How Drones Are Being Used in Forestry: 5 Benefits of Remotely Piloted Aircrafts

In recent years, drones have become a proven and popular tool assisting the forestry industry. Having their roots in military operations, drones are now allowing forest managers and researchers to better access difficult terrains, earn accurate real-time data, save both time and money, and have reduced the need for teams on-site.

Drones come in all shapes and sizes. Small drones, like quadcopters as well as larger fixed-wing aircraft, are most commonly used in forestry management today. When coupled with cameras and other technologies that collect important data – such as infrared (IR) cameras – along with GPS units for navigation control and mapping purposes, drones can give us a valuable bird’s eye view of forests from altitudes impossible to reach by ground or aircrews.

Overview of Drone Uses in Forestry

Drone technology is advancing rapidly, from remote sensing to geomatics, forestry applications are even accessing more futuristic capabilities such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML). AI-enabled systems allow sophisticated image analysis tasks like tree species recognition – a huge benefit for forest management planning. Furthermore, ML algorithms can analyze and classify vast amounts of data that can be used by foresters for predictive management decision-making.

In terms of specific usage applications, some of the primary uses for drone services fall into two categories: mapping and surveillance/monitoring. With regards to mapping, drone imagery can provide accurate data regarding canopy structure which provide insights into the health of a forest stand or ecosystem as well as 3D models that provide detailed elevation information enabling forest service professionals to optimize resource management decisions. In addition to mapping analytics drones also have an important role in surveillance/monitoring through the use of thermal imaging sensors that detect wildlife presence amongst other uses.

Benefits of Using Drones in Forestry

In addition to locating tree species and collecting environmental data, remotely piloted aircraft (RPAs) or drones can provide an unparalleled view of a forest that cannot be seen from ground level.

The benefits of using drones for forestry include:

  • More efficient management and monitoring. Drones can cover large tracts of land quickly, allowing for more informed decisions related to reforestation programs or logging operations.
  • Better accuracy in logging operations with fewer mistakes – for example, in precision thinning where trees are removed while leaving other trees intact; a task difficult to achieve using traditional methods.
  • Enhanced public safety. By providing detailed topographical maps, accurate estimates of tree heights, and brushfire data, drones can help resource managers reduce hazardous conditions around forests and mitigate wildfire risks.
  • Speedier damage assessment following disasters like hurricanes or timber fires. After a disaster event, drone flights provide easy access to quickly assess the area without having to waste time sending personnel into dangerous terrain.
  • Improved surveillance of illegal logging activity using satellite imagery combined with drone imagery taken from closer distances gives greater accuracy when identifying illicit activities taking place in remote areas that would otherwise be difficult to identify from the ground level or satellite level alone.

Drone Technologies

Drone Technologies

The most common drone technologies used in forestry are aerial photography and multispectral sensors. Multispectral sensors capture multiple bands of visible light, allowing scientists to identify plant type, disease occurrence, and other variables on the ground. This data can then be used to develop optimal management strategies for forest habitats. Aerial photography provides a bird’s eye view that traditional field methods can’t replicate; it helps foresters understand forest features such as canopy cover, road networks, and water sources more effectively. Additionally, thermal imaging is being used to detect wildfires as well as track animal behavior in forests. Furthermore, drones have enabled automated tree measurement through laser scanners so that data could be quickly collected from multiple areas or heights in an environment faster than what was previously possible with manual surveying alone.

As drones become increasingly advanced and accessible, there is an exciting potential for their use in forestry operations even further.

Regulations that need to be followed

Before deploying a drone in any forestry area, it is essential to understand and adhere to the applicable law in the location where the drone is planned for use. In general, most countries require that people applying to fly drones for commercial or recreational purposes have an operator’s certificate or permit as well as appropriate insurance coverage. Depending on the local regulations these further requirements may apply:

  • The operating zone must be marked out with visible boundaries delimiting the areas where flight is allowed.
  • Keepers of wildlife areas must be informed in advance if they plan to fly over these locations.
  • Fly within the specified maximum altitude; this is normally set at no more than 120 meters above ground level.
  • Stay clear of operational airports unless permission has been given by air traffic control.
  • Abide by aviation standards, codes, and practices including reporting any circumstance which makes safe operation unfeasible.
  • Avoid distractions and resist flying over urban, densely populated, or congested areas unless authorized by local authorities – preferably through written agreement.
  • Operate only during daylight hours and only if visibility conditions allow you complete control of your UAS during flight without reliance on visual cues from bystanders located nearby or in remote locations.

It is important to follow all applicable guidelines when flying your drone; failure to do so can result in loss of license and/or civil liability penalties so it’s always worth taking the time to research or seek advice from relevant authorities before embarking on a project involving aerial photography with drones in forestry contexts.



As technology continues to evolve, the possibilities for drones in forestry quickly become endless. While there may be risks associated with flying in certain environments and locations, the advantages far outweigh any potential dangers when it comes to using unmanned aerial vehicles for surveying and monitoring purposes. From providing access to previously unexplored regions to collecting real-time data on climate changes throughout our forests, drones are opening doors and creating opportunities for conducting essential research initiatives while also offering protection and preservation of valuable natural resources.