Oregon Fish, Wildlife using sUAV to reduce risk, help survey

By Luke Geiver | December 31, 2014

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) is looking to small unmanned aircraft vehicles to reduce risk associated with aerial data gathering, maintain its aerial survey frequency and to improve overall survey accuracy.

The ODFW has applied for a grant that would provide roughly $50,000 for the purchase and use of an sUAV capable of performing survey’s previously perfomed by ODFW staff in helicopters. “Downward trends in state budgets are resulting in cancellation of some surveys and reduced effort on many of the remaining surveys,” the ODFW said in its application for the grant. “In 2013 an ODFW charted helicopter crashed while conducting a Chinook Reed survey on the Umpqua river. All three people inside the helicopter were severely injured. The Director of ODFW tasked staff to initiate an experimental unmanned aerial systems program to be used to conduct aerial fish and wildlife surveys as a step to reduce injury and loss of life for ODFW field staff.”

The application by the ODFW would allow its team to evaluate the use of sUAVs as a way to reduce per light data acquisition costs reduce risk to staff. Implementing a sUAV for aerial surveys could reduce per flight data acquisition costs by as much as 50 percent, the ODFW said, while also allowing for the potentnial to perform more surveys. The use of high-resolution payload offerings would also negate duplicity amongst images taken during surveys and allow the ODFW to more accurately assess fish and wildlife. The images could also be more easily and effectiley tagged for use at a later, unspecified date. ODFW surveys on elk have already benefited from basic high resolution images, the deparment noted in its application.

There are four main components of the proposal by the ODFW to use a sUAV. First, the ODFW must receive the appropriate permits through the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration. Second, it must receive landowner access for areas in which it intends to operate from. Third, it needs to acquire a UAV and lastly, it needs to find a way to adequately aquire and store data taken from a UAV.

According to the ODFW, it has already attained the necessary permits from the FAA and has six certificate of authorizations pending that if approved, would allow the ODFW to implement UAVs once purchased.

The ODFW anticipates it will receive its COAs in early 2015 and begin performing surveys on birds, elk and fish throughout the year. Imagery taken will only include the stream corridor and a few meters on each side of the bank.

The budget for the initiation of the sUAV into ODFW’s operations shows that the department would spend roughly $16,000 for two Falcon Hover Quadcopters along with ground stations. Another $3,000 would be spent on a Sony NEX7 mapping and sensor unit. To train a pilot would cost $5,609, according to the application.