US$36m raised for drone reforestation efforts

Friday 29 Jul 2022

Fire seasons are now longer and the destruction more intense, as fires burn hotter and spread to more drought-stricken ground. Since the start of this year, 32,247 wildfires have burned over 3.3 million acres in the United States, according to the National Interagency Fire Centre. An early start to the season, and an especially brutal beginning in New Mexico, puts 2022 on the path toward record fire destruction.

Historically, fires would leave seeds in the soil and at treetops, but the hotter, more intense fires that occur now burn up the treetops and destroy the seeds in the soil, so there is much less natural regeneration.

DroneSeed is a Seattle-based startup that claims it can begin to restore thousands of acres of wildfire-ravaged land just 30 days after the fire is out. “We’re a one-stop shop for reforestation,” said Grant Canary, CEO of DroneSeed. “If you’re a land manager, and this could be tribal nations, this could be family forests, this can be public lands, this can be timber companies, and you’re affected by a wildfire, we’re one of your phone calls.”

Not all of the seeds or seedlings result in trees, and DroneSeed said that seed establishment and growth rates vary at each project site, due to soil conditions, water quality, grade of the terrain, climate temperature, tree species and other factors.

Canary likens his fleet of drones to a swarm of bees, navigating rough terrain, that can carry and disperse many thousands of seeds. Each aircraft can plant three-quarters of an acre per flight. In October 2020, the company announced that it was the first to receive approval from the Federal Aviation Administration for this type of forest-seeding activity.

“The aircraft themselves, they are not what you can get at Best Buy. They’re eight feet in diameter,” said Canary. “They carry a 57-pound payload. We operate them in groups of three to five, and they’re going out there and they’re dropping seed vessels onto the landscape in pre-surveyed areas.”

DroneSeed is backed by 776, DBL Partners, Social Capital, Spero Ventures and Techstars. It has raised US$36 million to date.

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