According to the National Interagency Fire Center, 6,480,861 acres have burned across the United States this year alone as a result of 47,201 wildfires. In response, a Seattle-based company is tackling the issue of replanting and restoring forestry health in a rather science-fiction way. 

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Workers flying drones in a burned forest area

DroneSeed has spent the past few years developing a drone system that specifically targets the most efficient way to replant forests following a burn. It began by evaluating the current method of reforestation, which requires nurseries to spend one to two years growing small trees that are then hauled to the forest and planted by hand. Workers can cover about two acres per day. DroneSeed said they aren’t looking to replace any of those workers. Instead, they want to supplement the process. 

Related: BreezoMeter’s real-time data tracks air quality and wildfires

Two men wearing orange caution jackets watching a drone fly

At its roots, DroneSeed is a drone company. The very cool technology is not only fun to watch, but it performs the crucial task of dropping tree pods in a targeted way that emphasizes the best chance of growth success. Rather than simply dispersing seeds across the forest, which is imprecise and results in a high failure rate, the drones carry pods that are intentionally packed with everything the tree needs to grow including seeds, nutrients and natural pest deterrents. These seed vessels are placed using advanced laser mapping that identifies the healthiest soil areas to plant in. 

Two men holding drones that cover almost their entire height

Working in groups of five to six drones, controlled by four employees, they can plant an area covering 50 acres per day. While that barely makes a dent in the millions of acres burned each year, it does equal thousands of acres per year that would otherwise lay bare for a few years before replanting even begins. DroneSeed can start work as soon as 30 days after a fire. It is already replanting after summer burns in California and Oregon.

A small sprout growing from the ground

In addition to speed and efficiency, the drones can complete the task while saving the landowner money. DroneSeed estimates a 30% to 50% savings in replanting expenses. 

A small plant growing in a midst of burned area

Although air seeding is not new and there are other drone companies capable of doing the work, DroneSeed is the only company approved by the Federal Aviation Administration to deploy a fleet of heavy-lift drones to reforest after wildfires. The company recently raised enough capital from investors to acquire Silvaseed, a long-standing forestry company that will enhance seedling production for DroneSeed.

A woman standing on a stump of wood

“Global reforestation is key to our fight against climate change,” said Jay Zaveri, a partner at Social Capital. “We’ve supported DroneSeed from the very beginning given its promise to terraform our planet for good. Since then, DroneSeed has scaled its effort to reforest land, found a profitable model through carbon markets and transformed the experience of forest development for landowners.” 

+ DroneSeed 

Images via DroneSeed