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Oregon Agency Wants To Use Drones To Count Fish And Birds

File photo of an Aeryon Scout UAV in flight
File photo of an Aeryon Scout UAV in flight

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.

Copyright 2014 Northwest News Network

Chris Lehman covers the Oregon state capitol for JPR as part of the Northwest News Network, a group of 12 Northwest public radio organizations which collaborate on regional news coverage. Chris graduated from Temple University with a journalism degree in 1997. He began his career producing arts features for Red River Public Radio in Shreveport, Louisiana and has been a reporter/announcer for NPR station WNIJ in DeKalb, Illinois. Chris has also reported from overseas, filing stories from Iraq, Burkina Faso, El Salvador, Northern Ireland, Zimbabwe and Uganda.
Chris Lehman
Chris Lehman graduated from Temple University with a journalism degree in 1997. He landed his first job less than a month later, producing arts stories for Red River Public Radio in Shreveport, Louisiana. Three years later he headed north to DeKalb, Illinois, where he worked as a reporter and announcer for NPR–affiliate WNIJ–FM. In 2006 he headed west to become the Salem Correspondent for the Northwest News Network.