Wildfire Detection on Native Lands With The People's Network
Interview between M3 Agriculture Technologies Founder and CEO Nathan Moses and Grants Program Manager Clarissa Redwine.
This piece is a window into the work of Nathan Moses, a long-time Helium community innovator and member of the Colville Confederated Tribes. As part of our observation of November's National American Indian Heritage Month, the foundation is proud to share Nathan's inspiring IoT use case for wildfire detection in his home community.
Located in remote Northern Washington, the Colville Confederated Tribes consists of 1.4 million acres of pristine forests, rivers, lakes, and rangeland. This rural enclave is buttressed by the Columbia River to the east and Okanogan river to the west and is dotted by rural tribal communities filled with diverse wildlife. Over the past decade, the number and intensity of wildfires have increased, resulting in catastrophic damage that has burned over half of Colville Confederated Tribes' forested regions. Lightning strikes start most fires on the Colville Confederated Tribes in remote areas, and responding rapidly to these fires is key to reducing their spread and destruction. This vast, wild area (nearly twice the size of Rhode Island) is exceedingly remote and challenging to monitor. Further complicating monitoring is the lack of reliable communications throughout rural Washington. Here, the Helium Network helps manage forest fires by providing ongoing long-range communications to Helium-compatible sensors that sense upticks in particulate matter pollution — a key indicator of forest fires. Developing decentralized approaches to monitoring forest fires throughout Colville Confederated Tribes ensures that a resilient network of sensors can be established without relying upon singular companies or entities to manage and maintain sensor networks. Tribal communities struggle to attract communication service providers because of their low population density. But with Helium, we can step in and help tribal communities create their own networks to support issues that are immensely important to long-term tribal health and sovereignty.
What is M3 Agriculture Technologies?
M3 Agriculture Technologies specializes in Sterile Insect Release (SIR), an organic pest control strategy revolutionizing tree fruit and tree nut industries. M3 provides an end-to-end service, ensuring the viability of its products from the time they leave the facility until they're released via drones in orchards. We pioneered the release of sterile insects via drones in 2015 with the United States Department of Agriculture. We were awarded the 2017 United States Department of Agriculture APHIS Small Business Contractor of the Year Award for our cutting-edge research in Uncrewed Aircraft Systems (UAS). Today, we work with Tribal communities to develop communications infrastructure for monitoring various environmental issues.
How long have you been working with Helium?
M3 started working with Helium during the summer of 2021. We started using the Helium network with compatible sensors in agriculture and immediately saw the utility for the tribal communities that we operate in and around. Wildfires risk human health, and the economic impacts are massive. After seeing the success of using Helium to monitor agricultural health, we knew that translating this service to tribal communities and wildfire monitoring would have a major social impact.
Why did you start this project?
Nathan Moses-Gonzales is an enrolled member of the Colville Confederated Tribes. During the summer of 2021, a lightning strike struck near his family's homes and rapidly spread throughout the forests and rangelands surrounding his family’s house. Within a matter of hours, large swaths of land were burned, and while many structures were saved, there was a substantial loss of wildlife and forested areas, which are vital to tribal communities. Economically, tribes rely upon timber harvests. In 2015, the North Star Fire and the Tunk Block Fire burned for 57 days and 64 days, respectively, destroying 590 square miles and 800,000,000 board feet of commercial timber. These fires resulted not only in the loss of millions of dollars worth of revenue for the tribal community but also drastically increased particulate matter pollution, which presents short and long-term risks to respiratory health. At the time, M3 was working in agriculture to create rapid response protocols for agricultural issues, and the utility of these solutions translated well to forest health. M3 learned of the Helium Foundation's grant program, and the Management Team saw an opportunity to expand the capabilities of M3 to support tribal communities. This was only made possible by the coverage of tribal lands from the deployers of the Helium network.
What has the impact been on tribal communities?
Fire smoke during the summer is a perennial issue, causing health issues for many tribal members. Members live in the forests and lack access to technologies, such as air purifiers, to keep their air clean during the fire season. Furthermore, many tribal elders suffer from respiratory health issues exacerbated by fine particulate matter. The Colville Confederated Tribes established the Okanogan River Airshed Partnership to help coordinate and galvanize a response to air quality issues, with fire smoke being the most visible form of particulate matter pollution.
Additionally, power lines transect many of the tribe's most rural areas. Integrating particulate matter sensors into the power grid not only provides point sources to mount hardware for sensing particulate matter, but also provides an early warning network if power lines are the genesis of a wildfire. Here, developing a monitoring network that may increase the response time to fires is a win for tribal power resources and tribal health.
Lastly, not a lot of tribal members are aware of the health risks associated with particulate matter pollution. We've recently started an Air Quality group. Our group's major goal is outreach to help tribal communities understand the risk to respiratory health that fine particulate matter pollution presents.
How has the People's Network helped you build a valuable IoT solution?
Helium's decentralized approach to providing coverage incentives hotspot hosts and network administrators. Hotspot hosts benefit from having sensors capable of monitoring air quality in their area. They are incentivized through the burning of digital tokens to offset their costs of operating a hotpsot. At the same time, network administrators have access to high-quality, decentralized data that operates independently of singular entities. While other networks use the open-source LoRaWAN protocol, Helium added an additional layer and created a two-sided market of data producers and network providers. This unique approach incentivizes local communities, through the creation of networks and the burning of tokens, to maintain a global wireless network. In the context of particulate matter monitoring, this two-sided network protects tribal lands and supports rural service providers. Without the Helium network, this wouldn't have been possible at the cost and deployment scale we achieved.
Do you have any advice for other IoT creators across the Helium community?
Helium's most significant impacts are realized when communities reside at the core of your solutions. Discovering new ways of creating social good through Helium will inevitably generate value for your enterprise. But without community at the center of your solution, the benefits of the People's Network cannot be fully realized. It's essential to engage with your community to identify gaps where monitoring sensed data could improve daily life. There is a deluge of sensing opportunities in everyday life, and it's surprising how many opportunities are out there. Whether it's helping monitor refrigerators at your local food bank or monitoring traffic at the coffee shop up the street, the extensibility of the People's Network is limited only by the creativity of innovators applying their skills to issues identified within their communities.
This interview was transcribed by the Helium Foundation and will be a part of a series of interviews with ecosystem builders and Foundation grantees.