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Drones under testing in Alberta as possible tree seeders

Click to play video: 'How a drone might be able to help rejuvenate Alberta’s forests' How a drone might be able to help rejuvenate Alberta’s forests
WATCH ABOVE: More and more wildfires are wiping out Alberta forests but a new tool could be used to address that. Kendra Slugoski takes a look at direct-seeding with a drone – May 23, 2018

Flying drones may soon have a new function to fill – as gardeners for areas devastated by wildfires. The Canadian Forest Service Edmonton performed a demonstration on the city’s south side on Wednesday to showcase the technology’s potential as a highly precise seeding machine.

Those present at the demonstration included members of the provincial government and the forest industry.

David Price is a research scientist who specializes in solutions to climate change issues for Canadian forests. Price said using drones as seeders is not being done anywhere else in Canada, and that his team is still finding out how feasible they could actually be.

“At this point we just want to see if it’s actually possible to plant the seeds and actually have them germinate and turn into a reasonable forest stand over a period of years,” Price said.

“This is really a potential adaptation to deal with the effects of frequent fires,” he said. “Fires on average are going to become more frequent and more intense, and so there is the potential for large areas that need to be regenerated.”

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Although drone seeding is still in the research stage, Price said there are clear advantages the machines would have over human seeders or dispersal by aircraft.

“The number of trees that an average person can plant is probably 2,000 to 3,000 a day,” he said. “With this technology, it could potentially be tens of thousands.”

Another plus to using drones over humans is the crafts’ ability to enter into zones that may be considered too dangerous for humans.

“I anticipate a situation in the future where the area that we want every year is just beyond our capacity using humans, so we’d rather look for alternatives,” Price said.

READ MORE: Winnipeg fire crews battle multiple blazes, on high alert for more

Despite the possibilities the technology may have, there has been scepticism raised by both the government of Alberta and the forest industry. These doubts come from previous failed attempts at aerial seeding. Price said the difference between drones and other aerial seeding efforts comes from the precision drone planting can offer.

“Every seed that is planted using a drone, we have the exact coordinates, the latitude, longitude (and) elevation.”

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This accuracy can help aid other technologies, such as herbicide spraying drones.

“You can have a drone that sprays herbicide, targeted exactly at the location of that individual tree,” Price explained. As a result, “the amount of herbicide that gets applied is much, much lower than would normally be used in forestry systems.”

Wednesday’s demonstration had the drones seeding blanks into the ground. The first trial will be held in the Slave Lake area over the next few days, using Jack Pine and White Spruce seed.

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