BISMARCK, N.D. — A project to map trees on the northern Plains using aerial imagery is helping the North Dakota Forest Service get a better handle on the state’s tree resources.

The state has partnered with the forest service departments of Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota to collect data and determine where critical tree resources are declining, the Bismarck Tribune reported .

“We’re really interested in what’s out there and what condition it’s in,” said Tom Claeys, the service’s forestry and fire management team leader.

Nearly 2 percent of the state’s area is native forest. The weather and soil isn’t conducive to traditional forests, according to Claeys.

“Trees are really important,” Claeys said. “It’s not easy to grow trees in North Dakota.”

The state planted windbreaks after severe dust storms in the 1930s, but their condition is aging. Forest Health Manager Lezlee Johnson said landowners are concerned about the windbreak infrastructure.

The Kansas Forest Service managed to zero down the collected imagery to high-resolution 1-meter accuracy, said Johnson. The images are segmented into image objects through software. Johnson said their job is to train their software to classify the image objects into trees, other types of vegetation or non-vegetation categories.

She said the project’s results could double the amount of tree cover that was previously counted under the state forest inventory program.

“The big surprise is going to be, wow, we have a lot more trees we never realized we had,” Johnson said.


Information from: Bismarck Tribune, http://www.bismarcktribune.com