Drones are changing the way conservation is conducted — @Nature_Org

From The Nature Conservancy (Jan TenBruggencate):

They can track feral animals, survey invasive species, check fencelines and photograph rare plants on the highest, steepest cliffs. In doing so, the Nature Conservancy’s newest conservation workers float like butterflies over the native forest.

“Drones are revolutionizing the way conservation can be conducted, and for far less than the cost of a helicopter or sending in ground teams,” said Alison Cohan, the Conservancy’s director for Maui Nui forest programs.

Unmanned aerial vehicles—drones—are performing jobs that would otherwise be time-consuming, dangerous and, in some cases, impossible. And with every passing week, wildland managers are identifying new applications for this remarkable technology.
Like herding—using drones as airborne sheepdogs to move feral animals out of areas where they threaten native plant communities. Or taking drones out over the ocean to assess the health of coral reefs. Or flying up the side of a tall native palm to inspect flowers and fruit, to confirm it is a new find or an endangered species.

“We started thinking about this years ago, but the technology wasn’t there yet,” said Trae Menard, director of forest conservation for The Nature Conservancy of Hawai‘i.

FAA CERTIFICATION

Menard led the Hawai‘i program into the world of drones. At first, the batteries didn’t last long enough. They were far too expensive. And they didn’t have first-person viewing—the ability for the operator to see what the drone is seeing in real time.

About two years ago, those matters had been largely resolved. Drones were cheaper, you could view their imagery on an iPad or a cell phone, they were linked with cameras of superb quality, and they had enough power to do real work. But the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ruled that to use a drone for non-recreational purposes would require a pilot’s license.

“We would have needed pilots on staff,” said Melinda Ching, the Conservancy’s senior regional attorney.

Ching worked with the mainland law firm Morrison & Foerster, which in turn worked with the FAA to develop a special certification for conservation drone operators—detailed enough to ensure public safety, but you didn’t need to know how to fly a full-size plane.

“Morrison & Foerster has a whole team that does aviation law. We were able to influence regulations for small commercial operations and to develop a remote pilot certification. The Nature Conservancy’s examples of conservation use were cited in the commentary on the new rule,” Ching said.

MULTIPLE USES

The Conservancy’s Hawai‘i forest program operates drones from three of its offices—Kaua‘i, Maui Nui and Hawai‘i—and in just six months to a year of use, their value has become apparent. Shalan Crysdale, the Conservancy’s Hawai‘i Island director for forest conservation, listed a few of his drone applications:

● Assessing the effectiveness of a mountain slope to serve as a natural barrier against pigs by flying a drone out over the edge to measure its steepness.

● Gathering close-up imagery of suspect incipient weeds in remote areas, specifically vines in Ka‘ū that appeared to be banana poka or bitter melon, but were proven to be native hoi kuahiwi, or Smilax melastomifolia.

● Identifying endangered plant species in remote areas, such as Pritchardia lanigera, a rare loulu palm, in Ka‘ū preserve.

● Mapping trails and village sites within lava fields along the Hīlea coast at Kawa Bay.

“Shalan has also used drones to make a video for a grant proposal,” Menard said. “We realized that this could be an outreach tool, a way to bring the forest to the people.”

Maui Nui’s Cohan said her teams have used drones to check on the effectiveness of herbicide treatment on invasive Monterey pine, Mexican weeping pine and Sugi pine. Those weedy trees often grow on steep slopes that are too dangerous to access regularly on foot.

“We are able to fly these areas to do pre-and post-treatment comparisons—to monitor the dieback,” she said.

Drones are used on several islands to scout possible fenceline routes for natural geological barriers where fences can terminate. And once fences are in place, the drones can check their condition—to see whether pigs or deer have breached the wire mesh, or whether trees have fallen and damaged the fences.

LOWER COSTS, INCREASED SAFETY

At the Conservancy’s Kānepu‘u Preserve on Lāna‘i, drones are used to check on whether deer have managed to gain entry to the state’s best remaining natural assemblage of dryland forest, with its mature stands of native ebony (lama) and olive (olopua) sandalwood (‘iliahi) and Hawaiian gardenia (nā‘ū).

And if deer are observed, Cohan said, the buzzing drones can be used to drive them out of the protected forest area. “We can do this work at far less cost and with greater safety than traditional helicopter and ground operations,” she said.

Lucas Behnke, the natural resource manager for Kaua‘i, is one of the Conservancy’s certified drone pilots. He was licensed in September 2016.

“The drone changes the angle from which we can observe the environment,” he said. “That perspective is the most exciting part about drones.”

