Drones Can Help Planting Forests-If You Have Enough Rooted Seeds

The researchers identified 10 drone companies planting trees as well as Indian university research and tree planting efforts in New Zealand and Madagascar. In Myanmar, Thailand, and the United Arab Emirates, drones are being used to help plant mangrove trees, one that is likely to have an impact, as the trees are planted near the equator. capture more carbon than those planted elsewhere.

But researchers say some companies share success rates or research how the seeds fare after they fall off a drone. They called on those involved in drone seeding to be more open to their consequences. They call promises to grow a billion trees a year “propaganda.”

Mikey Mohan is a PhD candidate at UC Berkeley and lead author of the paper. He thinks commitments to grow a billion trees are mostly promotional tactics by companies looking to raise funds from investors. He said half of the social media posts he saw related to drones planting trees should have promises to plant a billion trees.

What really matters is the number of seeds that will grow on the trees after two or three years, he said, not the number of seeds you can drop into the ground in a day.

The researchers cited a 2020 study by DroneSeed that found survival rates for some conifer tree seeds to be between zero and 20 percent, similar to earlier attempts to drop the seeds from U.S. planes or helicopters in the 1950s and 1960s. Like other farm companies, DroneSeed declined to say how many trees they have planted so far. The company would not disclose the names of customers but said it works with three of the five largest timber companies in the U.S., as well as nonprofit savings groups like Nature Conservancy.

Last month, five -year -old DroneSeed acquired SilvaSeed, a 130 -year -old company that is one of the largest private providers of forest seed on the U.S. West Coast. For context, SilvaSeed grows more seedlings each year than the Cal Fire Reforestation Center. The claim is driven, DroneSeed CEO Grant Canary told WIRED, that the Climate Action Reserve, which tracks the environmental benefits of emission reduction projects, is now incorporating benefits from reforestation.

“What we’re seeing in reforestation and carbon credits now is we’re getting land that burned and making sure there’s a source of capital to cover it as well,” Canary said.

In attempts to make the seeds dropped by drones more viable, companies are applying. machine learning and imaging technology to select promising areas to plant trees and guide drone flight paths. They put the seeds in pellets made of ingredients such as clay and soil and sometimes throw them on the ground. Each seed capsule is designed to contain the moisture and nutrients that the seed needs to start.

For example, DroneSeed incorporates hot pepper to prevent squirrels or other wildlife from eating its ships, which are about the size of a hockey puck. It’s different how these carrying cases are made. Some contain a single seed, but Dendra Systems says it can pack up to 50 different seeds for trees, shrubs, and native grasses in one capsule.

Asked to comment on the propaganda claim, 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 well -known companies that uses drones to plant trees. CEO Susan Graham says the company was created with the belief that one major reason man hasn’t slowed the decline in the tree population is that we don’t use enough technology.

“You can solve the biodiversity challenge, you can solve the livelihood challenge, and you can solve one’s carbon challenge, if you can do it on a scale,” he said.

He declined to say how many trees the company had planted. Ecologists are used to verify results, he said, and the results of their work are shared privately with customers. He said Dendra is now focusing on the total area it can restore rather than the number of trees planted.

Former Dendra CEO Lauren Fletcher said she had the idea to use drones for planting trees in 2008, and she was one of the first CEOs to make a billion tree pledge. He doesn’t believe any company planting drones has hit that target, but he thinks it remains useful as an example of the much thinking needed to solve the world’s restoration problems.

“People really understand trees. They can see them, they can touch them, they can feel them, and it’s a hell of a lot easier to sell,” he said. “Try selling microbes in the soil.”

Fletcher is currently working with Dendra Systems manager Irina Fedorenko at another company that aims to plant trees with small drones, specifically for small landowners. Through a partnership with WeRobotics, Flying Forests wants to plant trees with drones in 30 countries. These projects were explored in Kenya, Panama, and Uganda.

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