Friday, February 15, 2013

Drones aid land research, but worries remain

Unmanned aerial vehicles -- called UAVs or drones -- are commonly associated with the missile-toting remote-controlled aircraft that patrol the skies over faraway lands like Pakistan and Yemen, but researchers in the U.S. are pressing their unarmed cousins into service for a variety of civilian uses. Across the vast public lands of the West, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service face competing interests in monitoring remote habitats. Land managers are being pressed to step up monitoring of rangeland health even as the manpower and money for surveillance dwindles, said Al Rango, a research hydrologist with the USDA. "You keep telling them that, and they will eventually come and use remote sensing data," he said. Rango has studied the use of unmanned aircraft at the Jornada Experimental Range in Las Cruces, N.M., for more than five years and sees them as an elegant solution to the dilemma faced by public land managers. Operating UAVs is cheaper and safer than manned aircraft, he said. Photos taken by UAVs can easily let scientists distinguish between bare ground and vegetation, and special "multispectral" cameras help them identify specific types of plants. Different species of plants reflect and absorb different wavelengths of light. Land managers and ranchers could use them to figure out how much of the ground cover in an area is edible for livestock, said Mark Seyfried, a USDA soil scientist at the Northwest Watershed Research Center in Boise, Idaho, who has worked with Rango. Accurate aerial information could also serve as a weapon against invasive species by letting managers gauge the spread of weeds over time, Seyfried said. "One of the most important things is knowing where they are and what the sources are," he said. Seyfried said the technology could eventually be used to study the management of cattle on public lands...more

No more range cons, just pilots and data readers.  Maybe they'll get their start in Lane Long's wilderness class.


Anonymous said...

The farther scientist's get from the land the smarter they think they are. Nothing replaces hoofs/boots on the ground in range science. No range con worth their salt can make a decision about the management of livestock, or their impact (both beneficial and detrimental), without being on the site. Not once but many times in many different growing situations under differing management strategies. Desk bound range cons are worse than a plague of range caterpillars or drought.

Frank DuBois said...

Great comment.

johnr said...

No kidding