D rones Drones dropped thousands of tree seeds on the blackened ground in British Columbia last November. The flights were part of an experiment to replant First Nations forests that were destroyed in the fire season. With drones on their side, people in the area hope that they can move faster.

British Columbia had one of the worst fire seasons on record. The smoke took with it homes, cars, and trees. It was devastating for the local residents and First Nations communities. The Plateau Complex was formed by 20 different fires. It was the largest fire in the province's history. Climate change and human activity have increased the prevalence of wildfires in recent decades, in addition to how severely they scorch, while forest fires are a naturally occurring hazard that have been happening for millennia.

Some of these areas have burnt so hot that there’s no regeneration of seedlings

Some of the areas where there have been fires have burned so hot that there is no regrowth of plants. The director of the company is Guichon. He is from a First Nation community that is working with the First Nations Government to replant the forests that were burned in the fire. The communities were affected by the fires.

Drones and workers at the Tŝideldel project in British Columbia.
Image: DroneSeed

The scattering of pine cones by the wind can cause trees to regenerate. When a fire is too hot, there is no way for seeds to survive and trees to grow again. Communities are using drones to help rebuild forests.

We wanted to find a new method of planting that would complement our current methods. Manual tree planting is done in groups and is hard work: individuals carry a long-handled spade and a 40-pound sack of infant trees and alternate spearing the soil and setting the baby tree in the hole. The process starts in the early morning when the soil is moist. Between 1,000 and 3000 trees a day can be planted manually.

A drone used during the Tŝideldel project.
Image: DroneSeed

The drones take a different approach. The fir and pine seeds were purchased from a nursery in California and sent to a Seattle-based startup.

About 10,000 pucks were dropped perhectare in the first round of planting. The team plans to keep an eye on the growth of the pines and firs that were planted into the spring and summer to see if the seeds will grow.

Bushels of cones drying in the cone barn at Silvaseed, a forestry seed provider. Silvaseed was recently acquired by DroneSeed.
Image: DroneSeed

If it's a kilometer to the nearest living tree, it's going to help the forest rebound more quickly than it could on its own.

While it is unlikely that drone seeding will ever replace manual planting, the technology is growing more and more popular. In British Columbia, Washington state, and other areas of the Pacific Northwest there have been additional reseeding efforts. Many of the efforts include working with foresters who have been affected by the fires. Land area surveys are easier to conduct and drones can reach places where manual planting can be difficult.

Bailey says there are things to consider when using drones. Lower elevation, lower latitudes, south-facing, steep slopes, and if you have lost all or most of the canopy cover, they can get very hot.

The results of the trial in British Columbia will be coming in over the next year or so and will hopefully yield some positive findings. Data from these test runs will be used to improve the future of projects.

Even if the seeds fail to take root, there is still hope that the forest will return. It might take a long time. Bailey likes to tell his students that the areas will be forest again, but it could take hundreds of years.