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British Columbia takes reforestation to the skies

Aerial seeding // Illustration by Kate Walker

British Columbia takes reforestation to the skies


Future. Reforestation efforts are testing out drones that can aerially reseed miles of woods charred by devastating wildfires. If trials are successful, drones could combine with manual replanting to speed up forest recovery — and restore the land that many indigenous communities depend on.

Canada dry

The reforestation is headed by First Nations communities and other land management programs that tend the woods of British Columbia, which saw its worst fire season in history when the Plateau Complex struck in 2017.

    • Forests can usually recover from fires on their own (thanks to pine cones and seeds dispersed by wind), but the Plateau Complex generated such intense heat that, in some places, no seeds could survive.
    • In aerial seeding, seeds from distant nurseries are embedded in dense missiles of soil and nutrients, loaded into the drone, and fired into the earth from the air.
    • This round of planting put half a million pucks in the ground.
    • In certain places — like southerly-facing slopes or lowlands — pucks aren’t likely to take hold, but they’re excellent for high-elevation areas or places people can’t easily reach.

Results of the trial will be clear within the year when surveyors return (with the help of drones) to see what percentage of trees survived the planting.

Man’s best friend?
Drones won’t totally replace manual replanting — the backbreaking work that can often plant 1,000-3,000 trees per day. But the two can work in tandem; trees planted from either method can connect underground to rapidly rebuild.

Such cooperative solutions to modern problems — which leave demand for human labor intact — are probably why so many young people believe in tech. Machines won’t solve all our problems for us, but they can help us do it.

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