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DroneSeed Partners with The Nature Conservancy to Restore Oregon Rangelands Using Unique Drone Swarms

BY Zacc Dukowitz
1 March 2019

DroneSeed—a drone company that uses drone swarms to accelerate reforestation by planting and protecting trees—is in the news again, this time with plans to help restore rangelands affected by invasive species in Oregon.

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Seattle-based DroneSeed will be partnering with The Nature Conservancy in Oregon on this project, providing them access to DroneSeed’s drone swarm technology in order to plant seeds in large areas of land.

The partnership aims to use re-seeding via drone to restore rangelands whose native plants have been decimated by invasive species. According to DroneSeed, these re-seeding efforts are vital for conserving the ecosystem in precarious habitats, and for helping imperiled species that rely on those habitats, such as the sage grouse, to survive.

We are always looking for ways to innovate, especially when it can help us increase the pace and scale of habitat restoration to benefit both nature and people.

– Jay Kerby, Southeast Oregon Project Manager at The Nature Conservancy

As part of this partnership, DroneSeed will be aerially deploying its own proprietary seed vessels as well as vessels developed by The Nature Conservancy and its partners.

The Reforestation Challenge

Although reforestation is one of the best ways to combat and recover from climate-change induced disasters, such as the wildfires California recently faced, techniques for reforestation have not changed much in the last 100 years.

For the most part, reforestation consists of crews working manually with shovels—a slow and expensive process, for which recruiting can be difficult due to the tough nature of the work and its relatively low pay.

We lose two-and-a-half billion trees every year.

– Jay Zaveri, partner at Social Capital

In addition to reforestation, re-seeding is a crucial way to fight back against invasive plants, which can quickly change the entire ecosystem in a given area.

So how do you speed up seed planting, while also cutting costs?

DroneSeed’s drone swarms present an attractive solution for those facing struggles with dwindling budgets, and is starting to see some real traction, as evidenced both by their new partnership with The Nature Conservancy and by their recent $3.7 Million fundraising round.

Drone Swarms and Reforestation

So how does DroneSeed approach planting seeds?

DroneSeed uses swarms of drones in groups of up to five to cover large areas of land faster than could be covered by a single drone. And these drones are big—to give you an idea of how big, each one can carry up to 57 pounds of seeds.

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In fact, DroneSeed’s drones are so big that they required the first-ever approval from the FAA to operate heavy-lift drone swarms weighing greater than 55 pounds. Each one of the drones used in their swarms can weigh up to 115 pounds. DroneSeed has permission to fly up to five of these heavy-lift drones at a time in a swarm.

To ensure that seeding efforts are precise and not scattershot, these swarms use software to deploy seed vessels to targeted areas, called microsites, where they’ll grow best.

How Drones are Helping to Plant Trees - A Cleaner Future

DroneSeed’s drones are also designed to improve seed survival by reducing desiccation or ‘drying up’ of seeds, a common problem on arid rangelands.

Implications for the Future

The drone swarm approach to re-seeding and replanting allow for a quick, scalable solution for dealing with massive reductions in plant species related to fire, drought, or the rapid takeover of invasive species.

Following the Grave Creek Fire near Medford, OR, which burned over 7,000 acres, DroneSeed completed its first post-fire forestry project.

Rather than plant seedlings—which would require a two-year wait while they grew in greenhouses—the timber company overseeing the reforestation effort decided to have DroneSeed plant immediately using DroneSeed’s vessels and drone swarm technology.

Drone swarms might also be able to help on a much bigger scale.

A recent paper published by Nature4Climate found that “natural climate solutions” such as restoring rangelands, planting forests, and conserving habitats could provide ⅓ of the global emissions reductions called for under the Paris Agreement—all activities that could be enabled by using drone swarms to seed and re-seed key areas throughout the planet.

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More about Drones for Good—in Conservation and Beyond

We’ve written quite a bit about how drones are being used in conservation, as well as about how drones are being used for good throughout the world.

Check out these related articles if you’d like to learn more:

What do you think about drone swarms and their potential for helping with conservation work? Chime in on this thread in the UAV Coach community forum to share your thoughts.

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