The West Virginia Division of Forestry first warmed to the idea of using drones as “extra eyes in the sky” after an epic ice storm in January 2016.
The governors of 11 states, including West Virginia, declared states of emergency. The blizzard coated roads and snapped tree limbs. As often happens, the West Virginia Division of Forestry was called out to clear fallen trees blocking roadways.
“We needed to know how bad the storm was in West Virginia,” said Rodger Ozburn, who joined Forestry in 1985 and now serves as program manager of Forestry’s Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS). The agency wondered whether drones – if only they had any – would have been able to survey the scene from the air.
In 2017, the Division of Forestry began rebuilding after state cuts to budgets and employees. The forestry director at that time, Barry Cook, searched for innovative solutions to enable the agency to fulfill its mission efficiently and cost-effectively. One of the tools he turned to was unmanned aircraft, popularly known as drones.
“The real impetus behind the UAS program came in a fire staff meeting in 2017, when then-Director Cook asked if anyone in the meeting knew anything about drones – and I was the only one who raised a hand,” said Ozburn. “I had been flying hobby drones since 2015.”
The West Virginia Division of Forestry formed the UAS program in 2018 with one UAS unit and one certified pilot. The new unit flew its first official mission in April 2018, an aerial reconnaissance of a wildfire.
Read the rest from the West Virginia Division of Forestry.