Drone flights may help de­tect bee­tle in­fes­ta­tion

The Denver Post - - DENVER & THE WEST - By John Fr­yar

Long­mont will be gath­er­ing data from drone flights to help de­ter­mine the spread of the de­struc­tive emer­ald ash borer in parts of a south­west area of the city.

The drone, or un­manned air­craft sys­tem, was flown over parts of the city on Thurs­day, ac­cord­ing to city forestry su­per­vi­sor Ken Wick­lund.

The emer­ald ash borer is a non-na­tive, wood-bor­ing bee­tle that can at­tach to all ash tree species. This in­sect was first dis­cov­ered in Michi­gan in 2002, and since then it has spread to 22 states, in­clud­ing Colorado.

The ash tree is a very com­monly planted tree in many com­mu­ni­ties. The emer­ald ash borer has killed tens of mil­lions of ash trees in the U.S. Once the emer­ald ash borer pop­u­la­tion builds in num­bers, ash mor­tal­ity is near 100 per­cent.

Aurora-based Ar­bor Drone LLC, a con­sult­ing com­pany that spe­cial­izes in aerial ur­ban forestry and Spec­tra­botics LLC, a Colorado Springs-based data an­a­lyt­ics firm, are col­lect­ing data from the drone flights over Long­mont.

The com­pa­nies stated in a news re­lease that the Long­mont

drone flights are us­ing a mul­ti­spec­tral sen­sor — a high-res­o­lu­tion sen­sor that col­lects light in both the vis­i­ble and in­frared spec­trums to study plant health — to find re­cently at­tacked ash trees to help the city’s ur­ban foresters mon­i­tor and plan for the de­struc­tive pest.

Wick­lund said Thurs­day’s Ar­bor Drone flights were “kind of a test” of the po­ten­tial of us­ing that sys­tem in sur­vey­ing and mon­i­tor­ing tree health in other parts of Long­mont, par­tic­u­larly in city parks and open space ar­eas — a tech­no­log­i­cal ap­proach that could help, he said, be­cause emer­ald ash borer tree in­fes­ta­tions can be dif­fi­cult to de­tect in their early stages.

Au­thor­i­ties have said it can take sev­eral years be­fore an in­fested tree shows vis­i­ble signs of de­cline.

Dan Sta­ley, a prin­ci­pal of Ar­bor Drone and the pi­lot in charge of Thurs­day’s project, said one ben­e­fit of the over­flight and sen­sor tech­nol­ogy to iden­tify emer­ald ash borer in­fested trees is that “once you find it, you can de­fine it and fol­low it.”

Sta­ley said it could be three to four weeks be­fore Ar­bor Drone and Spec­tra­botics re­ports back to Long­mont the re­sults of their anal­y­sis of Thurs­day’s over­flight.

Ar­bor Drone and Spec­tra­botics per­formed sim­i­lar emer­ald ash borer de­tec­tion and mon­i­tor­ing stud­ies in Denver and Boul­der in 2017, and in Denver and in sev­eral sites in Boul­der County in 2018.

Boul­der first dis­cov­ered and con­firmed the pres­ence of emer­ald ash borer in Septem­ber 2013.

The first sight­ing of emer­ald ash borer re­ported in Long­mont was on June 6, 2016.

Since then, the pest has also been found in Lafayette, Gun­bar­rel, Lyons and Su­pe­rior.

Long­mont city of­fi­cials said Long­mont is es­ti­mated to have an ash tree pop­u­la­tion of 43,000 trees on pub­lic and pri­vate prop­erty, and the city is work­ing to pro­tect 900 of the ap­prox­i­mately 2,800 city–owned ash trees in Long­mont.

Wick­lund said Long­mont has re­moved about 400 trees and treated 944.

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