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Updated: February 21, 2023

UMaine part of $10M USDA grant to manage forests with drones

drone sky forest Courtesy Wheatland Geospatial Lab A drone flies over a Maine forest. A new project will use drones and other digital technology monitor forests.

The rollout of drone technology is part of a University of Maine project to manage forests.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded a $10 million grant to a research team from the University of Maine, the University of Georgia and lead-site Purdue University to help landowners and stakeholders better adapt their forests to increasingly complicated economic and climate conditions in the eastern United States.

UMaine will receive $2.7 million for its efforts on “Promoting Economic Resilience and Sustainability of the Eastern U.S. Forests,” or PERSEUS.

PERSEUS will use digital technology that includes drones, piloted aircraft and satellite-based sensors designed to provide nearly real-time, automated measurements of entire forests.

"Forests are highly dynamic and driven by an array of factors, including climate,” Aaron Weiskittel, professor of forest biometrics and modeling, and director of the Center for Research on Sustainable Forests at UMaine, said in a news release.

He continued, “Management needs to simultaneously consider short- and long-term conditions, which complicate actions. PERSEUS attempts to leverage emerging technology to provide landowners with the necessary tools to make optimal decisions for different competing objectives."

About 5 million private landowners control just over half the acreage of forests in the eastern U.S., in contrast with western U.S. forests, which are mostly publicly owned. The project aims to improve the management of 15 million acres of those forests, an area nearly as large as the state of West Virginia. The project encompasses the northern hardwood forest in the Northeast, the central hardwood region, and the southern pine and mixed hardwood.

UMaine School of Forest Resources faculty will work with the PERSEUS team to build and apply an integrated digital framework for modeling current and future forest ecosystem service trends at the landowner scale to compile data upon which to base forest management decisions.

"Forestry generally prides itself as a boots-on-the-ground business, while technology is rapidly changing access to information,” said Weiskittel. “PERSEUS will provide the necessary training to help both students and landowners alike leverage these new tools.”

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