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  • Writer's pictureKamloops Innovation

Inside Tree Track's Quest to Plant 100 Million Trees by 2028

Tree Track is poised to become a robust force in reforestation, aiming to plant 100 million trees by 2028 using ground-breaking drone and seedpod technology.


“We might go bigger than that,” said Amir Soleimani, chief executive officer and co-founder of Tree Track. “We need to act fast before the shrubs and invasive plants take over. We’re going to be the primary drone company in Canada and North America.”


Port Coquitlam-based Tree Track is experiencing timely ascension — thanks in part to Kamloops Innovation (KI) — and rising into aerial action while staggering wildfire numbers reveal both perilous destruction and important work to be done.


About 18.5 million hectares of Canadian land burned in 2023, according to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre, making it the worst wildfire year in recorded national history.


B.C. is making a habit of setting dubious wildfire records. 


Nearly three million hectares were razed last year in the province, more than doubling the previous-worst mark (1,354,300 hectares) established in 2018, which surpassed the record (1,216,100 hectares) set in 2017.


Tree Track notes on its website treetrack.ca that 15 billion trees are lost annually and only five billion are regenerated, with wildfires, invasive pests and uncontrolled logging among culprits.


“There is no solution to replant those lands,” Soleimani said, noting Tree Track drones can reach remote areas inaccessible to humans. “First of all, we are short on labour and when you have wildfires, there are safety issues because trees are burned and, at any time, they might just fall down. We are the only option.”


Soleimani boasts agrology expertise, with a PhD in horticulture and a post-degree diploma in project management, and his business partner, Tree Track chief technology officer and co-founder Sam Sarabi, is the drone doctor, with master’s degrees in engineering and business administration. 


Seedling technology is integral to Tree Track’s vision.


When fires exceed 300 C, ingredients in soil conducive to growth, such as bacteria and fungus, are destroyed.


Tree Track seedpods include tree seeds and between 15 and 20 organic ingredients that inoculate seedbeds with precious soil portfolio extinguished in the fire, the building blocks that — after intensive research, development and testing — are achieving germination rates of 85 percent, according to Soleimani.


“We produce seedpods based on the region and the seed, plant prescription based on our knowledge and customer ask, so it’s going to be a tailored formula.”


Tree Track was formed in October of 2022 and quickly reached out to KI, a business accelerator that offers professional mentorship relationships funded by Innovate BC, a Crown agency of the B.C. government.


Interior roots formed and have grown to secure a crucial bond.


“We’re a different company after John,” Soleimani said, referring to KI entrepreneur-in-residence John Zubak. “He’s coaching us on the business side a lot. His advice is amazing.”


So are his networking connections.


Zubak is advising on outbound strategies — such as securing pilot projects and contracts in B.C. and beyond — and playing the role of matchmaker, putting Tree Track in touch with key players in Interior reforestation and potential customers that include provincial and federal governments, Indigenous organizations, forestry, mining and oil companies and other non-governmental organizations.


“It’s really about trying to help them get the right exposure with the people they need, get the initial tests in place and get all the infrastructure they need to scale, grow and deploy this technology,” said Zubak, managing partner of Zubak and Associates.


“I work with a lot of entrepreneurs and people who are there just to create business and money, but you’ve got individuals here that are very driven and passionate about solving a problem that is going to become bigger and bigger if climate change continues.”


Pleased with the partnership, Soleimani is floating the idea of Tree Track expansion in Kamloops, an office in KI headquarters at Thompson Rivers University [TRU] that would provide better access to the wildlife hotbed in the Interior.


Zubak’s direction on partnership with TRU is among the reasons for Soleimani’s vision for the future.


“He was the reason we connected with TRU, getting two post-doctoral students through the Mitacs (a non-profit, national research organization) program,” Soleimani said, noting projects done in conjunction with the institution will further development of seedpods. “And [TRU professor] Dr. Lauchlan Fraser, you can’t put a number on that. He has 20-plus-years’ experience and he’s working with many of the ecology programs in the Interior. Most of our projects will be in the Interior. When you have him as an advisor and supervisor for those students, that’s really valuable for us.”


The value of Fraser’s guidance might be incalculable, but you can put a dollar number on the Mitacs connection cultivated by Zubak. 


Soleimani said it costs about $30,000 per year for one post-doctoral student through the TRU-offered Mitacs program. Without the funding break, the price tag would be about $100,000.


Zubak laughed when asked about the trajectory of Tree Track, the chuckle followed by an assertion.

“You’re talking about a company that is going be very important for our whole area, province-wide, for years to come,” said Zubak, who meets weekly with the Tree Track team, which has expanded to about 10 and includes engineering and science departments.


“They’re solving a true problem that we have not just here in B.C., but globally. Just to restore what was burned in 2023, it would take three million people for one week. We don’t have the capability to reforest what is being burned nowadays, with the changing climate. Their drone and seedpod deployment is allowing them to reforest areas that aren’t accessible by conventional tree planters. One drone can do the work of 10 tree planters, but it can work around the clock.”


Sarabi said his drone design separates Tree Track from others, noting battery-powered offerings in the market fizzle in comparison to his gas-battery hybrid, which offers major upgrades in maximum payload, flight time and dispersal-mechanism capability.


He said Tree Track drones, thanks to being gas powered, can fly for about five hours with no payload and 90 minutes with a payload of about 22 pounds.


Meanwhile, similar-size, battery-only models used by others remain airborne for a maximum of about 18 minutes with no payload and about six minutes with a payload of about 22 pounds, Sarabi said.


“It’s significant,” Sarabi said, noting his drones can also be used for surveying, delivery to remote areas and search-and-rescue operations. “For the hybrid engine, the density of the power we’re producing is much, much higher when compared to the battery.”


The dispersal mechanism allows Tree Track to drop seedpods with maximum density aptitude and trees-per-hectare capacity unmatched by competitors, said Soleimani.


Project sites are mapped using geographic-information-system and remote-sensing techniques. The drones (which by law can weigh no more than about 55 pounds) follow maps under pilot supervision and return to base for seedpod restocking and refuelling, a process that takes less than five minutes.


Four real-world pilot projects in 2023, including three conducted in partnership with the University of British Columbia (UBC) and one paid pilot test with Tree Canada, explored the viability of 15 diverse tree and shrub species.


Test areas included Malcolm Knapp Research Forest in Maple Ridge, Alex Fraser Research Farm near Williams Lake, the UBC campus research farm in Vancouver and the Nicola Watershed near Merritt. Results are expected to be released in the spring.


More projects are scheduled for this spring, including a joint venture with the B.C. Ministry of Forests and lumber company Western Forest Products that will take place on Vancouver Island, and another project with Tree Canada.


“Our competitors went big, overpromising, and because of that, many relied on them, and they couldn’t deliver results,” Soleimani said, noting the Ministry of Forests is taking a keen interest in the Tree Track pilot projects. “So, everybody is waiting on our results. They want to know what our results are, and they’ll start working with us, especially the federal government, with the 2 Billion Trees Program.”


Tree Track brass is trumpeting its expanding drone fleet, with about 10 on the tarmac ready for launch, and machinery capable of producing a minimum of 200,000 seedpods per day.


“When we have the results, when it’s successful, we will be the only successful drone-seeding company in North America and we will have tons of contracts,” Soleimani said.


“We need to introduce seeds and beneficial bacteria and fungus to those fields, otherwise the faces of our forests will change forever.”

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