DOINews: BLM Gains Recognition as Pioneer on New Frontier of Unmanned Aerial Data Collection

Last edited 09/05/2019

Ever fly a model airplane? For some Bureau of Land Management employees, it's serious business. Well, it is when you're operating a variety of unmanned aircraft systems coupled with sophisticated photographic equipment and producing extraordinary data about the condition of the land – accurate down to 2 centimeters!

Gil Dustin (BLM) points at the rotorcraft's location in the sky, while John Vogel (USGS) and Mark Bauer (USGS) operate the ground control station.
Gil Dustin, Bureau of Land Management, points at the rotorcraft's location in the sky, while John Vogel, U.S. Geological Survey, and Mark Bauer, USGS, operate the ground-control station.

With that kind of precision, scientists can assess variations in plant species and even identify wildlife tracks. With that kind of technology, the BLM can collect data about sage-grouse breeding populations, inspect abandoned mine lands, and create better plans for invasive-weed control and rehabilitation of lands damaged by wildfires.

Mark Bauer (USGS) prepares a rotorcraft for launch at the BLM Las Cienegas National Conservation Area.
Mark Bauer, USGS, prepares a rotorcraft for launch at the BLM Las Cienegas National Conservation Area.

BLM employees at the National Operations Center are pushing the limits of remote-sensing technology with accomplishments that have drawn the attention of Unmanned Systems, the leading magazine of the UAS industry. The BLM's first UAS mapping survey over National Conservation Lands took center stage in the magazine's longest ever article, "BLM Mosaics America with Cast Aside DOD Equipment" (cover story, January 2015). The project captured imagery of the grasslands in Arizona's Las Cienegas National Conservation Area and Silver Creek drainages to support erosion-control efforts.

Safford Field Office, Arizona – High-resolution imagery of Silver Creek at the U.S./Mexico International Border. Imagery is used to generate 3D elevation models of erosion control issues along the border.
The BLM uses high-resolution imagery, such as this imagery of Silver Creek at the U.S.-Mexico border, to generate 3D elevation models of erosion-control issues along the border.

"These projects are the antithesis of government waste," the article states. The BLM uses castoff military surveillance systems (fixed-wing aircraft and vertical take-off-and-landing rotorcraft) that the Department of the Interior received for free. No longer must employees always travel by foot, shooting hundreds of photographs. And UASs have increased the safety of imaging missions as well, helping to reduce the risk of injury from flying manned aircraft at low altitudes or from attempts to reach perilous photo points on the ground.

Lance R. Brady, BLM, takes a selfie, while being photobombed by Gil Dustin, BLM, blue shirt, and Mark Bauer, USGS, black shirt.

One thing is certain. With the BLM pioneering UAS data collection of high-resolution imagery, the followup data analysis possible is "light years" ahead of what could be accomplished a short time ago (as one employee described it). The BLM flies projects for other DOI agencies as well, making it possible for land managers nationwide to make informed and timely decisions.

By: BLM National Operations Center

Feb. 9, 2015

Related Links:

BLM-Fire and Aviation



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