The USDA Forest Service and Michigan Technological University (MTech) are using unmanned aerial systems, or drones, to advise the Hiawatha National Forest’s land management efforts.
Located in Michigan’s wild and scenic Upper Peninsula, the Hiawatha National Forest’s dramatic shorelines lie nestled up to Lake Superior, Huron, and Michigan – three of the five Great Lakes.
This past summer, the Federal Aviation Administration approved flights over Lake Michigan’s Stonington and Garden peninsulas to gather information that will help land managers assess the health and condition of the area’s coastal wetlands.
The data will be utilized to maintain habitat for near-shore fisheries and migrating birds; monitor water quality, quantity, and flow conditions; manage non-native invasive species that threaten the health of the lakes; and monitor the impacts of topographic features such as roads, bridges, and levies.
The Hiawatha is one of six national forests in the Great Lakes Basin. There is a strong connection between the health of the surrounding forests and that of the lakes, including the tributaries that drain into them. Aerial monitoring provides a critical big-picture perspective that helps inform land managers and their activities.
The logistics and process from this year’s flights will be reviewed and refined. In the future, researchers hope to expand aerial monitoring to study the all Hiawatha National Forest's Great Lakes coastlines.
The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative was launched in 2010 to accelerate efforts to protect and restore the largest system of fresh surface water in the world. Federal agencies and their partners use the Initiative’s resources to strategically target the biggest threats to the Great Lakes and accelerate progress toward long-term restoration goals for this important ecosystem.