Rouge Tree: Drones in Urban Forestry

I attended a very cool seminar at the 2016 Partners in Community Forestry Conference about the recent use of drone technology in the field of urban forestry. The seminar was presented by Dan Staley, of Analemma Resources LLC. 


Staley covered a variety of topics regarding drone use in urban forestry, including the current legal situation, the current capabilities of drone technology, and the start-up costs for a variety of different drones available for purchase.

The Rules
Currently, a homeowner’s private property rights extend 83 feet about ground level. Meaning that a person operating a drone would not legally be allowed to fly over a person’s property unless they were at least 83 feet above ground level. The current altitude flight limit is 400 feet above ground level. Drone operators are also legally required to keep the drone within visual line of site at all times during flight operation. However, all of these rules are difficult to enforce. Commercial businesses are required to have a certification in order to fly drones for profit. 

Drone Capabilities
Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), are primarily used for surveillance in the field of forestry. However, the technology of cameras has now advanced to the point where drones can utilize infrared and multispectral cameras to perform a variety of new surveillance tasks. Infrared cameras can assess tree leaf temperatures to diagnose drought stress, insect infestation, deadwood, and more. Multispectral cameras can be used to identify tree species as the leaves of different tree species reflect different wavelengths of light.Additionally, drones are now being utilized for tree risk assessment, placing climber throwlines into trees, and for taking cool pictures. The utility of drones across all industries will only increase as technology improves. 

Cool but Costly
Unfortunately, the start-up costs for implementing drones into your business practices can get pretty expensive. Drone flying is an acquired skill that takes practice to perfect and crashing a high-end drone can be an expensive mistake. Staley recommended first buying a low-end drone for around $150, then an intermediate aircraft for ~$300, and finally a professional grade drone with spare parts, insurance, and a carrying case. The pro-grade drone and all of the aforementioned could run upwards of $2,000. These costs also do not include the high-end camera technology or the data analysis software needed to analyze infrared/multispectral images. Many drone operators choose to contract their data analysis duties to data service companies who are better equipped to deal large image renderings. Businesses that only need drone technology occasionally or one time only might want to consider hiring a professional drone pilot to complete their work for them to lower costs and eliminate the chance of crashing an expensive drone. The prospects presented by commercial and personal drone use are certainly interesting and in some cases worrying. It is likely we will see new laws and new anti-drone technology entering the market to combat wrongful use of drones in the near future. In any case, the existence of drones in urban forestry is opening up many new windows of opportunity and it will be fun to watch the future unfold! For more information on drone technology here in Indianapolis, visit