WDFW Using Drones To Count Spawning Salmon Nests, Collect Data On Habitat Restoration

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife will partner with Washington State University on a research project to use drone technology to advance conservation efforts for summer chinook salmon.

 An unmanned aerial vehicle – a drone – will be used to identify and inventory salmon spawning nests, called redds, in three areas of the Upper Wenatchee River watershed. Those areas include near Tumwater Campground, near Blackbird Island (near Leavenworth), and lower Wenatchee site (near Dryden). In addition, surveys conducted on foot and by boat will also be used.

High resolution photos and video taken by the drone will help to identify spawning locations and habitat characteristics. Redd abundance and distribution are common metrics used to monitor and evaluate the status and trend of adult salmon populations.

The use of a drone is expected to provide improved data for more accurate population forecasting. It is also less expensive and labor intensive than manual count methods used in the past. Drone pilot Daniel Auerbach, a graduate student at WSU’s School of Environment, and his thesis research work will provide a benefit to the department at minimal cost. Auerbach’s work is a collaboration with WDFW’s Katy Shelby, who leads WDFW research efforts in the area.

 During this project, drone flights will take place once or twice per week for approximately an hour at a time, typically during early morning hours. Photos and video will be taken of the river only, not surrounding areas. The majority of surveys will take place on public land and flying over private land will be avoided when possible. Flight plans and procedures will be carried out in accordance with WDFW Policy and Procedures.

In addition, starting last week, scientists with the Yakama Nation Fisheries are flying a drone over sections of land managed by WDFW in Kittitas and Yakima counties to collect information for habitat restoration work.

For the next two years, scientists will use a drone to capture high-resolution imagery data along stream corridors and floodplains within the Wenas, L.T. Murray, and Oak Creek wildlife areas. Data collected from the drone will provide valuable information in assessing the value of wood placement for improving fish habitat and stream function.

Drone flights will take place occasionally on weekdays between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. in compliance with all federal and state regulations.

“We are excited to partner with the Yakama Nation on stream restoration,” said Ross Huffman, Regional Lands Operations Manager for WDFW. “Using a drone gives us an opportunity to conduct monitoring safely, while also efficiently providing a view of the landscape that would otherwise be impossible.”

WDFW actively manages approximately 1 million acres of land and over 500 water access areas across the state to preserve natural and cultural heritage, provide access for hunting, fishing, and wildlife-related recreation, and to foster experiences and exploration for thousands of Washingtonians and visitors each year.

More news from CBB: