Perceptions of Program Leaders on the Use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems for Forest Health Management


Perceptions of Program Leaders on the Use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems for Forest Health Management Forests are a significant resource to the national economy in terms of forest-related products, environmental impact, and recreation. The US Forest Service manages federally owned national forests and collaborates to provide assis­tance to states and private individuals in management of state and private forests. Wildland fires and insect and dis­ease outbreaks threaten the health of the forests in the US. The Forest Service is tasked with monitoring forest health and aerial surveys contribute extensively to the achievement of this goal. However, these surveys are time-consum­ing and expensive. Given the current need to decrease government budgets, the organization is challenged to provide adequate forest surveillance, while at the same time lowering cost. The addition of unmanned aircraft system (UAS) technology could be part of the solution to this problem. Recent studies suggest UAS technology can be used to pro­vide quality data collection regarding forest health at a lower cost than traditional methods. In order to introduce this new technology within such a large organization, management support would be needed. This descriptive qualitative case study explored the attitudes of key forest health personnel on the concept of UAS technology through informal conversational interviews. Diffusion of innovations theory was used to guide the research process. The participants included forest health program managers and data collectors from all nine geographic regions of the United States that are managed by the Forest Service. The researcher explored their knowledge of UAS technology and its poten­tial use in improving forest health surveillance within their programs, as well as their attitude regarding this inno­vation. Seventeen themes were identified including overall acceptance of the technology, reasons for favorability and concerns about the technology, overall knowledge level as well as educational needs, uncertainty of cost effect, and overall belief that this technology will improve data quality. The results added to the current limited literature regarding implementation of new technology in a government organization. Implications of using UAS technology in forest health management are presented regarding privacy, educational needs, budgets, and effects on cost and quality. Recommendations are presented for future research.

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