilitate it,” Canary said.

In an effort to make drones more efficient, companies use machine learning and imaging technology to choose the best place to plant trees and guide drones to take off. They bind seeds in holes made of soil and soil-like material and sometimes shoot into the ground. Each seed capsule is designed to retain the moisture and nutrients that a seed needs to start.

Dronesids, for example, include hot peppers to prevent squirrels or other wildlife from eating his ship, which is the size of a hockey puck. How this carrying case for seeds varies. Some contain a single seed, but Dendra Systems says it can pack up to 50 kinds of seeds for plants, shrubs and native grasses in one capsule.

Asked about the publicity claims, Flash Forest CEO Bryce Jones said the company still plans to plant 1 billion trees by 2028.

Dendra Systems, formerly known as Biocarbon Engineering, is one of the oldest and most famous companies using drones to plant trees. CEO Susan Graham said the company was created with the belief that one of the main reasons for the decline in human tree populations is that we are not using enough technology.

“You can solve the biodiversity challenge, you can solve the livelihood challenge, and you can solve the carbon challenge together, if you can scale it,” he said.

He declined to say how many trees the company has planted. Environmentalists are hired to verify the results, he said, and the results of their work are shared personally with customers. Dendra now focuses more on the total area it can recover than the number of trees planted, he said.

Lauren Fletcher, former CEO of Dendra, said she came up with the idea of ​​using drones to plant trees in 2008 and was the first CEO to promise billion-trees. He does not think that any drone-planting company has yet hit that target, but he thinks it remains an example of the big thinking needed to address the problems of global ecological recovery.

“The fact is that people understand trees. They can see them, they can touch them, they can feel them and it is much easier to sell. “” Try to sell soil germs. “

Fletcher is currently working with Irina Fedorenko, co-founder of Dendra Systems, on another company that aims to plant trees with small drones, especially for small landowners. Through a partnership with WeRobotics, Flying Forest wants to plant trees with drones in 30 countries. It is exploring projects in Kenya, Panama and Uganda.

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