Located about an hour south of Kirkland Lake in northern Ontario, Elk Lake was a silver mining boom town about 100 years ago. Today it’s a gem of a wilderness area that draws outdoor enthusiasts for hiking, fishing, boating, and other outdoors fun. That’s where our Cleantech Coast to Coast Road Trip touched down (virtually) to visit with the folks at Flash Forest, a pioneer in drone reforestation. Their office is in Toronto, but their work takes place in forests across the country, including one at Elk Lake. Meet company founders Bryce Jones, Angelique Ahlstrom, and Cameron Jones.
Canada’s first-to-market drone reforestation company, Flash Forest has a bold goal: plant one billion trees by 2028. And at this rate, they’ll do it. In just two years, the company has launched, developed a prototype, completed pilot projects, raised capital, and grown to a team of 20.
Like any successful startup, Flash Forest is problem-driven. As former tree planters, brothers Bryce and Cameron Jones understood a significant problem in our forests: harvesting technologies vastly outpace tree planting, which still operates with bags and shovels. The solution: harness the potential of drone technology to plant trees at 10 times the manual rate and at a fraction of the cost of traditional tree planting techniques.
Flash Forest uses drones to deploy seed pods that turn into seedlings. Their system enables safe and efficient planting in all terrain. Starting with an initial planting of 3,000 pods in southern Ontario, Flash Forest recently finished planting 350,000 pods across 13 planting sites in BC, Alberta, and Ontario, including the site of our virtual visit, Elk Lake. A noteworthy planting was conducting the first forestry reclamation project in Fort McMurray following the forest fires in 2016.
“We’re trying to work in every forestry biome in Canada,” says Cameron Jones. “It’s exciting to see our pods maximize germination and survival in boreal forests and also in post-burn sites.”
The Flash Forest team has grown from three founders to 20, attracting top talent in engineering, robotics, botany, and reforestation. A Kickstarter campaign aimed at raising $10,000 to expand operations, including automating the production of seed pods, pulled in more than $100,000. The company raised $1.4 million in seed funding last year.
The Canadian government has committed to planting two billion trees in the next decade, Cam says. But they won’t get there without significant innovation.
Fully aware of the power of partnerships, Flash Forest is working with forestry, Indigenous, academic, and NGO partners to revolutionize reforestation. Next stop: the world. Flash Forest is exploring reforestation opportunities in Hawaii, Borneo, and the EU. When ingenuity meets a commitment to combating climate change, we can change the world.
Photo: Flash Forward Co-founders Bryce Jones (left) and Cameron Jones (right).