Having a census of forest conditions, especially material on the ground, allows project managers to conduct long-term planning and be more strategic and efficient with small timber material.
SRP, NAU Researchers Use State-of-the-Art Technology to Assess Forest Health
Researchers at Northern Arizona University (NAU) are using drones, airplanes and state-of-the-art laser scanning technology to conduct forest assessments around C.C. Cragin Reservoir. These assessments will help inform future forest restoration projects that aim to improve forest health conditions, mitigate the potential for catastrophic fire in the area and protect one of the state’s critical watersheds, reservoir and water storage infrastructures.
Analysts and project managers at Salt River Project (SRP) are collaborating with NAU researchers and graduate students to learn more about the forests around C.C. Cragin Reservoir; and to date, the research has provided valuable 3D data and visualizations of current forest conditions.
SRP provides more than 244 billion gallons of water to more than 2 million people who live in the Valley. The water comes from forests located in 13,000 square-mile area in northern and eastern Arizona.
Since 2002, almost 2.9 million acres of national forest lands in and around the Salt, Verde River and East Clear Creek watersheds has been impacted by uncharacteristically severe wildfires.
The data will provide valuable information for forest managers to use in planning and the implementation of strategic forest restoration activities. The data will also allow SRP watershed experts to assess the ecological benefits of strategic forest restoration treatments and how they impact the water SRP delivers to its customers.
“Having a census of forest conditions, especially material on the ground, allows project managers to conduct long-term planning and be more strategic and efficient with small timber material,” said SRP Forest Health Management Principal Elvy Barton.
The study uses airplanes, drones and on-the-ground handheld laser scanners, also known as LiDAR scanners, to map the forests by accurately measuring the forests’ complex structure using millions of 3D images produced by tiny lasers.
“This collaboration is an exciting opportunity to further our understanding of important watershed and wildlife habitat attributes and explore the use of innovative technologies, such as hand-held mobile laser scanners and unpiloted aircraft, to better understand existing forest conditions and guide future restoration efforts,” said project lead, Andrew Sánchez Meador, executive director of the Ecological Restoration Institute and Associate Professor at NAU School of Forestry.
“It is a great example of the pioneering ways researchers are working together to solve Arizona’s wildfire and forest health problems," Sánchez Meador said.
While drones and handheld devices can provide highly detailed information at fine scales (i.e., from an individual tree to all trees on hundreds of acres), scanners mounted on piloted aircraft can cover huge landscapes and all three platforms combined provide a more comprehensive evaluation. Evaluating the three different LiDAR collection methods will provide an in-depth understanding of trade-offs in selecting a single method, as well as which method is best suited for collecting data on forest floor conditions in northern Arizona’s forests.
This work is part of a research and development collaboration that SRP conducts with state universities to encourage finding solutions to real-life problems. This grant is part of a five-year partnership with NAU, which funds projects that focus on applied research activities related to SRP’s core businesses of power and water and allows faculty and student researchers to look for solutions to specific questions facing the region.
It is a great example of the pioneering ways researchers are working together to solve Arizona’s wildfire and forest health problems.
SRP is a community-based, not-for-profit public power utility and the largest provider of electricity in the greater Phoenix metropolitan area, serving more than 1 million customers. SRP is also the metropolitan area’s largest supplier of water, delivering about 800,000 acre-feet annually to municipal, urban and agricultural water users.