DNR and Forest Service Resume Aerial Survey Flights to Monitor Forest Health Conditions
News Date: 
July 29, 2021

Flights covering more than 20 million acres were grounded in 2020 due to pandemic restrictions

Forest scientists from the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service returned to the skies this week to conduct aerial detection surveys of forest health conditions in Washington for the first time in almost two years.
The interagency partnership conducts aerial assessments of Washington forests each summer dating back to 1947. Flights were grounded in 2020 to protect the health of the survey teams and pilots during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As flights resume, scientists will observe and record where and how trees are affected by insects, diseases, drought and other disturbances.
“The cooperative aerial survey is conducted over all forested areas in Washington, providing all land managers the ability to track insect and disease outbreaks without regard to land ownership,” said Ben Smith, U.S Forest Service Pacific Northwest regional aerial survey program manager. This allows land managers to address forest health issues using an all lands approach.”
Last year, scientists from DNR and the Forest Service used ground surveys and other methods to monitor about half of the 22 million acres usually observed in Washington. Trends and locations of damaged forestlands were outlined in the 2020 Forest Health Highlights report.
Priority areas to survey are informed by DNR’s 20-Year Forest Health Strategic Plan and Forest Action Plan. Both outline the challenges facing Washington forests and set goals for improving forest health and resilience across the state.
“We are looking forward to resuming the important work of mapping and tracking forest health conditions from the skies,” DNR Forest Entomologist Glenn Kohler said. “As we work together to tackle our forest health crisis, these surveys are critical to understanding the scope and impact that disease, insects and drought are having on our forests.”
The Forest Service partners with DNR and the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) on aerial surveys covering approximately 48 million acres annually. The data collected on these flights is recorded in real time by observers using a digital, mobile sketch-mapping system (DMSM).  This information is used to inform assessments and decisions made by forest managers.
Will Rubin
Communications Manager