Tag Archives: Forest

More Forest Numbers and Tree-Planting Drones

Here’s a new idea under the sun… tree-planting drones.


Take a minute and think about all of the forest products you use in a day. I’m sitting on one right now as is my laptop. Anyone who’s bought school supplies in the last weeks has also consumed a fair amount. As an avid list-maker, I use my fair share of small pieces of paper for reminders and tasks to be done. Of course, let’s not forget the oxygen. The U.S. Forest Service estimates that forest products account for 4.5% of the total U.S. manufacturing gross domestic product at $190 billion in products annually and employing >900,000 people. There’s little room for doubt, forests are valuable both as they stand and as they fall.

I’ve mentioned before that numbers are important. In this context, numbers about forests can be extremely valuable. New research in Nature this week gives a new estimate of our global tree density. The good news… The earth has nearly an order of magnitude more trees than previously estimated by satellite imagery. The research team puts the total number of trees on the planet at 3.04 trillion. That’s more than 400 trees per person. To you, these numbers are likely just interesting statistics to impress your friends, but to scientists, conservationists and the forestry industry the new estimates of tree density are important for guiding management policies.

The new estimate is based on more than 400,000 ‘ground-sourced measurements of tree density from every continent except Antarctica.’ Translation: A lot of man-hours were spent by humans in a forest collecting tree density data. Of course, the team wasn’t able to count each and every tree, but this is more accurate data than estimating tree numbers from space. Check out the video below for a great data visualization of the world’s forests based on this new research.

If you were paying attention, forest numbers are not static. For various reasons around the globe forests are declining. Current estimates give a net loss of 10 billion trees a year. Some of this loss is due to forest fires, but for decades the forestry industry has become increasingly mechanized to efficiently harvest trees for all of those useful forest products. On the other side of the equation, replanting new trees has not experienced the same industrialization and relies heavily on meticulous man hours and dirty hands. The company BioCarbon Engineering seeks to change this and offers a new scalable model for planting trees using drones. Yes, drones for a noble purpose. The drones are engineered to shoot bullets wrapped in a biodegradable casing and containing soil with pre-germinated seeds into the ground. This could be used for replanting after forest fires or in other areas where forests need help with recovery.

From BioCarbon Engineering

From BioCarbon Engineering

They estimate that they can scale up to 1 billion trees per year. It greatly decreases the amount of human hours involved compared to hand-planting. It’s also more efficient relative to mass seeding because the seeds are pre-germinated, which will eliminate the loss due to bad seeds. The numbers are still not yet in the trees’ favor, but closing the gap with deforestation is a step in the right direction and the Lorax would be proud.


*Of course, BioCarbon Engineering could always enter into a relationship with that BIOS Urn company that uses your cremated ashes as the germination medium for tree seeds. Then you and your loved ones could have your ashes with tree seedlings shot almost anywhere to make a stand of trees somewhere in the wilderness rather than just one tree at a time with a single urn. But as I’ve mentioned before, that’s not exactly how photosynthesis and the carbon cycle works.

//The blog has been dark for a record length of time. Only for lack of time and not material. Regularly scheduled posts coming soon.

References and Links:



For more on the tree-counting research, check out this post over at The Quiet Branches blog.








By the numbers: U.S. Old growth forests

English: Redwood trees in Muir Woods National ...

English: Redwood trees in Muir Woods National Monument, just outside San Francisco, California, United States. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In case yesterday’s post about Hyperion left you wondering about the greater state of forests in the U.S., I’ve got some numbers for you.

I mentioned in passing that Hyperion was approximately 700 – 800 years old, which is not particularly ancient as far as trees go. The North American continent was a much different place when Hyperion was a sapling. Before European settlement, about 46% of the land that would become the modern United States was forest. By 1907, this number had decreased to 33% and fortunately has remained stable since that time. However, very little (~26%) of those original forests still exist today. Most of this ‘old-growth’ forest resides on public lands in Nation Forests and National Parks. Interestingly, it was estimated that the tract of land on which Hyperion stands came within probably two weeks of being logged before it was annexed into the protection of the parks system.

The economy of forestry and ecological conservation are in a constant policy struggle to balance short-term human needs with longer-term ecosystem-wide needs. Forest products have a value of ~$230 billion dollars annually, but forests also play vital roles as a habitat for many other species and a mechanism for the large scale natural capture of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Nevertheless, these related but conflicting interests must compromise to ensure a sustainable existence of forests.

While these facts all seem so logical, there’s something about ancient forests that gives them inherent value worthy of protection. There is an awesomeness there that demands silence. The immense size of the trees and the diversity of life all around make being human seem insignificant, but at the same time a forest affirms your place in the world and restores your spirit. I’m not the only one that thinks so…

“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.” John Muir

“In my deepest troubles, I frequently would wrench myself from the persons around me and retire to some secluded part of our noble forests.” John James Audubon

“It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air that emanation from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.” Robert Louis Stevenson

Being in the forest is refreshing, but I, like all of you reading this, sleep at night in a home made of forestry products. So if you also appreciate the latter, value the former.









Extra reading on forest policy: http://ncseonline.org/sites/default/files/BOG.pdf