A unique partnership between USDA and USACE provides top-notch, valuable service through the through Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) Wetland Reserve Easements (WRE) and has allowed treatment of invasive, exotic vegetation on tens-of-thousands of WRE acres in the state.
Managing invasive plants is a huge aspect of conservation efforts to improving Florida’s wetlands, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has partnered with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) for over a decade. This unique partnership between USDA and USACE provides top-notch, valuable service through the through Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) Wetland Reserve Easements (WRE) and has allowed treatment of invasive, exotic vegetation on tens-of-thousands of WRE acres in the state.
“Working with partners is a cornerstone to the success of Florida NRCS’ mission to manage over 200,000 acres of conservation easements and counting,” said Marcus Shorter, NRCS Assistant State Conservationist for Easement Programs in Florida. “Utilizing new technology to maintain these easements helps streamline and modernize our efforts as we help people help the land.”
In May 2023, USACE approached NRCS about using drones to treat invasive exotics on WRE easements, and a demonstration was held on a WRE property in Martin County, Florida, for NRCS to observe drone application of chemicals to invasive exotic vegetation.
“The drone demonstration was very impressive. The ten-acre demonstration wetland was treated in 45 minutes with a two-man drone crew,” said Scott Turgeon, NRCS Easements Team Biologist in Okeechobee, Florida. “If the same wetland had been treated using traditional ground application methods, it would have taken half a day by buggy or a full day utilizing hand crews.”
The drone ran autonomously on a pre-determined grid pattern and sprayed a monoculture of dwarf papyrus that had invaded the 10-acre herbaceous wetland. The make and model of the drone used was a Hylio Ag130. With a battery run-time of approximately 25 minutes, tank capacity of eight gallons, and swath width up to 35 feet, it can treat up to 50 acres per hour at a one-gallon-per-acre rate.
“Drones are an amazing piece of new technology that have the potential to revolutionize invasive, exotic vegetation treatment by providing a much more cost-efficient alternative,” he added. “We look forward to further evaluating this treatment method through the USDA NRCS - USACE partnership.”