Drone harvester could reduce danger to life and limbs | North West


BOVILL – Don Patterson stopped his truck along a narrow logging road near here and got out to check out an “elite” white pine.

At about 100 years old, the tree survived white pine blister rust, an introduced viral disease that has wiped out most of its contemporaries and continues to suppress the once dominant species.

It was first identified as special in 1968. Foresters at the time were ordered to keep an eye out for white pines which did not appear to be bothered by the disease.

Finding them was not easy. Patterson, a forester with Stimsom Lumber Co. based in Coeur d’Alene, estimated that the occurrence of such specimens was only 1 in 10,000 to 1 in 20,000 trees.

“It would be the one who showed no signs of blister rust but was surrounded by death and disease,” he said. “Over the years, they ended up collecting locations on some 3,500 of these trees. “

Seeds and pollen from “elite trees” were collected and used to grow white pine seedlings resistant to blister rust. Collections are still made periodically and used in further rust resistance tests.

So Patterson and his colleague, Riley Tschida, were checking the tree for kittens, the male cone that produces pollen. Individual white pines are both male and female. The kittens appear at the middle part of the crown.

When ready, they release grains of pollen to float on air currents and eventually land on a female cone flower growing in the top of a nearby tree. If successful, a pine cone will develop the following year and ripen. Eventually, it will dry up, open its scales, and the winged seeds will drop in a helicopter.

In mid-June, one would expect the kittens to start producing pollen. Tschida picked up a long stick and used it to hang a branch so he could cut it down.

“Here are a few,” he says.

It was good news. Patterson had checked this particular tree earlier in the spring and found it to be without kittens.

“This is what we want to try to get,” he said. ” It’s still early. Oh, but it’s close.

If they were ripe, the next step would be to figure out how to collect the kittens. Most kittens aren’t as easy to reach as the ones Tschida caught. Picking them up is risky as they grow from the middle of the tree upwards.

“The problem we have now is we can’t find people to climb trees anymore,” Patterson said. “Sometimes people fall from trees and get seriously injured. The last guy I heard about did it a few years ago and decided to quit.

Patterson thinks there is a technological solution. Drones have been developed to aid in harvesting in the fruit industry. He would like the Inland Empire Tree Improvement Cooperative, which is a key player in white pine restoration, to invest in a large drone and a harvesting attachment. It would cost around $ 22,000, but would make future collections easier and safer.

While this purchase is pending, Stimson is using smaller drones to monitor his trees. Tschida pulled one up and donned a pair of virtual reality glasses which allowed her to follow live footage from the drone’s camera. He pointed to the tree full of neon green kittens. It was the same for another mature white pine on an adjacent ridge.

Patterson said it might be best to wait a year and see if a harvesting drone is available before collecting pollen.

“I hope I can convince people to do it in the future,” he said. “It’s something that is really quite doable and we might have to go there to make it happen.”

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