This company wants to regrow Earth’s forests with drones

Along with taking lives and causing millions of dollars in property damage, the wildfires in California this week are scorching the land in another way: Millions of trees are being destroyed. The blazes have charred more than 770,000 acres in the state alone, as fires around the country seemingly grow more destructive by the year. 

Yet even that eye-opening number is a fraction of the devastation happening globally. The planet loses billions of trees every year due to a range of factors, including fire, illegal logging and clearance for agriculture.

“Trees are being lost at the rate of about a football field a second,” said David Skole, professor of forestry at Michigan State University. “If you’re watching the Michigan Wolverines play Michigan State and they go into overtime, every time the clock ticks down, a forest the size of that field disappears.”  

A swath of burning forest is seen during “Operation Green Wave” conducted by agents of the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources to combat illegal logging in the state of Amazonas, Brazil, August 4, 2017.

Bruno Kelly / REUTERS

While governments and environmental groups have committed to re-foresting depleted parts of the world, “We aren’t doing the work fast enough,” added Lauren Fletcher.

Fletcher, who spent 20 years as an engineer at NASA and Lockheed Martin (LMT), thinks he has a solution: drones. His company, BioCarbon Engineering, uses drones and data analysis to do large-scale replanting in areas that would otherwise take years to re-plant by hand.

The system works in two steps. First, a surveillance drone surveys an area to collect information about its soil type, climate, existing flora and other attributes to determine which plant species to introduce. “It’s not just trees — a healthy ecosystem has a variety of species that have to be planted,” he said.

Then, a planting drone is loaded…

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