Insect & Disease Aerial Detection Survey


Aerial detection surveys are a means of detecting and evaluating recognizable insect and disease disturbances to forest ecosystems. Aerial Surveys are an economical and efficient method of early detection for epidemic infestations. Survey data contributes to current and historical documentation of insect and disease impacts and provide land managers with important information about forest health symptoms. It has also been used to identify priorities for suppression projects and salvage opportunities by federal, state and private land owners. Recently, aerial detection survey data has become an important component in National Forest Health Monitoring.

History in Southeast Alaska

The first record of an aerial survey in the United States occurred in 1931 in the Pacific Northwest Region and has been conducted each year in Alaska since the 1950's. In Southeast AK, the surveys were first conducted via boat, but shifted to the aerial method in 1966 and continues to be conducted by air on an annual basis. The aerial survey in Southeast has integrated a series of beach plots to sample defoliator insect larval populations. Map product and written reports from the aerial surveys are maintained in Anchorage and Juneau, at R10's FHP offices.


The aerial survey in Southeast Alaska spans 500 miles from Yakutat to Dixon Entrance and covers all land ownership, including federal, state and private. Due to limited time and resources it is not a complete survey every year, but focuses on managed land and survey requests. The survey is completed in approximately 2-3 weeks from mid July to early August. The timing attempts to utilize a biological window where detecting insect signatures are most evident. Occasionally, additional or special aerial surveys are conducted outside the normal survey when needed or requested. The survey is flown using an intense systematic method or less intense probing method, depending on level of land management or expected insect or disease activity. In most cases the land is flown using a contour survey method where the shoreline and drainage systems are followed by systematic means.

The surveys are low-level, 500 to 2,500 feet AGL, and are usually flown in a float plane such as a Cessna 185, Cessna 206 or DH Beaver. Airspeeds vary from 90 mph to 130 mph. There are 56 beach plots that are sampled annually during the survey. Weather conditions of Southeast Alaska can pose a challenge to completing the survey in a timely manor. Weather conditions usually pose a problem and largely dictates our itinerary.

FHP personnel use sketchmapping methods to record location, area and intensity of insect, disease or other disturbance activity. A minimum of two sketchmappers are active on these survey flights, where one person is dedicated to recording yellow-cedar decline, and the second focuses on insects, diseased and other agents. Major insect damage detected during surveys include spruce bark beetle and defoliators such as black-headed budworm or hemlock sawfly.


Paul Hennon - Forest Pathologist
Phone: 907-586-8769

Mark Schultz - Forest Entomologist
Phone: 907-586-8883

Dustin Wittwer - Biological Science Technician
Phone: 907-586-7971

Southeast Location:
Forest Health Protection, SPF
USDA Forest Service
2770 Sherwood Lane, Suite 2A
Juneau, AK 99801
Fax: 907-586-7848