Love or hate them, drones in Oregon’s outdoors are here to stay.
But for the first time, Oregon officials plan to craft rules that govern where unmanned aircraft can fly with new rules expected to be in place by next summer.
A recently formed rules committee will consider where drone pilots can take off and land at state parks and the Oregon Coast, taking into account the aircraft’s impact on wildlife and personal privacy as the number of drones continue to rise.
“Our hope is to get our recommendations ready for approval by February or April so they can be in place for the 2022 summer season,” Chris Havel, spokesman for the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, told the Statesman Journal in June.
The committee considering the new rules includes drone pilots and advocates, park users, and aviation officials, a news release said. A full list of members can be found at the bottom of this story.
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The committee’s first meeting is scheduled to meet virtually Thursday, Nov. 10. The public can register to watch the meeting at: https://bit.ly/3qiFTko. No public comment will be taken at that meeting, but a comment period will follow the release of the proposed rules. The Oregon Parks and Recreation Commission would finalize the rules.
The rules would apply only to the Oregon Coast and state parks, which are managed by OPRD. Other areas, such as federal lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service, have their own rules on takeoff and landing locations and the Federal Aviation Administration ultimately manages the airspace drones enter.
What’s led to the need for this?
The number of drones flying at Oregon’s most scenic places, particularly the Oregon Coast, has been rising for years, and that’s led to increased conflict between unmanned aircraft and everything from nesting shorebirds to rock climbers.
"It's something that is becoming a concern, not in the majority of parks, but really at the most scenic ones — places like Smith Rock, Silver Falls and on the Oregon Coast," Katie Gauthier, a policy coordinator at the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, told the Statesman Journal in 2019.
At Smith Rock State Park, drones have crashed into rock cliffs right next to climbers. At a nude beach at Rooster Rock State Park, a drone with a camera was spotted. And on the Coast, drones have been driving endangered seabirds off their nesting sites, allowing predators to swoop in and steal their eggs, officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said.
Beyond that, drones are often seen as invasive and loud, spoiling the outdoor experience.
Problem is, Oregon has no authority over airspace — only where people take off and land with drones. And legally, they needed legislation from the Oregon Senate to begin that rule-making. That happened last session with the passage of Senate Bill 109.
Drone pilots have also welcomed the creation of straightforward rules, saying Oregon’s lack of rules make it difficult to know where pilots can fly. Drones are a common tool for hobbyist and filmmakers, supporting local economies, as well as an important tool for search and rescue. They're not going anywhere, and advocates say that by creating a good set of rules, it's a win for everybody.
“The current situation is confusing,” Kenji Sugahara, chief pilot for A-Cam Aerials and an advisor on state and federal drone policy, told the Statesman Journal in 2019. “There is no great resource to show where it’s good to fly. Bad information is disseminated on social media. There’s confusion between state, national and even county parks. Even drone apps are often wrong."
Sugahara is one of the members of the newly created rules committee.
Overall, the goal is to establish more straightforward rules that allow pilots and the public to use public lands safely.
“The committee will also discuss any financial or economic effects of the proposed rules on businesses, local governments or other stakeholders,” OPRD said in a news release.
List of committee members so far
This is a list of the members who have agreed to participate on the drone rule advisory committee.
Kenji Sugahara, commercial drone pilot; FAA advisory committee member, UAS policy expert,
Heather Peck, Oregon Dept. of Aviation
Laurel Hillmann, OPRD Ocean Shores Specialist
Matt Davey, OPRD Park Manager - Smith Rock
Mike Davis, Areo Drone Corp; Columbia Gorge CC UAS instructor; drone pilot
Sarah Lathrop, State Aviation Coordinator, Oregon Dept. of Forestry
Brady Callahan, OPRD GIS program lead and sUAS coordinator
Robert Roth, Assistant Director Aviation, Pacific Northwest Region, Oregon/Washington State Office, Fire and Aviation, US Forest Service
Arica Sears, Deputy Director, Oregon Coast Visitors Association
Zach Urness has been an outdoors reporter in Oregon for 13 years and is host of the Explore Oregon Podcast. Urness can be reached at zurness@StatesmanJournal.com or (503) 399-6801. Find him on Twitter at @ZachsORoutdoors.
This article originally appeared on Salem Statesman Journal: New rules for drones at Oregon state parks, Coast, coming next summer