We lose 13 billion trees per year and only get back less than half of them. But because experts know that having more trees is one of our best chances to fight climate change, Canadian startup Flash Forest wants to make a dent in that number by planting one billion trees by 2028.
When combined with the work of similar companies like Dendra Systems and Droneseed — which is working to up its planting efforts to one billion trees annually — tree-planting drones could make a significant difference in long-term reforestation of heavily deforested areas.
The average tree pulls up to 48 pounds of carbon out of the atmosphere each year. At that rate, it would take 34 billion trees an entire 40-year life span to remove the 34 billion tons of CO2 released into the atmosphere in 2018. It takes about 15 minutes for the average person to plant a tree. Even if each of humanity’s 7.5 billion people planted one tree per year, the dent we’d make in sequestering carbon would be negligible.
Enter technology. Tree-planting drones “shoot” biodegradable seedpods into a specific spot in the ground or scatter seeds randomly across an area and give hope to the fight against both climate change and biodiversity loss in areas where deforestation has hit the hardest.
“Flash Forest is a reforestation company that can plant at 10 times the normal rate and at 20 percent of the cost of traditional tree planting techniques,” the company says on its website. “With drone engineering, we bring new levels of accuracy, precision and speed to the reforestation industry.”
To reforest an area, the company first flies mapping drones over the space to determine the best course of action for planting. The planting drones then deposit the seedpods as programmed. With one drone operator, the company can plant 100,000 seed pods per day at maximum. The drones can plant trees as densely as 800 trees per acre.
These machinated tree planters first caught major attention in 2017 when Fast Company reported on a project using drone labor to reforest the Irrawaddy River Delta in Myanmar. Since then, companies and nonprofits have used them for reforestation efforts in other countries including Australia and the United States.