Researchers use aerial photography to assess Oakville’s forest health

A Drone will used to monitor the depletion of our forest canopy by Emerald Ash Borer

Drone with moon in sight
Researchers use aerial photography to assess Oakville’s forest health

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Gisele Shaw

Gisele Shaw

Gisele Shaw is the Manager of Corporate Communication for the town of Oakville since 2002. Prior to working for the town she worked for Halton Region as a communications specialist. She is a graduate of Humber College.

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Beginning this week, researchers at Algoma University, together with the town’s consultant, BioForest Technologies Inc., will use a small Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV or drone) to assess forest health in Oakville’s woodlands, and augment the town’s existing Urban Forest Health Monitoring program.

The UAV being used is a very small quadcopter with an onboard camera. It weighs approximately 1.2 kilograms and measures just 59 centimetres on the diagonal. The UAV is being used to take aerial photographs of the tree canopy within the woodland and will not capture any images of homes, yards, or other public open spaces.

Typically, forest health is assessed by collecting ground-based data such as photos taken looking up at the canopy. The photos are used to estimate the amount of ‘openness’ in the canopy, or the area not covered by leaves from trees. The invasive Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) has killed most of the ash trees in our woodlands, leaving gaps in the tree canopy.

Using a UAV to survey the woodlands is a huge asset to forest health monitoring and for assessing canopy damage. Photos can be taken quickly without damaging understory plants and a greater area of the canopy can be surveyed in less time.

“Forest health monitoring and assessment requires reliable and accurate information about forest canopy cover. We will compare the aerial and ground photographs to determine which method gives a more accurate picture of canopy cover and which is more time and cost effective,” said Dr. Jennifer Foote, associate professor, Department of Biology at Algoma University. “Additionally, we are assessing bird diversity in woodlands with varying EAB damage because bird diversity can also reflect forest health. Comparing bird survey locations to photographic measures of canopy openness will tell us how woodland tree loss might affect urban bird populations.”

Transport Canada governs the use of UAVs. The UAV being used for this research meets Transport Canada’s Special Flight Operations Certificate exemption requirements.

Trees are an important part of Oakville’s urban landscape and provide a wide variety of social, health, aesthetic, economic and environmental benefits.

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