Drone Technology Making Forestry Faster, Safer, More Efficient

Imagine a drone, hovering high above your home. A package is released from its clutches and gently drifts to the ground, aided by a parachute. And just like that, the package you ordered only 30 minutes ago is delivered to your yard. The scenario sounds like something from a science fiction movie, but recently, e-commerce giant Amazon was granted a U.S. patent for this innovation.

Domtar, a leading producer of pulp, paper and personal care products, also harnesses the power of drone technology to complete critical forestry tasks.

“The use of drones is absolutely the biggest advance I’ve seen in our business in a long time,” said Doug Teale, Sustainability Manager at Domtar’s Ashdown, Arkansas mill, which produces uncoated paper and premium fluff pulp used in products such as baby diapers. “They improve our efficiencies, the accuracy of our calculations, they save us time and keep our foresters safer. The impact has been tremendous, and we’re excited to share best practices with others across the Domtar network.”

At Ashdown, the technology was first put to use in 2016. Now, two drones monitor local forests for diseased trees and invasive species. The Ips beetle, for example, is a common pest that can burrow under tree bark and tunnel through pine and spruce trees causing damage that can kill the trees. Using drones, foresters can now quickly check for infestations. What used to be a half day’s work is now accomplished in 20 minutes, Teale said.

At the Windsor mill, which also uses other high-tech harvesting techniques, drones calculate wood chip piles, monitor forest health and assist with nutrient assessments. Drones will soon play an even more critical role at Windsor as new dangers emerge.

“Drones are proving to be an invaluable tool in forestry,” said André Gravel, Fiber Manager at Domtar’s Windsor mill. “They save time, improve efficiencies and help safeguard employees. Drones will have added usefulness in the very near future because the Windsor mill is now in the radius of the Emerald Ash Borer. That infestation proved to be quite damaging, so we anticipate the drones will help us work proactively to combat the problem with great efficiency.”

To learn more about Domtar’s use of drone technology and view footage of the drones in action, click here.

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