Paper Matters Blog
The Future of Forestry: Domtar’s Use of Drones

Drones are everywhere these days and quickly becoming the new future of forestry. Long piloted by the military, today they are used commercially by the agriculture, construction, real estate, and law enforcement fields.

They have become a popular pastime for adults and children alike. Even Amazon has hinted at getting in on the game, announcing its intentions to safely steer and deliver packages to its customers using drones in the near future.

Surprising to many, Domtar has harnessed the power of drone technology at its Ashdown Mill in Arkansas since 2016.

Doug Teale, sustainability manager at the Ashdown Mill, which produces products like EarthChoice Office PaperHusky Digital and Xerox paper, said he first learned about potential uses of drones at a 2015 forestry conference. He knew immediately that drones could make Domtar’s work faster, safer and more efficient.

“The use of drones is absolutely the biggest advance I’ve seen in this business in a long time,” said Teale. “They improve our efficiencies, the accuracy of our calculations, they save us time and keep all of our foresters safer. The impact has been tremendous, so we’re excited to share best practices with others across the Domtar network and potentially expand the use of drones throughout other facilities.”

Domtar Leverage Technology to Improve the Future of Forestry

At Ashdown, two DJI Phantom 4 Pro drones now help complete a number of tasks, including:

Monitoring for diseased trees and invasive species

The Ips beetle, also known as the engraver beetle, is a common pest that burrows under tree bark and tunnels through pine and spruce trees, causing damage that can kill them. Using drones, foresters can quickly check for infestations. What used to be a half day of work is now accomplished in half an hour, Teale said.

future of forestry drones - ips beetle

Flying above the canopy, drones can easily spot infestations like this damage done by the Ips beetle.

Speeding up the inventory process

Domtar’s pulp and paper mills produce massive wood chip piles which eventually become paper or pulp used in a range of personal care products like baby diapers. Previously, survey crews spent up to half a day measuring chip piles for volume. Now, drones are used to take photos of the woodpiles, producing inventory calculations in just 20 minutes!







future of forestry drones

Previously, it took hours to measure the volume of chips stored in massive piles on mill property.

Monitoring Harvests and Replanting

Seedling survival is critical to ensuring the next generation of trees creates a healthy ecosystem. In the past, it took foresters several hours to walk a forest floor to check on recently planted trees, recording their survival and coverage. Today, drones capture images that Ashdown’s forestry team can use to make these same observations in mere minutes.





future of forestry drones 3 - seedlings

Drones can be used to quickly determine facts like coverage and survival rate of seedlings.

According to Teale, commercial drones offer tremendous value to a company like Domtar and changing the future of forestry. Relatively inexpensive, the drones are saving time, improving efficiencies and accuracy, while also safeguarding employees from some of the dangers inherent in forestry.

The benefits provided by drones have led to their uptake by other Domtar facilities, including the Windsor, Quebec mill, with the potential to expand further throughout the system. “The possibilities are endless,” Teals says.

To view actual footage from the drones used at the Ashdown Mill check out this video:


This blog was originally published by Dan Persica.

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