A SkySeer drone
A SkySeer drone (DAMIAN DOVARGANES/AP Images)

Drones to Detect Fires, Not Pot Smokers

Forest Service's $100,000 mistake remembered, might be redeemed

A SkySeer drone
Erik Tormoen

In 2006, the U.S. Forest Service purchased two drones for catching marijuana users in the woods of California, not knowing that the agency didn’t meet federal requirements for drone operation. Seven years and $100,000 later, the drones sit in storage. But if prospective Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) amendments go through, the law-enforcement team could give drones another shot: this time for fire-fighting.

Forest Service officials had intended their SkySeer drones to spare officers the risk of monitoring pot smokers in person (although Jeff Ruch, of the watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, told the Associated Press at the time that the purchase indicated a “boys with toys” mentality). Members of the agency soon realized they had neither the mandatory pilots nor the authority required by the FAA.

Jennifer Jones, spokeswoman for the Forest Service, told The Huffington Post that the drones are “not even operational at this point,” as their custom batteries are dead and cannot be replaced.

But the FAA is revising its position on unmanned aircraft, working with Congress on a method of integrating drones into everyday application, possibly by 2015, to meet the increased demand exemplified by Amazon’s newfangled delivery idea.

The Forest Service Fire and Aviation Management is working toward FAA approval by developing new drone protocols and assessing their risks, reports the Central Valley Business Times.

“Sometimes what happens is the technology gets out there before our agency policies,” says Jones, who believes the drones could mark a new frontier for the law-enforcement division.

From Outside Magazine, April/May 2021
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