An Eye in the Sky Watching for Change

Charles Dawley

Little Traverse Conservancy (LTC) holds over 350 conservation easements in Northwest Lower Michigan. In most cases, the land owner has donated development rights to protect and preserve the natural resources and conservation values of these properties – forever. Adding up to over 25,000 acres, that’s a lot of land and shoreline to protect and monitor for change every year!

This year, LTC’s Charles Dawley is trying out a new approach to monitoring these properties using a drone. The drone is helping LTC see an entire property from above in high resolution, while keeping a detailed and repeatable record. As shown in this video, Dawley sends a drone up more than 300 feet into the sky with sophisticated software using GPS to guide its flight while snapping high resolution images at a prescribed frequency. The result is a set of digital images with 75% overlap – all properly set in coordinate space. Better yet, each of these pictures is detailed enough to see a quarter on the ground.

3D Image of 45-acre Parcel

Back in the office, Dawley stitches all these images together to create a geographically accurate image of the entire parcel. Importantly, this whole process can be repeated with high accuracy every year, making year-over-year comparisons of changes in vegetation, land use, or other alterations easy and dependable. Additionally, the imagery can be combined to create a 3D model of the parcel.

With this new approach, the LTC is hoping to maintain a valuable record of the natural resources under their care. Ultimately, this data might help resource managers better understand and deal with changes brought about by invasive species and climate change.

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