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Utah Wildlife Enforcement Officers Set Up Drone Team

In the past, I’ve written a number of articles explaining how drones have allowed clean electric aviation to develop in ways that just aren’t possible with manned aircraft. Since batteries can’t currently store enough energy to move large planes except for short flights, electric aircraft carrying lots of passengers or cargo over long distances is something we only think about happening in the future.

In a variety of situations, drones are replacing manned aircraft. Aerial photography, surveying, and even public safety missions are seeing drones do the job of an aircraft without the cost, noise, and emissions.

New Missions Save Both Animal & Human Life

But, at the same time, drones are also helping new missions develop that save lives and help the public. The low cost and low maintenance of electric aviation helps make it possible to get the power of flight in your hands without having to spend hundreds or thousands calling in a plane or helicopter from the nearest airport or helipad. The high cost of doing that has kept aviation away from helping people except in the most dire of life-threatening circumstances, while a cheaper drone makes it work financially.

As of 2020, hundreds of people had been saved by public safety officers and volunteers flying drones. DJI has created an online map and counter that demonstrates how many lives have been saved by small drone operators. According to the firm, drones have not only helped locate missing persons so that others could be rescued, but they’ve also delivered food and revived people who were unconscious as a result of smoke or darkness.

So, this cost savings has been a literal lifesaver for hundreds of people, and that number could be approaching 1,000 by now.

But, humans aren’t the only lives being saved by drones. For example, Wilderness International is using drones to protect nature preserves and see how healthy they are. Drones for Earth is providing a unique service to privately protected wilderness areas: employing licensed sUAS (drone) pilots from Drones for Earth and coming up with an innovative approach to assist out. They’re doing it all with zero emissions and minimal impact on these privately owned conservation areas.

42-megapixel images are taken over and over again as the drone flies. The GPS data and compass data is stored inside the image metadata which is then fed into photogrammetry software. This produces a 3D map with details down to the centimeter level by overlapping the images for even greater resolution.

By frequently returning to the wilderness, Wilderness International can take note of how the land appears, the healthiness of the plants, and exactly where everything is. This way, if anything as small as a stone is moved from its place, they will be aware. Consequently, this allows for better protection of the land- including knowing if it’s being trespassed and making sure ecosystems are defended against various types of dangers. They can also see which animals are in that region and follow their tracks over time.

Now, Utah’s Division of Wildlife Resources Is Getting In On This

In a recent press release, Utah’s DWR shared that it has formed its own drone team, consisting of state wildlife protection officers.

To become certified to operate drones for law enforcement work, the new Unmanned Aerial Systems team had to complete various licensing and training requirements with the Federal Aviation Administration. The drone team currently consists of five investigators located throughout the state.

“Using drones will help us more effectively solve wildlife crimes, and having trained law enforcement drone pilots will also allow us to assist other law enforcement agencies with search-and-rescue efforts or any other investigations,” DWR Captain Wade Hovinga said. “Utah conservation officers are public servants, and these new tools will help us better serve the public, whether we’re solving poaching crimes or locating lost hunters.”

These are similar to the K-9 conservation officer team in that they will be called upon to assist with a number of activities, including:

  • Documenting crime scenes using drone technology.
  • Searching for evidence of and locating illegally taken wildlife (which is often hidden from view, at least until they get eyes in the sky).
  • Assisting landowners by investigating illegal trespassing on private property (which often happens when hunters and poachers are breaking the law).
  • Helping other law enforcement agencies with search-and-rescue efforts.
  • Assisting biologists with wildlife surveys of protected lands.
  • Documenting boating accidents (upon request).
  • Investigating hunting-related shooting incidents (stray rounds, irresponsible gun use, etc)
  • Investigating wildlife/human encounters (for both hunters and non-hunters).

As you could imagine, volumes could be written about all of the above, and it sounds a lot like the things I wrote about further up. By putting the drones in the hands of these law enforcement officers, they’re able to assist with a broad variety of things that they couldn’t do as well as they could now. Plus, other agencies (such as a small town police department) that don’t have a drone program can get the same results.

The officers are able to assist with all of this because DWR officers are already wearing a lot of hats. Conservation law enforcement officers concentrate on enforcing wildlife rules and encouraging compliance with them. They also educate and protect the outdoor recreationing public while working to enhance the worth of Utah’s wild animals for everyone. In addition, conservation officers in Utah are increasingly called upon to assist local police departments with non-wildlife-related criminal code infractions. Their responsibilities include:

  • Patrolling the state’s mountains and lakes, investigating wildlife violations. (Conservation officers patrol on foot, horseback, motorcycles, ATVs, boats and in trucks, and now, from the air.)
  • Assisting biologists with studies and surveys for better management.
  • Removing nuisance wildlife from urban areas and (when possible) relocating them.
  • Helping other agencies with a variety of law enforcement needs.
  • Assisting in search-and-rescue missions, wildfire evacuations and other emergency response efforts as needed.
  • Helping with Hunter Education, teaching new hunters about how to be responsible and ethical.
  • Enforcing all of Utah’s laws, as needed.

So, as you can probably see, they were an ideal place to put a drone team in the overall state government structure. These guys and gals are everywhere, doing everything already. Putting clean energy and the power of electric aviation in their hands makes heaps of sense.

Featured image by DJI.

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Written By

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to explore the Southwest US with her partner, kids, and animals. Follow her on Twitter for her latest articles and other random things:


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