The CFIA Chronicle

Edition 3 – October 2017

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Can drones help the fight against invasive species?

A drone flying with a camera

Whether you call them flying robots or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), more and more people are operating drones. Historically known for their military use over the years, drones have become central to the functions of various businesses and governmental organizations around the world. They have become flying extensions of our desire to innovate and to discover ways we can increase work efficiency and productivity in the workplace. As new technologies become affordable and widely available, these flying robots are proving to be valuable in places where humans cannot reach or are unable to complete tasks in a timely and efficient way.

New technology in plant pest surveillance

The CFIA continues to research the capabilities and future applications of drones as a detection tool for invasive species to help better manage and eradicate plant pests. In 2016-2017, two drones were tested, in Ontario and British Columbia, to detect simulated signs of forest damage caused by the Asian longhorned beetle (ALB), an invasive insect. Test sites were set up and the trials aimed to determine whether drones could be used as an operational tool to help detect and evaluate ALB infestations.

Aeryon Skyranger UAV
Above, one of the drones the Agency used, the Aeryon Skyranger UAV

Ontario: Use of a military-grade drone

In Ontario, 20 leafless Norway and silver maple trees were set up for the trial as part of a collaborative initiative with Conservation Halton, Bioforest Technologies Inc. and AirVu UAV Solutions. As a first step, CFIA inspectors conducted ground surveys and were able to correctly identify potential signs of ALB infestations on 45-60% of the trial trees. For the second half of the trial, an Aeryone Skyranger UAV with 30x HD optical zoom camera was flown by AirVu UAV Solutions and footage was captured for in-field assessment. Each tree was scanned and, despite visibility issues, signs of ALB were noted on 45% of trial trees. In comparison, ground surveys proved to be more effective than the use of a drone for pest detections during this initial trial.

British Columbia: Use of an entry-level commercial drone

In British Columbia, 24 leafless black cottonwood and big leaf maple trees were marked for inspection trials in a forested park along a walking trail. First, a DJ Phantom 3 Professional UAV with 4K f/2.8 94° camera was flown by a CFIA survey biologist on a clear and sunny day. However, due to navigation difficulties, only four trees were examined to evaluate the drone's detection ability. On another day, CFIA inspectors conducted ground surveys, and despite cloudy conditions, were able to correctly point to potential signs of ALB on 57% of the trees.  For this second trial, similar to the trial conducted in Ontario, ground surveys still resulted in a higher percentage of detections compared to results achieved following the use of a drone.


Although ground surveys continue to be the most effective tool to detect pests such as ALB, technical difficulties may be overcome in the coming years as drone technology advances and new enhanced capabilities are made available.

Improving plant pest surveillance efforts

The CFIA works with partners across the country to enhance and improve national surveillance efforts. Controlling the spread of invasive pests is vital to the protection and health of Canada's plants, forests, and economy. Invasive species, such as the Asian longhorned beetle, are a leading cause of destruction to Canadian forests, and contribute to an estimated $800 million per year in damages.

Every year, the CFIA's Plant Health Surveillance Unit plans, coordinates and administers the national survey program.

Plant pest surveys are required to maintain claims of an area's "pest-free" status, and help control the spread of invasive species in Canada. Plant pest surveys also support import, export, and domestic regulatory programs and sound regulatory decisions that affect industry stakeholders.

This year's Plant Protection Survey Report is now available and provides a summary of the plant health surveillance activities performed by the CFIA in 2016-2017 and the outcomes achieved. The report is part of CFIA's efforts to monitor, prevent, and reduce the risk and spread of invasive species in Canada.

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Did You Know?

Ask CFIA is your single point of entry for questions about current regulatory requirements. Since June 2016, over 1500 regulatory questions have been answered. Ask CFIA is available to most food businesses including those in the following sectors: fish and seafood, dairy, fresh and processed fruits and vegetables, maple, honey and egg and egg products. Have a regulatory question? Ask CFIA.

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