Drone, GPS to map Lake Zorinsky tree damage

Douglas County and the city's Parks Department are mapping the Lake Zorinsky tree damage.
Published: Mar. 14, 2023 at 10:29 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Those using the trail around Lake Zorinsky usually watch ahead or around them, but Steve Cacioppo spent Tuesday morning looking up.

“400 feet, that’s as high as we can fly legally,” Cacioppo said.

The analyst for the Douglas County Geographic Information System pilots a drone over a wooded area of the park thinned out by illegal cutting.

“We’ll have an aerial photography of it, which is everything stitched together in one seamless photo,” he said.

City Parks officials suspect late last year, someone without permission illegally came through with a forest mulcher, clearing away small trees and brush. But two dozen larger trees may not survive the indiscriminate gnawing of their trunks.

Though a forest industry machine did the cutting, a city arborist calls the work unprofessional.

“We noticed that yesterday, where those trees look like they took a hatchet,” walker Mary Caswell said.

“Someone who does something like that ought to be caught,” said walker Joanne Aliano. “I hate to see it destroyed and vandalized.”

Guided by a Douglas County GPS tech, Army Corps of Engineers staff members and a City Parks Department tree expert teamed up to identify the outer limits of destruction in the woods.

The drone and GPS mapping will give city parks officials and Corps of Engineers staff an almost-exact measurement of the area affected by the vandalism -- also important for prosecution in determining a loss and restitution.

The agencies involved in the investigation will get a 3D look at the path of destruction.

“If they want to look at value, or from a numbers standpoint, this many acres affected and this many cubic yards of vegetation were removed,” Cacioppo said.

An Army Corps of Engineers email says what transpired at Lake Zorinsky is against the law, and those responsible for the destruction could be subject to criminal prosecution and civil penalties.

When the illegal cutters are identified and brought to justice, three-dimensional evidence will land in court.

Those involved in the investigation have a theory about a motive for the cutting, but they need more information to prove it. Anyone who might know who drove the mulcher machine into the woods at Lake Zorinsky should call the Army Corps or Omaha Parks Department.