Another major part of my job is drone flying and taking imagery of harvesting blocks that have reclaimed roads for my Operations Forester, Carleen Masik. I was given the opportunity to get my drone flying license with Weyerhaeuser and I’ve been putting it to good use. Carleen assigned me Dan the Mavic Pro 2 drone for the summer, and we’ve worked quite well together. Occasionally, Dan does have a bit of a temperamental technical flareup, but for the most part is great at his job. It is never anything that a quick reboot cannot solve!
I plan out my flying blocks the night before, downloading offline maps on Drone Deploy and ensuring that I’m being as efficient as possible. Depending on block sizes and whether I need to walk into the block to fly it, I manage to finish anywhere from five to thirteen blocks a day. I think the walk-in blocks are the most fun as I’m able to go on little adventures and berry pick along the way. Walking into blocks that are reclaimed give me a good idea of the harvesting process that occurs and the efforts that are taken to close off a block. Once a block is harvested, in short it is site prepped, planted, and then reclaimed so the trees can grow. I’ve also seen firsthand the effort that is taken to ensure that harvesting is done in the most sustainable way. Recent cut blocks are surrounded by multi-age stands, varying from 20 to 60 years old, ensuring that a large span of land is never cut at once. Having multi-age stands is important in ensuring that wildlife and biodiversity still have room to grow while we fulfill our wood needs.
Flying the drone itself is fun, but the flights are not manual. Carleen spent quite some time designing all the drone flight paths in Drone Deploy to ensure that the whole block is covered in the most efficient means. My day often consists of driving out the block that needs imagery and then set up begins. I haul my bag of drone equipment out, plug in the drone remote to the iPad and begin the pre-flight checklist. The checklist includes things like proper weather conditions, battery level, flight restrictions, and of course if the protective gimbal is off the camera. Once the checklist is completed, the drone is cleared for take-off. With the push of a button, Dan begins to rotate his propellors and quickly flies away. The most important part of drone flying is to ensure that you’re constantly within a line of sight with the drone, so you don’t lose reception. I am very fortunate to have never crashed or lost Dan in the block (knock on wood, the season isn’t over yet!).
Road reclamation is the process of overturning the existing soil that was used to construct the road into a suitable habitat for tree regeneration. It is also a means to defer the public from entering freshly planted sites, so the trees can grow. After the block is harvested, the block is assessed whether it needs site preparation for tree planting the following year. Once the block is site prepped, it is then planted. The typical stocking density for blocks ranges from 1400 to 1800 stems per hectare and is planted with trees that are endemic to the site (there is definitely a lot more to silviculture planning than this!). The access road into the block is then reclaimed and later planted again. All in all, the effort made to ensure our forests are regenerated is noticed. My drone flying allows Weyerhaeuser to show government audits that we are doing our part to fulfill our forest management plan and successfully manage our FMA.