Date of Award

Fall 2021

Project Type


Program or Major

Natural Resources and Environmental Studies

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Russell G Congalton

Second Advisor

Mark Ducey

Third Advisor

Nathan Torbick


Present-day forests provide a wide variety of ecosystem services to the communities that rely on them. At the same time, these environments face routine and substantial disturbances that direct the need for site-specific, timely, and accurate monitoring/management (i.e., precision forestry). Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS or UAV) and their associated technologies offer a promising tool for conducting such precision forestry. Now, even with only natural color, uncalibrated, UAS imagery, software workflows involving Structure from Motion (SfM) (i.e., digital photogrammetry) modelling and segmentation can be used to characterize the features of individual trees or forest communities. In this research, we tested the effectiveness of UAS-SfM for mapping local scale forest composition, structure, and health. Our first study showed that digital (automated) methods for classifying forest composition that utilized UAS imagery produced a higher overall accuracy than those involving other high-spatial-resolution imagery (7.44% - 16.04%). The second study demonstrated that natural color sensors could provide a highly efficient estimate of individual tree diameter at breast height (dbh) (± 13.15 cm) as well as forest stand basal area, tree density, and stand density. In the final study, we join a growing number of researchers examining precision applications in forest health monitoring. Here, we demonstrate that UAS, equipped with both natural color and multispectral sensors, are more capable of distinguishing forest health classes than freely available high-resolution airborne imagery. For five health classes, these UAS data produced a 14.93% higher overall accuracy in comparison to the airborne imagery. Together, these three chapters present a wholistic approach to enhancing and enriching precision forest management, which remains a critical requirement for effectively managing diverse forested landscapes.

Available for download on Wednesday, December 01, 2021