S P A R C

In recent years, the forests of India face twin challenges of global warming and natural calamities, particularly in the hilly regions of India. As of 2021, India's total forest cover stands at 80.9 million hectares, representing 24.62% of the country's geographical area. This is significantly below the recommended 33% needed to maintain a sustainable environmental equilibrium. The task of managing and monitoring these forests is fraught with difficulties, including man-animal conflicts, anthropogenic encroachments, forest fires, and other disasters.


Evaluating and monitoring forest areas during restoration processes are crucial for assessing the success or failure of management interventions and for making necessary adjustments through adaptive management. However, field measurement of various indicators over large areas can be laborious and costly, and establishing reference values for these indicators is often challenging. In this challenging landscape, supervised classification techniques leveraging high-resolution images, in combination with expert systems to generate management recommendations, offer promising solutions for monitoring and evaluating restoration areas.


The introduction of Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) technology has revolutionized forest management, especially for large and difficult-to-access terrains. Modern UAVs are lighter and equipped with various payload capabilities, making them invaluable tools for forestry. Initially developed for the defense sector, drones have found widespread applications in forestry, providing a new dimension to forest management practices. These technologies facilitate efficient data collection and enhance the ability to monitor and manage forests effectively, ensuring that restoration efforts are both successful and sustainable.


Using a variety of payloads such as thermal cameras, mapping devices, LiDAR, 3D photogrammetry oblique cameras, and multispectral cameras in UAVs can significantly benefit the forestry sector.



Some of the advantages of employing these advanced drone technologies in forest management include:


Data Collection

Drones facilitate efficient data collection for the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) and plantation projects by capturing precise geospatial data and monitoring growth patterns.


Monitoring

Drones offer real-time monitoring capabilities, allowing forest managers to track changes in forest health, detect illegal activities, and respond quickly to emergencies like forest fires.


Data Analytics and Processing

The high-resolution data gathered by drones can be processed using advanced analytics to generate actionable insights, supporting decision-making in forest management and conservation strategies.


The multifaceted benefits of using drones in the forest management can be used in addressing various challenges such as:


Tree Count and Canopy Density: Drones can efficiently count trees and assess canopy density, providing vital data for forest inventory and health assessment.


Encroachment Detection: High-resolution aerial imagery from drones helps detect illegal encroachments in forest areas, facilitating timely intervention.


Vegetation Management: Drones assist in habitat characterization, vegetation coverage mapping, and identifying gaps between trees, supporting wildlife management and conservation efforts.


Forest Changes Pattern: Drones monitor changes in forest patterns over time, enabling the detection of deforestation and degradation trends.


Biomass Estimation: LiDAR-equipped drones estimate forest biomass accurately, crucial for ecological studies and carbon stock assessment.


Carbon Sequestration: By analyzing forest health and biomass, drones help estimate carbon sequestration, aiding climate change mitigation strategies.


Plantation Health Monitoring: Multispectral cameras on drones monitor the health of plantations, identifying stress and disease in vegetation.


Illegal Sand Mafia Tracking and Monitoring: Drones provide surveillance to detect and monitor illegal sand mining activities within forested areas.


Asset Management: Drones help manage forest assets like infrastructure, ensuring their maintenance and security.


Tiger/Wildlife Tracking: Equipped with thermal cameras, drones track wildlife movements, supporting conservation and anti-poaching efforts.


Night-time Poaching Patrol: Drones enhance night-time surveillance, helping to prevent poaching and protect wildlife.


Forest Fire Monitoring: Real-time aerial monitoring by drones aids in the early detection and management of forest fires.


Forest management today requires a holistic approach that integrates the needs and concerns of various stakeholders, including wildlife, indigenous communities, and the broader environment. Wildlife depends on healthy forests for habitat and sustenance, while indigenous communities rely on these ecosystems for their livelihoods, cultural practices, and well-being. Environmental concerns such as climate change, biodiversity loss, and resource depletion further necessitate comprehensive and sustainable management practices. By considering the interconnectedness of these elements, forest management can achieve ecological balance, community welfare, and long-term sustainability.


New Dynamics of Forest Management:


Muck Dumping Monitoring: Utilizing drones and remote sensing technology, forest managers can monitor and control illegal muck dumping activities, which can cause significant ecological damage and disrupt local ecosystems.


Monitoring of Water Harvesting Structures: Drones help in regularly assessing the condition and effectiveness of water harvesting structures, ensuring they function properly to support both wildlife and local communities.


Streams and Nalas Profiling: Drones provide detailed profiling of streams and nalas (small watercourses), aiding in the management and restoration of these vital water sources.


Watershed Planning: High-resolution mapping and data analysis support comprehensive watershed planning, promoting sustainable water management and soil conservation practices.


Land Use Classification: Drones facilitate precise land use classification, helping to manage and allocate forest resources effectively, balancing conservation efforts with community needs.


Springshed Management: Monitoring and managing springsheds using drone technology ensures the sustainable use and conservation of groundwater resources, crucial for both forest ecosystems and human settlements.


Conclusion

The integration of UAVs and LiDAR technology into forest management practices represents a significant advancement in efficient data collection, real-time monitoring, and advanced analytics, thus improving forest management and restoration efforts.The evolving capabilities of LiDAR and drone technology promise an even greater impact in forestry, making management interventions more informed and effective in the long run.