Of course, it’s not all good. Drones can also cause problems.

“They make a lot of noise. They clearly can affect invasive ungulates (hooved animals like goats, pigs and deer), but they also have the potential to affect bird behavior,” Behnke said. “We need to be careful.”

That said, drones have the potential to allow researchers to regularly fly the forest and create images that map changes over time—seasonal changes, changes in weed invasion, changes in forest composition, even progression of diseases through the landscape.

The Conservancy’s drone corps is anxious to hook up forward-looking infrared capacity to the drones—perhaps to identify the presence of invasive ungulates under the canopy. With the help of heat-sensors, drones could also potentially identify remnant hot spots after forest fires have been largely extinguished, Menard said.

MARINE APPLICATIONS

The Conservancy’s Hawai‘i marine program is also experimenting with drones. Community-based Program Manager Manuel Mejia and Fellow Bert Weeks are testing whether a drone called the “aquacopter” can be used to detect coral bleaching and the regrowth of invasive algae on patch reefs in O‘ahu’s Kāne‘ohe Bay.

The aquacopter can be programmed to land on water and uses a camera on its underbelly to capture underwater photos and video as it moves from point to point along a pre-determined flight path. “If we are successful, the aquacopter could substantially reduce the long man hours normally required for surveying,” Weeks said. “Another potential application is using the cameras to create 3-D models of the reefs.”

As Conservancy staff continue to identify new uses of existing drones, the drones themselves are getting better. The expectation is that engineering advances will create drones that are smaller, lighter and have a longer battery life.

“It’s powerful. A new frontier,” said Menard. “It’s changing the way we do conservation.”

McPhee still free of quaggas

Mcphee Reservoir

From The Durango Herald (Jim Mimiaga):

A coalition of local government agencies that formed to prevent an invasive mussel contamination at McPhee Reservoir can claim victory in its first year.

A test in October showed no sign of the dreaded quagga or zebra mussels, which proliferate rapidly and can attach in suffocating layers to irrigation and municipal infrastructure.

“With the help of the community, we have avoided contamination and protected our water source,” Ken Curtis, an engineer with the Dolores Water Conservancy District, said during a recent community meeting to gather public comment.

The success is credited to stringent new rules that require all motorized and trailered boats to go through mussel inspection stations at either the House Creek or McPhee boat ramps during open hours. Mussels are carried in standing water of engines and ballasts.

Restricted access changed the culture of McPhee access.

2018 #COleg: Interim Water Resources Review Committee votes to carry the “Mussels-Free Colorado Act”

Quaggas on sandal at Lake Mead

From ColoradoPolitics.com (Marianne Goodland):

The program, authorized in 2008, has faced cutbacks in recent years just as mussels and their larvae are increasingly being found on boats entering Colorado reservoirs.

According to Doug Krieger, aquatic section manager for the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife (CPW), about a half million inspections are done every year at Colorado’s 80 reservoirs. The state was able to declare itself mussel-free in January, but that victory was short-lived, according to Krieger, when mussel larvae were detected in August at Green Mountain Reservoir in Summit County. Seven other Colorado reservoirs that previously detected mussel larvae have since been declared mussel-free, including Pueblo Reservoir, which had the worst problem in the state with mussel larvae between 2008 and 2011.

Unfortunately, the inspection program at Green Mountain has been cut back about 35 percent, Krieger told the committee, due to funding cuts. That means a shorter inspection season and shorter hours for those inspections. And that can lead to boaters who avoid inspections, whether putting in boats on private land around the reservoir or at the public ramps when inspections aren’t available.

At the same time, the discovery of mussel larvae at the reservoir means boats entering and exiting the reservoir are now subject to what Krieger called “high-risk” inspections and decontamination.

Green Mountain isn’t the only reservoir that has seen mussel activity; Krieger said there were seven other reservoirs this year with mussel detection.

Boats at state reservoirs are inspected and decontaminated, if necessary, at no charge, Krieger told Colorado Politics. Mussel larvae can attach itself to anything that gets wet, whether it’s the boat, anchors and anchor ropes, fishing gear, boat trailers or outboard or inboard engines. In one case, in southwestern Colorado, a boat came in heavily contaminated with mussels and their larvae, and it took weeks to completely decontaminate the boat, according to Doug Vilsack, the legislative liaison for the Department of Natural Resources. But because there’s no basis in law to recoup those costs, the boat owner was charged nothing for that decontamination.

