Fire from the Sky

Foresters learning how to use drones for controlled burn applications during the UF/IFAS Extension Drone Prep Course. Photo Credit: Tyler Jones
The University of Florida recently hosted an intensive 4-day drone course for the Florida Forest Service, providing foresters with the essential aviation knowledge and hands-on drone operation skills. This initiative is revolutionizing how the Florida Forest Service approaches its forest management, particularly with the new legislation permitting the use of American-made drones.

Extension Agents Brittany Scharf, Stacy Strickland, Tim Wilson, Matt Smith, and Kalan Taylor taught foresters the knowledge necessary to pass the Federal Aviation Administration’s Part 107 exam. The course covered vital topics such as weather patterns, navigation, sectional charts, restricted airspace, and regulations that govern commercial drone usage.

IFAS Extension agents Stacy Strickland, Brittany Scharf, and Matt Smith instructing US Forest Service personnel in preparation for their FAA drone certification. Photo Credit: Tyler Jones

Moreover, the course offered practical, hands-on experience with obstacle courses, enabling foresters to master drone control and maneuvering. These exercises allow participants to gain confidence in operating drones and executing precise flight patterns.

One of the standout components of the course was the use of equipment supplied by Drone Amplified to practice controlled burns. Foresters utilized drones equipped with chemical-infused balls, known as “dragon eggs,” which fill with antifreeze upon deployment. The resulting chemical reaction ignites a fire, providing an innovative and efficient method for conducting prescribed burns.

This novel approach is revolutionizing prescribed burn practices, making them safer and more efficient. Previously, burns were conducted by hand or helicopter, which posed risks to foresters and limited the scope of operations. Now, drones can be deployed across various districts, from the Alabama state line down to Fort Myers, allowing for greater flexibility and safety.

UF/IFAS Extension Agent Brittany Scharf teaching foresters drone applications. Photo Credit: Tyler Jones

In addition to prescribed burns, drones offer other significant benefits for forest management, such as conducting timber inventories and monitoring disease outbreaks. These new applications enable the Florida Forest Service to maintain healthier forests and optimize resource management.

UF/IFAS Extension’s innovative approach to drone education, in collaboration with the Florida Forest Service, is paving the way for a new era in forest management. By bridging the gap between technology and environmental stewardship, Extension agents are facilitating more efficient and sustainable management of Florida’s forests and natural resources. Through their efforts, the future of forest management looks brighter, promising healthier ecosystems and safer working conditions for foresters.


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Posted: April 11, 2024

Category: Coasts & Marine, Conservation, Forests, Natural Resources, Professional Development, SFYL Hot Topic, UF/IFAS Extension, UF/IFAS Extension, Water, Wildlife
Tags: Drones, Florida Forest Service, Florida Sea Grant, UF/IFAS Extension Hernando County

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