It’s a bird, it’s a plane: drones purpose in urban forestry

Technology continues to advance at a rapid pace, and urban forestry has been keeping up. One of the newer forms of technology that many urban forestry programs are utilizing is drones, or unmanned aircraft vehicle (UAV).

Drones are being used to complete tree assessments and inspections, monitor plant health, and videos and photographs for training and marketing purposes. Videos and images from UAV can provide homeowners and arborists a new point of view and better allow them to choose management strategies for the trees. In addition, many insurance companies require verification and videos/photos are a wonderful way to provide the evidence.

The use of drones is becoming popular because they are considered faster, safer and cheaper than a bucket truck. It is important, however, to complete a cost-benefit analysis and research various products before purchase.

Another consideration is current FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) guidelines. FAA is responsible for aircraft traffic in the U.S. and recently released Part 107, rules surrounding UAV operation. The main guidelines are as follows:

  1. Someone operating a commercial UAV must either (a) hold a Remote Pilot Airman certificate with a Small UAS Rating, or (b) be under the direct supervision of someone who holds this rating
  2. UAV operations are performed under 400 feet above ground level (AGL)
  3. UAV operations are performed during daylight hours
  4. Aircraft must be under 55 pounds at takeoff
  5. Flight must stay within visual line of sight
  6. The flight must not be over people not involved in the operation
  7. The aircraft must fly under 100 mph groundspeed
  8. The aircraft must fly in visibilities of three miles or greater
  9. Operations in certain airspace classifications must obtain permission from the air traffic control (ATC) tower

Most of the rules that were just listed will not affect arborists or arboriculture operations. Another consideration that the FAA does not mention in Part 107 is public privacy. It is important to let neighbors know what you are working on. This is also a good marketing strategy because you can demonstrate professionalism and inform the public about advancements in urban forestry and arboriculture.

For more information, check out the series of articles in the “Tree Care Industry” magazine, specifically December 2015, July 2016, and October 2016, “Know Before You Fly” outlines the regulations and uses surrounding UAV, and the U.S. Forest Service has more information regarding their particular use of UAVs.


Contents of this article are shared for informational purposes only. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources does not endorse and makes no representations, expressed, inferred or implied, concerning these organizations, programs or services.

For more information contact Ellen Clark (, Urban Forestry Communication Specialist, at 608-267-2774.


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