Regional Public Journalism
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Oregon Agency Wants To Use Drones To Count Fish And Birds

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife believes aerial surveys performed by drones could be cheaper and safer than surveys gathered by airplane or helicopter.

Wildlife biologists in Oregon could soon have a new tool to count hard-to-reach salmon and coastal birds after the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission approved the purchase of two drones to conduct aerial surveys.

The idea is to fly low over groups of spawning salmon and cormorant colonies. Right now that data is gathered from an airplane or a helicopter. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife says a drone could be cheaper and safer.

But how will wildlife react to a low-flying drone? The agency's Dan Avery said researchers found during some test runs that the cormorants didn't bat an eye.

"We could get close enough to image the birds adequately and we didn't flush them off the islands."

Meantime the salmon seemed blissfully unaware of the small unmanned aircraft hovering overhead.

"We assume they just didn't even know they were up there,” Avery said.

The ODFW says traditional aerial surveys have been cut back significantly since a 2013 helicopter crash that injured three people.