BLM launching drone program to monitor public lands
The following story is written by Gary Harmon, as published by the G.J. Daily Sentinel
MEEKER COLORADO — A drone could do in minutes the work of several federal employees to monitor pipeline reclamation efforts, identify and provide a count of endangered plants, watch over raptors, even in their nests, and go where literally no man has gone for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.
Drones were doing just those things, and more, recently, in northwest Colorado, as a team of drone operators and supervisors tested the craft under the deep blue Colorado sky and buffeting spring winds.
“We’re just testing the technology to see how well it works,” Kent Walter, manager of the Bureau of Land Management’s Meeker Field Office, said before heading to the Hay Gulch area to see a drone, or unmanned aerial system, do its stuff over a stretch of the Overland Pipeline.
On a dusty road through a meadow, a crew of BLM employees ran through a checklist, much as a pilot on manned aircraft might do, in preparation for a UAS flight to survey about 400 yards of pipeline.
Once clear, the drone was released to shoot up to 100 feet — the pre-set altitude for the survey — and then down to another pre-set point, where it began a series of transects back toward its starting point.
Think of a transect as one might mow a yard, said Gil Dustin, the BLM’s air tactical program manager. The drone flies a pattern just as a lawnmower would cut a strip, turn and cut a return strip parallel to the first, gradually working its way back to the crew.
In the drone’s case, the swaths are some 40 feet wide across the pipeline and the camera aboard takes high-resolution photos according to a program built into the flight plan. Those photos then are studied by experts to determine whether the earth above the pipeline is indeed being reclaimed according to BLM requirements.
It would require several hours with a crew of employees on foot to conduct the same survey, Walter said.
The same territory could be surveyed again, using GPS, to determine what kinds of change have occurred over the intervening time.
The UAS crew didn’t limit itself to a reclamation survey. It also flew a nearby canyon in search of cultural sites, capturing views of rugged country no human — in centuries — has seen, Walter said.
“We’ll see country that has never been seen before, using the drone’s camera, Walter said.
It also was used to study raptor nests in the piñon-juniper forest — “It doesn’t seem to bother raptors,” said Walter — as well as other tasks.
The drone crews file flight plans with the Federal Aviation Administration, just as they would if flying manned craft.
Reposted by Reagangirl.com 6/22/16
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