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Team uses creative solutions for forest health monitoring amid pandemic


Photo collage of scenes from Alaska. Text: Alaska Forest Health Observations header: about the iNaturalist project.
Staff worked in creative ways to complete as many acres of forest health surveys as possible. Part of that solution involved the development of the Alaska Forest Health Project on iNaturalist.

ALASKA—The use of crowdsourcing to understand the health of a forest—who knew it would make such an impact? Members of the Alaska Region Forest Health Protection Team got creative in 2020 when the pandemic grounded them from completing their traditional aerial surveys.

Two Forest Health Protection employees looking for spruce aphids.
During ground surveys, Forest Health Protection employees looked for spruce aphids. USDA Forest Service photo by Elizabeth Graham.

Staff worked in creative ways to complete as many acres of forest health surveys as possible. Part of that solution involved the development of the Alaska Forest Health Project on iNaturalist, an online social network for sharing biodiversity observations. The creation of this online project resulted in citizen scientists uploading over 2,400 observations throughout a nine-month period.

Not only did this help the team accomplish annual monitoring, but it actively engaged the public. Future monitoring will identify where forest damage outbreaks may be occurring and keep a pulse on the public’s forest health concerns.

Aerial imagery with areas of damage outlined.
High-resolution aerial imagery is loaded onto a tablet where surveyors can outline areas of damage and document attributes, such as which hosts are affected and percentage of overall damage.

In addition to using iNaturalist, the team quickly refocused on several remote sensing alternatives to aerial surveys, using them to survey over 4 million acres of forest. One method, called “scan and sketch,” uses high-resolution imagery that surveyors manually scan while marking areas of damage. Another method uses imagery to detect change over time and allows scientists to compare damage across years. The team will continue to develop and test methods that accurately and consistently measure damage in our forests in new and innovative ways to best serve Alaskans.

Forest Service employees, partners and the public remained dedicated to their work and were able to accomplish significant forest health surveys despite not flying. A combination of the new tools and roadside surveys allowed the team to conduct 7.2 million acres of forest health surveys in 2020.

 

Sustain Our Nation's Forests and Grasslands
https://www.fs.usda.gov/inside-fs/delivering-mission/sustain/team-uses-creative-solutions-forest-health-monitoring-amid