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The Quest to Count Every Tree in Minnesota Just Got Much Easier – WCCO

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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources wants to do an inventory of every tree statewide.

Our forests are a treasure trove of information, but first you need to know exactly what’s going on inside to unlock it.

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What was once done by hand is now done using planes and lasers, according to Doug Tillma of the DNR.

“It was a lone forester going out into the woods,” Tillma said.

What took foresters 20 years is now possible in less than five years, thanks to lidar technology.

“What lidar does is it uses a pulsed laser to just paint a 3D image,” he said.

This laser modeling then creates a map of the elevations – really a 3D image of what’s going on across the state.

(credit: MN DNR)

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Once the lidar map is covered with aerial photos that add color and shape, Jennifer Corcoran gets to work.

“We are in the process of collecting around 10 million acres of lidar and photography in the north,” Corcoran said. “We can certainly see crops that have taken place or changes in the water level. And it’s really cool [laughs]! “

Cool and useful for things like fire prevention strategy, carbon storage planning, and even spotting diseased trees.

“Say for example the emerald ash borer enters the forest, we would be able to detect that kind of change,” Corcoran said.

But it’s not just lasers and computer monitors. The actual foresters are still there, collecting data samples to pair with the lidar map.

“The two together are what creates this really accurate inventory,” Tillma said. “We can do so much more than we could do before. ”

The dense canopy and species spectrum of our forests are powerful but vulnerable and ever-changing. Keeping track of these changes helps us help Mother Nature.

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The United States Geological Survey is helping fund the project. Scanning over time will help the DNR compare losses or changes.

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