Drone to Count Spawning Salmon

Starting in September and going through November of 2020, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) will partner with Washington State University (WSU) on a research project to use drone technology to advance conservation efforts for summer Chinook salmon.

An unmanned aerial vehicle - commonly known as a drone - will be used to identify and inventory salmon spawning nests, called redds, in three areas of the Upper Wenatchee River watershed. Those areas include near Tumwater Campground, near Blackbird Island (near Leavenworth), and lower Wenatchee site (near Dryden). In addition, surveys conducted on foot and by boat will also be used.

High resolution photos and video taken by the drone will help to identify spawning locations and habitat characteristics. Redd abundance and distribution are common metrics used to monitor and evaluate the status and trend of adult salmon populations.

The use of a drone is expected to provide improved data for more accurate population forecasting. It is also less expensive and labor intensive than manual count methods used in the past. Drone pilot Daniel Auerbach, a graduate student at WSU's School of Environment, and his thesis research work will provide a benefit to the department at minimal cost. Auerbach's work is a collaboration with WDFW's Katy Shelby, who leads WDFW research efforts in the area.

During this project, drone flights will take place once or twice per week for approximately an hour at a time, typically during early morning hours. Photos and video will be taken of the river only, not surrounding areas. The majority of surveys will take place on public land and flying over private land will be avoided when possible. Flight plans and procedures will be carried out in accordance with WDFW Policy and Procedures.

WDFW is the state agency tasked with preserving, protecting and perpetuating fish, wildlife and ecosystems, while providing sustainable fishing, hunting, and other recreation opportunities.