Drones can help replant forests if there are enough seeds to take root

The researchers identified 10 tree-planting drone companies as well as university research in India and government reforestation efforts in New Zealand and Madagascar.In Myanmar, Thailand and the United Arab Emirates, drones have been used to help plant mangroves. This is a potentially influential development because the trees are planted near the equator Capture more carbon Than those grown elsewhere.

But researchers say that few companies share the success rate or the performance of research seeds after being dropped by drones. They called on those involved in drone seeding to be more open to their results. They put a “propaganda” label on their promise of planting 1 billion trees each year.

Mikey Mohan is a PhD candidate at the University of California, Berkeley and the first author of the paper. He believes that the promise of planting 1 billion trees is largely a promotional strategy for companies hoping to raise funds from investors. He said that half of the social media posts he saw about drone planting were related to the promise of planting 1 billion trees.

He said that what really matters is the number of seeds that will grow into trees in two or three years, not the number of seeds that can fall to the ground in a day.

The researchers cited a study by DroneSeed in 2020, which found that the survival rate of certain conifer seeds was between 0% and 20%, which is similar to the previous United States dropping seeds from airplanes or helicopters in the 1950s and 1960s. effort. Like other companies in the field, DroneSeed declined to say how many trees have been planted so far. The company declined to name its customers, but said it is cooperating with three of the five largest timber companies in the United States and non-profit conservation organizations such as The Nature Conservancy.

Last month, the 5-year-old DroneSeed acquired SilvaSeed, a 130-year-old company and one of the largest private forest seed suppliers on the West Coast of the United States. For context, SilvaSeed planted more seedlings each year than Cal Fire Reforestation Center. DroneSeed CEO Grant Canary told Wired that the acquisition was driven by the Climate Action Reserve, which tracks the environmental benefits of emission reduction projects, now includes the benefits of reforestation.

“What we see through reforestation and carbon credits is that now we are able to expropriate burned land and ensure that there is a source of funds to reforest,” Canary said.

In order to make the seeds dropped by drones more feasible, the company applies Machine learning And imaging technology to choose the best location for planting trees and guide the drone flight path. They wrap the seeds in particles made of ingredients such as clay and soil, and sometimes shoot them into the ground. Each seed capsule is designed to contain the moisture and nutrients needed to start the seed.

For example, DroneSeed contains peppers to prevent squirrels or other wild animals from eating its containers, which are about the size of an ice ball. These seed suitcases are made in different ways. Some contain only one seed, but Dendra Systems says it can pack up to 50 seeds of trees, shrubs and native grasses in a single capsule.

When asked to comment on the promotional statement, Flash Forest CEO Bryce Jones said the company still plans to plant 1 billion trees by 2028.

Dendra Systems, formerly Biocarbon Engineering, is one of the oldest and most well-known companies using drones to plant trees. CEO Susan Graham said that the belief at the beginning of the company was that one of the key reasons why humans have not slowed the decline in the number of trees is that we did not use enough technology.

“You can solve the biodiversity challenge, you can solve the livelihood challenge, you can solve the carbon challenge, if you can solve it on a large scale,” she said.

She declined to say how many trees the company has planted. She said that hiring ecologists to verify the results, and the results of their work will be shared with customers privately. She said that Dendra is now focusing more on the total area it can recover than the number of trees planted.

Lauren Fletcher, the former CEO of Dendra, stated that he proposed the idea of ​​using drones to plant trees in 2008, and he was one of the first CEOs to make a billion tree promise. He believes that no drone farming company has reached this goal, but he believes that it is still worthwhile as an example of the big ideas needed to solve the problem of global ecosystem restoration.

“The truth is that people know trees. They can see them, they can touch them, they can feel them, and it’s much easier to sell,” he said. “Try to sell soil microorganisms.”

Fletcher is currently working with Irina Fedorenko, co-founder of Dendra Systems, to develop another company that aims to grow trees with small drones, especially for small landowners. Through cooperation with WeRobotics, Flying Forests hopes to use drones to grow trees in 30 countries. It is exploring projects in Kenya, Panama and Uganda.

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