The Reforestation Drone Industry Blossoms After Bushfires Blaze In Australia; Ahead of U.S. Fire Season

A Global Reforestation Drone Space Race Launches

By Andy Hirschfeld

Every year nearly fifteen billion trees are lost to deforestation and as unprecedented bushfires continue blaze Australia the call for new ways to address the aftermath of blazes globally has continued to grow louder and louder. 

Despite a nearly $50 billion a year investment on replanting efforts, there is still a net loss of six billion trees per year. Wildfires are only making this problem that much more dire. In 2018, California lost nearly two million acres to wildfires --- the worst in the state’s history.  The Amazon Rainforest lost nearly five million acres in recent months. Several startups are trying to do something about this problem. Droneseed and Dendra Systems most notably, have found a way to reforest ravaged forests using drones. 

Drones are able to get seeds across at the scale needed especially in remote areas which is just not possible through other strategies. “Manual site preparation and planting is expensive” says Andrew Mueller, Forest Culturist for USDA Forest Service for the Pacific Southwest Region in charge of the reforestation and timber stand improvement adding that “annually, only about 15 thousand acres are certified as reforested.” 

Drones for social good and humanitarian uses have become a bigger and bigger part of the drone industry. “The beauty of drones is that they can reach remote areas with the ease that people just cannot do so it’s no surprise we’ve seen growth in that space” says Gary Shapiro, CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association. The drone market is expected to grow to $43.1 billion over the next four years according to a 2019 report from Drone Industry Insights. 

Seattle based startup Droneseed says they can  “restore thousands of acres of wildfires ravaged land started in thirty days.” Meanwhile conventional means have been limited and not cost effective. “Completing a decision document after a fire may take two or more years, requiring consultation with government agencies. So we often miss the window of effective and cost-efficient reforestation.” says Mueller. 

Droneseed’s approach is to map out a charred forest noting objects and plant species. In 2018, Droneseed was awarded the first ever over fifty five pound unmanned aerial vehicle license issued by the Federal Aviation Administration. Their drones identify the best trees to plant and then deploy a customized seed package to the ravaged area.  

The U.K. based start-up Dendra systems is giving them a run for their money. The startup launched the company on a simple premise to replant at scale for a sustainable price. They say that with their drones ten drones could plant 400 thousand per day for 4-10 times cheaper than conventional methods. Using both satellite images and drone-collected data ambitiously plans to plant 500 billion trees by 2060. 

Wildfires, Bushfires, and Brush Fires are not expected to slow down anytime soon. In the United States, The National Interagency Fire Center reports that the ten year average has doubled since 1990 and only months ago. New players like Canadian start-up Flash Forest are capitalizing on that momentum. Just last week, Flash Forest wrapped up a Kickstarter campaign that brought in $108 thousand alongside rounds of funding several international investment partners. 

The company is currently moving forward with a very ambitious plan to reforest regions across the globe ravaged by wildfires and deforestation. “We hope to plant 150 thousand in the next year and reach one billion trees by 2028” CEO Bryce Jones tells The America In Context Newsletter. 

The company is currently starting tests it’s reforestation strategy in all different kinds of forests ranging from dry climates to wet climates with hopes to soon bring this to the global scale. 

Although bushfires and wildfires continue to rage, these three startups and their ambitious development strategies have given reason to be optimistic about the future of the planet.

By Andy Hirschfeld
Andy Hirschfeld is a New York based multimedia journalist. He’s a contributing writer to numerous publications including The New York Observer, The Daily Dot, Bloomberg, Christian Science Monitor, OZY, Fortune, and Mic among others. He’s the author of Stolen Dignity: An Expose of The Troubled Teen Industry. Previously he’s produced and reported for ABC, CBS, and CNN. Follow on Twitter at @andyreports