UAVs and Trees: How American Samoa is using Drones to Track Invasive Species and Monitor Forest Health

Photo Credit: State & Private Forestry, USFS Pacific Southwest Region

UAVs and Trees: How American Samoa is using Drones to Track Invasive Species and Monitor Forest Health

By: Lauren Goldfarb

Over the past several years, drones have landed in the technology spotlight, catching the attention of the public and industry alike. As interest in these unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) continues to increase, their potential uses are rapidly expanding; from military surveillance to landscape photography, film, and even shipping and delivery. With the ability to survey and monitor larger areas of land in shorter time and less cost1, it is no surprise that UAVs are now being used for forestry, land management and monitoring invasive species.

In American Samoa, UAVs are being explored as tools to map invasive species. By attaching multispectral cameras to the drones, scientists can develop the captured footage into maps that can help identify invasive species across the landscape. The process is called georectification, and it is allowing scientists to stitch single images together which can be translated into maps with software such as the geographic information system (GIS). This technology is not only safer and more accessible to surveyors, but allows for monitoring of invasive species without the need of expensive and slower remote sensing of satellites, which has been primary method for monitoring since the 1990s2.

While the UAV technology seems promising for future monitoring, the adaptation of the drones is still a work in progress. “The main challenge we have is that the multispectral cameras we initially purchased weren't able to highlight and identify invasives from other vegetation,” said Neil Gurr, American Samoa GIS Specialist. “We are ordering new cameras we believe will allow us to identify invasives”.

Although the monitoring process is still in development, American Samoa is also using UAVs for planning and taking the aerial imagery of lands to create plans for tree planting. The quick supply of aerial imagery could help forest managers plan “sustainable supplies of wood, control erosion, and manage disturbances from fire”3 more quickly than when monitoring was dependent on satellite data.

With only one year into development, American Samoa has already taken great strides in using UAVs to monitor forest health and developing a new way for forest health to be monitored across the globe.


2 Huang, C.; Asner, G.P. Applications of Remote Sensing to Alien Invasive Plant Studies. Sensors 2009, 9, 4869–4889