A drone’s aerial perspective on a red oak (Quercus rubra), infected with oak wilt, in Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery.

NYSDEC recently launched its use of drones for things like monitoring coastal erosion on Lake Ontario, exploration of bat caves in Mineville, restoration of beach dunes on Fire Island, and monitoring Southern pine beetle in pine stands on Long Island. There are few known instances of drone use in the urban forests of New York; it’s thought that this is because people are worried about safety and are uncertain about the potentially prohibitive laws at work in populous areas.

However, the Council’s own Joseph Charap has begun using drones in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn with the help of his colleague, Vice President of Operations, Eric Barna. (Charap is Green-Wood’s Director of Horticulture and Curator.) Their first use of Barna’s Phantom 3 drone was to get aerial imagery of a veteran red oak (Quercus rubra) tree at Green-Wood that Charap suspected might be infected with oak wilt. 

“The drone images were an essential step in the diagnostic process,” Charap says. “They served to provide info to NYSDEC who could then see that further diagnostics were warranted.” On-the-ground sampling and diagnosis by DEC confirmed that the tree was infected with the dreaded oak wilt, which set into motion containment efforts by NYC Parks in collaboration with Charap and NYSDEC. “The aerial photos also gave DEC a look at how oak wilt may manifest elsewhere in Brooklyn,” Charap adds.

Next up, Charap would like to explore using drones for aerial vegetation mapping. “To complement our ground level work, we’d like to have an aerial macro-perspective on our acres of vegetation, to gain insight into how different plant material grows in different areas,” Charap says. “Drone imaging and analysis may provide a more holistic impression. For instance, imagine looking at turf from that aerial perspective and seeing and analyzing patterns and changes that occur over time, including the effects of climate change.”

Drones will be useful for mapping. “I think that’s the next frontier for drones—combining mapping and forest health assessment functions,” Charap says. “We’re game to experiment with that here. And even that may just be the tip of the iceberg in terms of potential uses of drone technology in an urban arboretum setting.”

Recommended reading:Oak wilt found in six new New York locations“, Cornell Chronicle, September 18, 2017.