Flash of inspiration

Social Sciences, Science

- Jenny Manzer

Flash Forest co-founder Angelique Ahlstrom with one of their reforestation drones.

UVic grads are at the root of a new company with a towering goal: to plant one billion trees by 2028. Bryce Jones (BSc ’16) and Angelique Ahlstrom (BA ’15, MA ’17) are two of the founders of Flash Forest, a reforestation company touting technology that uses autonomous drones and mapping software to help regenerate ecosystems.

The team has developed a means of doing reforestation by drone that can plant trees 10 times faster than a human planter. Their technology facilitates seed germination and continued seedling survival. The Flash Forest team, based in Toronto, works with plant scientists, soil ecologists, and engineers across Canada, USA, and Europe to scale up the technology internationally. In 2019, they launched a successful Kickstarter campaign and they’re currently closing up a successful pre-seed investment round. They’ve partnered with UBC and forestry companies across Canada in preparation for Canada-wide pilots next year. They are now set to expand their drone fleet, further develop hardware and software, and improve their seed pods.

Jones, speaking from Toronto, is already an experienced entrepreneur. He founded his own successful windshield chip-and-crack repair company at age 19—a successful venture that kept him employed throughout his studies at UVic. He says Flash Forest started with a “desire and motivation to do something that would have a large impact on the planet, the environment and climate change.”

Biodiversity loss is an increasingly important issue, notes Jones. Planting trees by drone is something he can do immediately, scale it quickly and have a large impact.

Jones tried tree planting one summer as a student. He says it’s an industry plagued with injuries. “Tree planting is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world,” he says. “I did it myself and easily half of the team was injured at any one time.” It was the hardest work he’d ever done—but he says their technology is intended to supplement, not supplant, human labour.

Flash Forest modifies drones to fire germinating tree seeds into the soil. The team merges technology, software and ecological science to surpass traditional tree-planting efforts with the intention of rapidly accelerating global reforestation efforts.

They start with nutrient-packed pods that will be fired by a drone to the earth autonomously. Their protocol includes a “secret sauce” so the seedlings get what they need to survive the initial harsh conditions of spring. A core model of Flash Forest is to use their tech for ecological restoration projects to promote species diversity wherever possible. UVic grad Quirin Hohendorf (MSc ’18) is also on the team as Senior Plant Scientist.

Jones, CEO of Flash Forest, says the technology is effective and valuable on many levels: as a tactic against climate change and as a safer, faster, cheaper and more effective way to plant trees.

Ahlstrom earned her master’s in Political Science and her undergrad at UVic was in Anthropology and Political Science. She and Jones met at UVic, became best friends and are now engaged.

Climate change and species extinction are two of the most catastrophic threats facing our planet in the 21st century. Solutions to these problems are complex, multi-faceted, and require global political coordination. However, one thing any individual can do now is try and influence industry with cleaner technology. Our aim with Flash Forest is to accelerate the rate of reforestation using drones to help mitigate global temperature rise and biodiversity loss.
Angelique Ahlstrom, UVic alumna (BA ’15, MA ’17)

They are constantly thinking about Flash Forest and how to meet their goal of planting one billion trees. “It’s a milestone we set for ourselves,” says Jones. “We don’t plan on stopping there.”⁠ ⁠


In this story

Keywords: alumni, climate, forestry, biodiversity

People: Bryce Jones, Angelique Ahlstrom, Quirin Hohendorf

Publication: The Torch

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