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Interior reverses drone ban

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This news and analysis are provided by the Ornithological Council, a consortium supported by ornithological societies. Join or renew your membership in your ornithological society if you value the services these societies provide to you, including OrnithologyExchange and the Ornithological Council.

The Department of the Interior has reversed its moratorium on the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones. In late 2019, the Department grounded all Chinese-made drones. Then, in early 2020, the Secretary of the Interior extended that decision to all drone use by the Department and its agencies, in the name of national security.

The Ornithological Council has long support the use of drones in wildlife research, management, and conservation. In late 2017, the Ornithological Council asked the Office of the Solicitor to advise the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, other federal agencies, and the state agencies that the use of drones for wildlife research is not subject to the Airborne Hunting Act. It also asked that if the Solicitor determines that the use of drones to study wildlife is subject to the AHA, then the Solicitor should address the need for federal permits because there are few, if any, state laws pertaining to drone use for wildlife research and monitoring. 

Then, in early 2018, the OC filed a petition for rulemaking, asking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to issue permits for the use of drones to study wildlife. That petition for rulemaking proposed the changes necessary for the USFWS to issue permits under the AHA, since, if the Solicitor determines that the use of drones for wildlife research is covered by the AHA, permits would be needed.

Now that the drone ban has been lifted, the Ornithological Council supports the development of regulations supporting the appropriate use of drones in wildlife research, management, and conservation.

More background on the use of drones to research birds is available here.

The OC’s fact sheet on drones is available here.

About the Ornithological Council

The Ornithological Council is a consortium of scientific societies of ornithologists; these societies span the Western Hemisphere and the research conducted by their members spans the globe. Their cumulative expertise comprises the knowledge that is fundamental and essential to science-based bird conservation and management.  The Ornithological Council is financially supported by our member societies and the individual ornithologists who value our work. If the OC’s resources are valuable to you, please consider joining one of our member societies or donating directly at Birdnet.org. Thank you for your support!

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