Currently there are a number of potential applications of UAVs to resolve forest engineering related problems.
Whether a state has a forestry practices act, or they have voluntary BMPs, the EPA requires the state forestry agency to help protect water quality. Locating harvest sites and inspecting forestry operations is a cumbersome and time-consuming activity. This is especially true in remote locations that are harvested over unspecified time frames. In some cases, driving to a single harvested tract can take a state official an entire day. Additionally, in most southeastern states the State Forestry agency does not have the right to trespass onto forested land to inspect for potential water quality violations (Yonce and Visser, 2003).
For this purpose the use of a UAV presents many opportunities. For those states that do not have a notification requirement, a high altitude flight would replace the current manned flight to locate recently completed or active harvest sites for reporting purposes to the EPA. Once located, a low altitude flight could capture high resolution images that would allow a state official to inspect environmental ‘performance’, such as the adequate use of SMZs, the quality of the stream crossing, the use of water-bars or turn-out structures on the skid-trails, and most importantly locating any active erosion sites that may be impacting water quality.
The ability of UAVs to fly in low cloud cover and moderate precipitation provides an additional advantage in SMZ monitoring. Given their ability to be deployed quickly, a specific area of concern could be checked during or immediately after a rain event. This type of low elevation, low visibility flight would not be permitted for manned aircraft due to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations.
Timber theft continues to be a large financial concern to forestry companies, and a recent study in just 12 counties in South West Virginia indicated up to 12 million dollars were being stolen every year (Baker 2003). Issues include the extensive forest boundaries, difficulty in finding boundaries on the ground, and a lack of manpower to actually monitor for illegal logging practices. UAVs could be programmed to fly boundaries of large forested landholdings; the images collected could then be analyzed manually or with automated comparison software to detect changes in the landscape. Any harvesting activities located can be verified with legal harvesting operations.
Forest roads and skid trails are typically the main source of erosion in forest operations. Even closed roads and trails are a concern. Using the corridor mapping capability UAVs can be programmed to fly over the complete forest road network and inspect for bank blow-outs or compromised drainage structures. If trouble spots were detected, an observer could retask the UAV during the same flight to take a closer look at those areas. Again, there is the benefit of using the UAV during or immediately after a rain event.
Trespass is another issue where UAVs can aid forestry companies. Typical trespass issues for forestry include:
ATV traffic compromising BMP structures (such as waterbars)
• ATV users constructing new trails through the forest
• poaching of managed game species
• dumping of refuse along roads
A UAV could be deployed at times when these behaviors are suspected to occur. The small size and relatively quiet operation of many UAVs would permit rapid surveillance of an area with minimal likelihood of detection.
Forest operations research commonly compares the production rates of equipment on a particular site. With the relative ease of UAV deployment, high-resolution images could be collected as needed. For example collecting images twice a day would provide an effective means of mapping progress and provide production rates on a per acre basis. Higher intensity collection would provide data on machine interaction and bottlenecks. Combining these maps with site data would allow for further analysis, including the effect of slope on an operation.