Tuesday, October 12, 2021

WSDA considers taking field work to new heights

Amber Betts
WSDA Communications

WSDA Staff watch as DFW officers
demonstrate how to operate a drone. 
Peeling back the wrapping paper revealing what was inside, my little brother’s eyes lit up as he realized his gift. He wasted little time taking his brand new mini drone outside to give it a try, he launched the inaugural flight, and everyone had a fun time watching has he ran the mini aircraft into trees and onto the roof of my garage.

I felt that same excitement last month and may have done a little dance after flying a giant and much more sophisticated version of my brother’s gift. I met a group of my colleagues in an open field in Prosser, Washington, to watch a demonstration led by officers of the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW). As WSDA considers whether drones would make some field work easier to accomplish, we learned about the various types of Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) drones, what it takes to implement a drone program at a state agency, and what qualifications drone pilots may need.

The Matrice 300, one of
the drones demonstrated,
waits to take flight. 

Every head turned to the sky as the DFW officer launched the Matrice 300, one of the types of drones used by the officers. As we watched what the aircraft could do, WSDA staff discussed the possible ways we could use a drone. From our dairy inspectors, to our safety officers, and our pesticide inspectors all of my coworkers had ideas on how this aircraft could make their job more efficient.  

For dairy nutrient inspectors, a drone’s birds-eye view could give a bigger picture of pasture conditions, potentially cutting inspection time significantly.

A drone could help entomologists follow a pest or invasive species like the Asian giant hornet to its nest with thermal sensors. Drones could also be fitted with chemical sensors that could detect evidence of pesticide drift.

A staff member operating
the drone controls. 

As a professional communicator, I can see countless uses for video footage and photos to better highlight the work we do.

In addition to learning what the drones could offer our agency, we also learned some of the regulations and licenses our staff would have to abide by and obtain in order to operate the drones as part of agency business. Those operating the aircraft must have a pilot’s license, and maintain a number of flight hours each year in order to keep that license. While flying, the aircraft must stay under 400 feet above the ground and all flight plans must be logged.

Some state agencies are already using drones for their work, including the Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Department of Labor & Industries, and the Department of Ecology.

At WSDA, the recent demo was a first step in a longer process to consider whether drones are right for our agency. Next, an internal group will consider the policies or training that use of drones would require.

A final decision could still be some months away. Stay tuned to our blog to see what’s next. 

Staff looks to the skies as the first drone takes flight.