The bill the committee decided to sponsor Tuesday would do two things: require boaters to obtain a stamp for their boats, and allow the division to recoup the costs of decontaminating boats that come in with mussels or their larvae.

Western Govs. request help from feds for fighting quaggas

Zebra and Quagga Mussels

From The New Jersey Herald (Keith Ridler):

The Western Governors’ Association on Thursday sent a letter urging Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to put in place by spring 2018 controls to prevent the spread of zebra and quagga mussels.

The governors are asking that federal agencies conduct mandatory inspections and decontamination of boats leaving infected water bodies.

The governors say they’re particularly concerned about the mussels reaching the Columbia River Basin, Lake Tahoe, and the Colorado River Basin above Lake Powell.

#ColoradoRiver: Lake Powell quagga infestation update #COriver

While Lake Powell entered 2002, when this photo was taken, with a pretty healthy amount of water stored, by 2004 the bathtub rings had expanded as drought deepened. Photo/U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

From Cronkite News (Kianna Gardner) via the Arizona Daily Sun:

The adult quagga mussel finding [on March 3, 2013], coming less than a year after [veligers] were first spotted, marked the end of more than a decade of attempts to keep the invasive species from taking over Lake Powell and cued the beginning of a new fight.

Experts deem it impossible to entirely eradicate the mussels from Lake Powell, a tourist destination that spans Utah and Arizona. The mussels latch on to the walls of Glen Canyon Dam and the hundreds of boats skimming the lake’s waters. If the mussels could not be removed from the lake, the experts concluded, at least they might contain the threat to keep it from spreading to other waters.

Clumps of quagga mussels damage the dam’s water flow, undercut an ecosystem for other aquatic species, cling to boat engines and cost millions of dollars to handle.

“It was a huge responsibility and honor to try and protect this lake. It is still a huge responsibility and honor to contain the quagga mussels here,” said Colleen Allen. She holds a distinctive title as a leader in the quagga mussel incursion: aquatic invasive species coordinator for Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

The quagga mussel, a freshwater mollusk that likely was unwittingly brought into Lake Powell by boat, have proven to be a small but mighty foe. Less than three years after finding that mussel, the invasion had spread throughout most of the 186 miles of Lake Powell. Today, quagga mussels can be found in every canyon crevice, Glen Canyon officials said.

@CFWEWater Webinar: Aquatic Nuisance Species The Threat and Solutions

Click here for all the inside skinny and to register:

On Tuesday, October 24th, from 12:00 pm – 1:00 pm, the Colorado Water Congress and the Colorado Foundation for Water Education will host a webinar on the threat of aquatic nuisance species, specifically zebra and quagga mussels, to our waterways and delivery systems in Colorado.

Aquatic nuisance species continues to be a hot topic for the water community, but we need to reach beyond our own network when communicating about this looming threat to our pristine waterways. Join us to learn about the threat these invasive mussels pose, and how Colorado is working to educate the public and our policy makers so we can maintain healthy waterways and infrastructure.

Speakers:

  • Mike Preston | Dolores Water Conservancy District
  • Ken Curtis | Dolores Water Conservancy District
  • Doug Vilsack | Colorado Parks and Wildlife
  • Doug Krieger | Dept. of Natural Resources
  • Registration is FREE! Learn more and register here.

    Durango: Russian Olive mitigation

    Russian Olive

    From The Durango Herald (Mia Rupani):

    Mountain Studies Institute and Southwest Conservation Corps continue to wage war against the Russian olive, an invasive species that chokes out native trees and degrades the quality of the watershed.

    Last year, MSI was awarded a $195,000 grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board and an additional $52,000 from Colorado Parks and Wildlife for a three-year Russian olive-removal project.

    Removal efforts continued Saturday morning at Animas Valley Elementary and Christ the King Lutheran Church with two saw crews from SCC, and help from Durango Daybreak Rotary Club.

    MSI’s Amanda Kuenzi said the project specifically targets Russian olive trees on private land…

    Originally introduced for ornamental landscaping, the plants are native to East Asia and Russia, and consume nearly 75 gallons of water per day.

    They are considered a “List B noxious weed,” which requires local governments to manage their spread under Colorado state law…

    “Russian olive reduce wildlife habitat, interfere with nutrient cycling and outcompete native species,” Kuenzi said. “The wetlands have been deteriorating in the West because of irrigation practices and water storage. We have to protect these important ecosystems.”

    She said crews will be working on removal efforts through mid-November with about 60 private landowners throughout the Animas River Valley.

    On Saturday, the Rotary Club collected wood from the removal effort for its firewood-distribution project.