Federally Supported Drone Flights Help Maintain Great Lakes Ecosystems

Michigan Technological University has been conducting a series of unmanned aircraft system (UAS) flights over the Hiawatha National Forest on the Stonington (Wedens Bay area) and Garden (Ogontz Bay area) Peninsulas of Michigan.

The Federal Aviation Administration-approved flights, which began earlier this month, will gather information to assess the health and condition of the National Forest’s Great Lakes coastal wetlands.

“The U.S. Forest Service is excited to partner with Michigan Tech on this Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI)-funded project to gather data and imagery that will help the nation maintain healthy Great Lakes ecosystems,” says Jim Ozenberger, a soil, water and landscape ecologist with the Hiawatha National Forest.

The GLRI was launched in 2010 to accelerate efforts to protect and restore the Great Lakes, the largest system of fresh surface water in the world. Federal agencies and their partners use GLRI resources to strategically target the biggest threats to the Great Lakes ecosystem.

The data from the drone initiative will be used to maintain habitats for near-shore fisheries of the Great Lakes, habitats for migrating birds, water quality, and hydrologic functioning. In addition, the information will be useful for the management of non-native, invasive species such as phragmites; coastal wetland ecological types; and topographic features such as roads, bridges and levies.

“This is a new application of technology, so these flights will also serve as a proof-of-concept test of the technology, data transfer and analysis,” states Curtis Edson, assistant professor of remote sensing and geographic information systems at Michigan Tech.

After this year’s flights are complete, the flight logistics and process will be reviewed and refined so that in future years, the project can be expanded to address the remainder of the National Forest’s Great Lakes coastline.

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