I’ve been reviewing some of the posts since I was gone, and thought the topic of drone decisions as brought up by Patrick McKay with regard to the GMUG plan revision.
You may remember when it came to e-bike policy, the Forest Service issued a generic policy and then suggested that each unit make site-specific decisions (as did BLM, see Steve’s post here).
Is this the current policy?
1. is there a generic national drone policy to which the GMUG is responding?
2. Is a forest plan the right place to make the decision (and if so, does that mean no decisions until all revisions are complete (in 20-30 years))?
3. Should a generic policy be harmonized at least between the BLM and the FS due to interconnected lands/potential for confusion?
4. Since it seems that drones would be handy indeed for various forms of law enforcement that are otherwise difficult to afford in spread out spaces, e.g. this story from Hamilton, Ontario, would there be separate rules for law enforcement’s/ emergency rescue’s use of them? Researchers? Managers of wildlife/trees/recreation/fire?
This interesting article in Sierra Magazine (about drones in Parks) points out that 1. It’s hard to enforce. 2. Scientists use them all the time as well as search and rescue folks, and 3) they can also be used for management activities including PB.
The effort to keep parks drone-free is complicated by the fact that the machines have become indispensable to scientific research. “We have folks using them for various mapping purposes [and] surveys,” says Kristin Swoboda, a fixed-wing fleet and UAS specialist at the National Park Service. Her department receives weekly requests to record caves and archaeological sites, light prescribed burns, and monitor geologic events like landslides and glacial retreat.
Small aircraft are perfect for these tasks, especially fire management. “A helicopter is a whole lot more expensive and risky,” Buehler says. With prescribed burns, “you basically have someone leaning out the door trying to ignite fires with [something like] a paintball gun.” In the past five years, at least three people have died in helicopter crashes connected to prescribed burns in national forests. Drones can drop fire-starting agents remotely. “We by all means do not want to crash drones, but if we do, it’s not killing anybody.”
UAS are also increasingly considered essential to search-and-rescue operations. In 2017, Arizona’s Tonto Rim SAR team used drones to map safer rappels while recovering the body of a fall victim, and Colorado’s Douglas County SAR rescued two lost hikers in Pike National Forest after spotting them with a drone. “It’s really hard to find people, and drones are yet another tool,” says Morris Hansen, the lead drone pilot and vice president of Douglas County SAR. Some models carry enough weight that they can be used to drop supplies to victims or safely get a rope to them.
Other questions or thoughts?