Forest Health Monitoring: Using Drones and Remote Sensing to Protect Your Vegetation


(5 min read) 

In this article: 

  • Learn what forest-endangering pests to be mindful of  
  • Learn what forest-endangering diseases to be mindful of 
  • Learn what you can do to combat the pests and diseases  
  • Learn how we can support you combat the pests and diseases

Introduction  

You might already know that all of us at Exelon Clearsight are huge advocates for nature and wildlife. But did you know that our work helps protect our forests through forest health monitoring? Let’s dive in and learn a little more about this specialized service. 

For forest managers and electric utility foresters, early detection of forest pest and disease outbreaks is not only a critical part of their mitigation strategy, it is essential to the survival of the forest. Early detection gives a wider range of possible mitigation actions and can help save trees and plants while also preventing overwhelming costs that occur when there is a significant outbreak. Late detection is rarely ideal; experts are left with few options and expensive costs.  

So, how big is this issue? There are numerous pests and diseases that affect forests throughout the U.S. Some of these pose chronic recurring problems while others are killing entire stands of susceptible trees across millions of acres. In this article, we will outline pests and diseases to be aware of and how we can support you in protecting our forests.  

Pests to Be Aware of 

Mountain Pine Beetle 

The Mountain Pine Beetle is aggressively devastating forests in all 19 western states and Canada. It has affected more than 900 miles (1,400 km) of trail, 3,200 miles (5,100 km) of road, and 21,000 acres (85 km2) of developed recreation sites over 4,500,000 acres (18,000 km2) in Colorado and southeastern Wyoming. Other outbreaks encompass the Black Hills of South Dakota and extend as far south as Arizona, and as far north as Montana and Idaho. 

Emerald Ash Borer 

The Emerald Ash Borer threatens forests across the entire U.S. So far, it has killed tens of millions of ash trees and threatens to kill most of the 8.7 billion ash trees throughout the U.S. Damage and efforts to control the spread of Emerald Ash Borer have affected businesses that sell ash trees or wood products, property owners, electric utilities, and local or state governments.  

Southern Pine Beetle 

The Southern Pine Beetle is native to southeastern states in the U.S., but its range extends from New Jersey to Florida to Texas and to Illinois. It is the most destructive pest in forests; it causes significant and rapid economic losses in all forest types. This invasive insect’s last widespread outbreak occurred in the early 2000s and resulted in an estimated $1.5 billion (about $5 per person in the U.S.) dollars of economic damage.  

Diseases to Be Aware of 

American Chestnut Blight 

American Chestnut Blight is a fungus that has virtually wiped out the American chestnut from eastern hardwood forests. The fungus is widespread and continues to survive as a non-lethal parasite on chinkapin, Spanish chestnut, and post oak. While there are mitigation tactics, no cure is currently available.  

Dutch Elm Disease 

Dutch elm disease (DED) primarily affects American and European species of elm. DED is a major disease problem throughout the range of elm in the United States. Many consider the loss of high-value urban trees to be devastating. 

Armillaria Root Rot 

Armillaria Root Rot attacks hardwoods and softwoods and kills shrubs, vines, and forbs in every state. It is pervasive in North America, commercially destructive, and a major cause of oak decline. This disease can kill trees that are already weakened by competition, other pests, or climatic factors. The fungi also infect healthy trees, either killing them outright or leaving them vulnerable to attacks by other fungi or insects. 

Verticillium Wilt 

Verticillium Wilt is common in many soils and affects several hundred herbaceous and woody plant species. Ash, catalpa, maple, redbud, and yellow poplar are the most frequently infected trees in the landscape but rarely in natural forest conditions. This disease can become a serious problem on susceptible hosts in infested soils, but many tree varieties have been developed with some resistance. 

How can you protect your forests?  

Forest managers and utility foresters should be aware of current and historic forest health conditions in their jurisdictions. Several tasks need to be completed to manage tree diseases. These tasks include:  

  1. Monitoring – Monitoring of tree diseases can increase the potential for successful disease management. Improved surveillance of forests for tree health problems is required and follow-up investigations of identified problems and “at-risk” forests are also required. 
  1. Forecasting – Forecasting can project potential forest disease impacts, provide insights on the magnitude and direction of change, help focus monitoring activities, and aid in the evaluation of management strategies.  
  1. Planning and Mitigation – Planning and mitigation strategies include increasing species and age diversity to promote growth and resilience, using appropriate management techniques to increase tree vigor, and lower pathogen impacts. 

How can we help protect your forests? 

We care about your forests and want to ensure your monitoring strategy includes comprehensive early detection of damaging pests and diseases. Exelon Clearsight’s expert team can work with you to incorporate state-of-the-art inspection technology and data insights into your routine asset inspections. 

Oftentimes, our services detect problems far earlier than using traditional inspection methods alone. How? Damage to trees from aggressive pests and diseases often shows up first as stress symptoms in the crowns of trees. Those stress symptoms can be detected visually by drone or in the near-infrared (IR) using Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) analysis from aerial photography or satellite imagery.  

Bottom Line 

Remote sensing, analysis of NDVI imagery, regular inspections, and follow-up inspections – these all play an important part in staying ahead of the impacts caused by forest pests and diseases. Forest managers and utility foresters should be aware of the threats posed by pests and diseases within their jurisdiction, and those that have the potential to become a concern. Exelon Clearsight can help with the early detection of pests and diseases. Our technology and expertise can provide you more time to respond, increasing the options and potentially lowering the costs. Contact us when you’re ready to take your vegetation management plan to the next level.  

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