National Unmanned Aircraft SystemsUAS Project Office

Wildlife and Vegetation Surveys

Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota

Mission team members preparing the bungee launcher while a buffalo passes by
Mission team members preparing the bungee launcher while a buffalo passes by

The National Park Service (NPS) is responsible for preserving and managing all of the natural resources contained within the 84 million acres of the National Park System. Challenged by the size of these holdings the collection of various forms of remotely sensed data has become a crucial requirement for resource managers. Today most data collection activities are performed with traditional methods such as manned aerial surveys and satellite imagery, however there are also several known drawbacks associated with each method including considerable costs. As a result, the NPS is evaluating alternative data collection techniques including UAS technology.

One ongoing evaluation is a joint project between USGS and the NPS in the Theodore Roosevelt National Park to evaluate the feasibility and limitations of UAS data collection by establishing cost effectiveness and quality of data products.

Three specific resource management applications within the park were used to test the effectiveness of UAS data collection:
  1. Population surveys of large ungulates (bison, elk, and deer) which aid in development of culling strategies to optimize herd health. Specifically, UAS technology was evaluated for its ability to collect data in the complex topography of the North Dakota Badlands that contains numerous draws and canyons that provide ample areas for large ungulates to hide.
  2. Annual mapping of prairie dog colonies which helps track colony size dynamics over time. Determine if UAS data can accurately detect the extent of prairie dog colonies based on browse line features in graminoid and forbaceous vegetation.
  3. Map and identify colonization sites of invasive plant species to support eradication efforts. Evaluate the feasibility of data collected from a multispectral sensor mounted on a UAS platform for detecting invasive species within a patchwork of native vegetation.

In July 2016 the USGS, in collaboration with the NPS, performed a UAS mission utilizing the Falcon fixed wing UAS mounted with a Sony A5100 camera and a MicaSense RedEdge multispectral sensor to support these investigations. Ongoing research is being conducted utilizing this newly acquired data to determine if higher quality geospatial products can be generated cost-effectively when compared to those produced with data acquired with traditional survey methods.

Natural Color Image collected using the Sony A5100 camera
Natural Color Image collected using the Sony A5100 camera
Near Infrared Image collected with Micasense Rededge Sensor
Near Infrared Image collected with Micasense Rededge sensor

Study Points of Contact

Todd Preston
USGS Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center
Bozeman, Montana
Phone: 406-994-5034

Blake McCann
NPS Wildlife Resource Manager
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Medora, North Dakota
Phone: 701-623-4730 ext. 1433


Photos and Data Products