Company CEO relishes opportunity to rebuild forests

Climate change has put a burden on land managers, yet innovation helps restoration

Headlines across the West in 2021 told the story of millions of acres of prime timber destroyed because of unrelenting wildfires.

For the construction industry the loss of wood will add to building costs, which funnel down to consumers. While dealing with the damage, landowners understand from an economic and environmental standpoint that rebuilding the forests becomes front and center after all the embers burn out.

Those challenges are not easy, according to Grant Canary, CEO of DroneSeed, which is based in Seattle, Washington. His company is devoted to helping land managers from a variety of sectors, small industry, large timber companies, the Nature Conservancy and Native American tribes.

In the 1980s and 1990s the 10-year rolling average of burned acres was 2 million but today it is an estimated 7 million, equivalent to the size of the state of New Jersey. The result is pressure on land managers to quickly restore acres.

If a land manager is impacted by fire he needs options, Canary said. The challenge to rebuild is tough. Normally nine out of 10 times a forest will regrow after a wildfire but now with the size and severity of the fires the seeds at the top of the tree are burned as are the seeds in the ground.

“We’re seeing natural regeneration decrease to six out of 10 or four out of 10 depending on the trees or ecosystem,” he said. “Nature is doing far less natural regeneration in places like Colorado.”

The result is the trees are not coming back and filling in the forest like they once did, Canary said.

Contributing to the problem is the industry is built to have seed to replace about 2 million acres instead of 7 million acres, and that is compounded by the fact it takes about 20 to 40 years to build orchards that could produce the seeds and seedlings. Plus there are limitations on the availability of nurseries.

For his company, the acquisition of SilvaSeed has been beneficial to landowners who understand that time is critical to quickly getting seeds and seedlings into the ground. DroneSeed offers a suite of services to help land managers who seek quick recovery times in timber.

Canary has a unique view as his dad worked extensively in the timber industry. He also credits a high school English teacher who helped him to define his values as he wanted to be a part of the solution of climate change.

“The climate crisis is already going to be the biggest challenge to our generation,” he said. “We need all hands on deck. There are resources available today.”

Today and future intertwined

All sectors, whether social, political, economic, agricultural or industrial, depend on climate to function properly. Canary’s initial efforts were to mitigate carbon in the atmosphere. He worked on many concepts but people told him he needed to focus on problems that were solvable today rather than in five years.

A friend familiar with Canary’s background offered candid advice, “‘I guess you are going to be a tree planter and go out there and do work in the woods’ so I started thinking about what a large tree planting might look like and I participated in a large tree planting project for JP Morgan England in Columbia (Canada).”

Canary began making calls to his network of associates involved in forestry and pointedly asking what had been done in the past? What had been tried? What had not worked? What were their problems? What were the pain points?

Those conversations led to more conversations and he realized, “We were standing on the shoulders of giants because those who had become before us had built an entire industry on reforestation.”

His next step led him to Techstars, a Boulder, Colorado, startup accelerator company that provided guidance on operating a company and how to acquire investment capital. DroneSeed’s mission is the same since 2015, which is to make reforestation scalable and to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.

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Drone services

His understanding of technology helped him with his strategies. Canary said technology has always played a part in reforestation. After the Vietnam War, equipment previously unavailable, such as helicopters and transport planes, allowed the placement of trees in a rapid fashion but the precision did not always allow a good establishment like land managers wanted.

“One of the biggest problems especially west of Colorado is the terrain,” Canary said.

He said drones have a specific advantage over aircraft and could fly around difficult terrain.

With DroneSeed, the first step is to get a Google map of the terrain. A survey team develops a map so the flight team can identify what drones will face and identify areas where seeds and seedlings won’t grow such as a rock face or a road, Canary said. The next step is to process the data and develop a flight plan. A crew of two trucks and trailers of aircraft is sent to a site. A manager typically oversees the mission while a pilot watches how the drones work. The pilot can ground one or all depending on conditions. The flight team generally has two to five drones in a fleet.

The drones are 8 feet in diameter and carry a 57-pound payload.

“What they are doing is taking off and executing those preprogrammed missions and dropping the seeds in precision locations with the highest probability of growing,” Canary said.

The seed vessels are about the size of a hockey puck that is a dry fiber. When it hits the ground its sole purpose is to absorb moisture and deter predators in an eco-friendly way.

Once the drones finish their mission they return and get restocked to continue the planting process in an efficient manner, he said, adding that besides pinpoint seed placement they also save labor costs.

Like grain producers there is an optimal time to plant trees in a forest, Canary said, and like farmers who use crop consultants, DroneSeed helps land managers by measuring the results.

Forestry is following agriculture’s lead with technology to boost establishment rates, he said. “It’s about probabilities. How do we boost the odds for our seeds? That’s what we are working on.”

Carbon solutions

Landowners care deeply about their land, Canary said. Like their farming cousins, they have learned that thinning and prescribed burning can help mitigate higher fuel loads and improve water supplies.

They also need to think ahead so that when a fire hits they have a partner who can help them, the DroneSeed CEO said. Carbon offsets can help pay for the restoration.

Carbon markets are legitimate, he said, and results are measured. Models show how much carbon will be captured over 100 years. He compared it to the way the logging industry uses statistical models to forecast timber models that can be used for two-by- fours for the construction industry over a 20-year period.

A company that wants to be carbon neutral or even carbon negative can provide carbon credit offsets and the capital raised helps the land manager. For example, a family operation can seed an entire 50,000-acre area instead of just 5,000 acres. Canary’s company works with Climate Action Reserve, Los Angeles, California. The organization provides integrity, transparency and legitimate financial value to those involved in carbon credits.

“Climate Action Reserve is a third party that creates a protocol for those credits and if the forester comes out and does basic sampling and asks, ‘Do we have the trees a year after the dry season? What’s the quantity? What’s the species? Are they healthy and happy?’” Canary said, adding, “That will be a game changer for the economics in how we forest after a major disturbance.”

The focus is to help land managers and landowners restore their forests quickly because he expects the temperatures to continue to rise. That will mean more challenges not only in the timber industry but in agriculture, too.

He says people are learning and adapting to the impact of climate change but it does take time. Timber captures carbon and provides wood for construction and represents a win-win for the environment.

Canary’s advice to other entrepreneurs is one he takes from his own experiences in the forestry industry with a diverse group of people throughout the chain. They may have competing interests based on their individual needs yet they all want the forest to be a renewable resource for all. The importance of learning from past experiences and being a good listener proved helpful to him. He made many telephone calls to get insight as he put together DroneSeed and expanded it.

He believes entrepreneurs need to gather additional insight to help work through climate change.

It is important to take the subject seriously because it impacts not only the timber industry but also the agricultural industries of the High Plains. Those willing to learn, study and ask myriad questions will be helpful in mitigating the effects of climate change and lessen its worst impacts.

He recommends that people who want to gain greater insight or look for their own ecopreneurship path tap into resources at and His company’s website is

Dave Bergmeier can be reached at 620-227-1822 or [email protected].