Baseline Drone Survey of Tree and Shrub Mortality on Mount Diablo State Park

For this recently funded grant project, which is weeks away from initiation, Nomad will be conducting drone flights and spatial analysis of drone imagery to determine the species and extent of tree and shrub mortality on Save Mount Diablo (SMD) and Mount Diablo State Park (MDSP) lands that appear to have been affected by a pathogen. Affected trees and shrubs in this area provide core habitat for Alameda whipsnake and two endemic manzanita species. Infestation and spread of pathogens on native tree and shrub species can happen rapidly, making the acquisition of baseline existing conditions extremely important to track pathogen spread and plant mortality into the future. These rapid changes are difficult to capture on the ground due to steep, inaccessible terrain.

Using drones to capture small-scale temporal changes in vegetative health and mortality via high-resolution aerial imagery capture can assist with ecological evaluations and increase the efficiency of mapping the spatial distribution of affected plant species. Under permit from MDSP, Nomad Drone Pilot Heath Bartosh will fly a drone quadcopter to develop high-resolution georectified aerial imagery for an approximate total of 500 acres of SMD and MDSP lands where tree and shrub mortality is occurring. This imagery will be compatible for use with ArcGIS software.

Following post-processing and georectification of the drone imagery, Nomad will utilize segmentation and classification tools in ArcMap, as well as heads-up digitizing, to identify and map locations of tree and shrub mortality in the study area. With this data in hand, Nomad botanists will return to the study area to ground-truth the mapping and confirm the identification of species that have been affected by the pathogen to quantify the areas of mortality by species. Upon completion of the field work a technical memorandum will be prepared describing the methodologies, results of segmentation and classification and field surveys, and a summary of the spatial distribution of tree and shrub mortality by species along with maps.

Getting this project started has been a challenge due recent climate conditions, temperature and wind speeds, as well as smoke from fires around the state. These suboptimal conditions have made mission planning for drone flights difficult, and hampered the ability to capture clear high-resolution imagery. Fortunately, this project is not dependent on the reproductive cycles of target trees and shrubs, and the results will not be affected by weather and climate-related delays. Nomad has successfully secured the drone flight permit and is prepared to begin work as soon as conditions improve.

LOCATION: Contra Costa County, California
CLIENT: East Contra Costa County Habitat Conservancy Science and Research Grant Program

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