C+S December 2020 Vol. 6 Issue 12 (web)

- usually hardwood stands of trees where bats roost or caves where they hibernate. Heavily wooded areas where bats might be migrating through and roosting would be prime habitat to protect. The process works in a similar way to wetland crediting. If you’re an energy com- pany and you’re building a solar farm, your wind turbines are proposed to have a certain amount of impact to bats which you may have to mitigate for by purchasing credits from a bat habitat mitigation bank. How are drones involved in those mitigations? Caitlin Burke: Drones help you get a sense of the topography of the site. If we’re doing stream bank restoration, the imagery is so clear. You can zoom in on erosion in the stream bank and pinpoint areas for restoration. If you’ve got a large farmed site where there might be farmed wetlands or broken drain tiles, you can see saturated soils easily from aerial imagery. I think it will come in really handy for us to fly those sites at the beginning of a project and take photos throughout the stages of the project as well. Then you can have a nice time-lapse of the wetland bank construction. What do you foresee as the future for drones in the field of environmen- tal science and environmental engineering? Caitlin Burke: At this time, drone footage is mostly used for market- ing and promotional purposes and for supplementing reports, as well as documentation for agencies. In the future, I’d like to use it more for analysis. There are apps we can connect the drone to that would allow us to collect topographic data, calculate volumes, cut and fill, which could be helpful for streambank restoration work in the floodplain. If the drone can provide accurate elevations, you can calculate those volumes just by flying the site. That’s where I see the use of drones headed in our industry. There is also an emerging technology out there to identify vegetation types using drone programs. I haven’t used anything like that yet but I can see that it’s coming. Tell me about being a woman in this industry. Caitlin Burke: I’m used to being the only woman at field meetings – and that’s okay. I’ve always had great mentors, both male and female. My current (male) boss encourages me to make sure my voice is heard, and I haven’t felt like it’s been an issue. I know we need more women in STEM and more mentors for younger women trying to get in STEM and stick with it. I’m getting involved in a virtual drone event for high school aged girls called FlyGirls, with the Cobb County School District (Georgia) to create excitement about drones and STEM fields in general. Every girl has received a drone and gets to do different projects using their drones. I will have the opportunity to engage with the girls, talk about how I use drones in the real world and hopefully spark some excite- ment about that. I have been fortunate to have strong, female mentors in my life (in and out of STEM fields), and this has given me the confidence to know

I did not have an app for collecting wetland field data until the past year. It’s always been paper and pencil. The Ecobot app ties in nicely with GIS programs we already use. I’m a big GIS fan – I do all my own mapping for wetland delineations and for all the reporting I do. Before Ecobot I had been using the ESRI Collector app for mapping boundaries, and it’s nice to have these apps that talk to each other. We use Ecobot to collect the field data and grab the wetland boundary and it all gets uploaded right back into ArcGIS and it’s all there for my reports. It’s enhanced my efficiency greatly in the last year that I’ve been using it. Would you say technology improves the accuracy of your reporting as well? Caitlin Burke: Yes, I would agree with that. We’ve all been in situa- tions where you can’t read your own handwriting, especially if you try to transcribe your notes a week later. I would prefer to spend more time in the field taking more careful data using a wetland delineation software that stores it for me than scribbling something down and rushing to get back to the office and forgetting what that data point looked like. So I definitely think it’s increased accuracy as well. How else do you use drones in your work? Kelly Brezovar: We use them when looking for wetlands or potential impacts to wetlands in hard to reach areas. For example, when oil and gas companies are conducting horizontal directional drilling, we use the drone to help us conduct environmental inspections and look for any inadvertent returns, such as plumes occurring in waters that aren’t readily accessible. Caitlin, your work takes wetland delineation a step further. Tell us about wetland mitigation banking and your role there. Caitlin Burke: I also work on wetland mitigation bank document preparation. As a company we seek out land that would be an ideal site to construct a wetland mitigation bank or restore wetlands for per- mittee-responsible mitigation. Oftentimes, that involves a farm field where you can break the drain tiles and restore the natural hydrology to the site and have wetlands pop back up. I’m oversimplifying it – there’s more work involved, such as permitting and documentation required to get a bank approved to the point where we can begin to sell the credits to clients needing to mitigate for wetland impacts. I’m just starting to get into bat habitat mitigation sites. It’s similar to wetland mitigation, but it’s selecting a site that is a prime bat habitat


december 2020


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