The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife department was extremely excited to share its first attempt to use drone, or nonpiloted, aircraft to monitor the double-crested cormorant off the coast of Oregon in July. So excited that a press release was sent out.

    But instead of the release spreading the joy of the department, it prompted a phone call from the Federal Aviation Administration saying, not so fast.

Need a permit?

    “Evidently (the FAA) reads the news,” ODFW avian predation coordinator Lindsay Adrean said. “They called us and said, ‘Hey, you guys can’t do that without a permit.’ ”

    It wasn’t as if the ODFW didn’t do its homework. They were under the impression all the necessary steps had been taken, only to ultimately discover they were wrong. The confusion was over whether or not Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge was restricted airspace, which would have allowed the use of drone aircraft.

    Tricky demarcation lines made Adrean and the department believe it was classified as restricted and were clear to move ahead. The FAA informed the ODFW otherwise and that a certificate of authorization was needed, something Adrean hopes can be applied for and granted by next spring or summer for the cormorants’ next breeding season.

Salmon, steelhead

    Adrean is interested in studying the Double-crested cormorants because of the fact they can eat up to two pounds of fish per day, possibly negatively impacting populations of salmon and steelhead trout.

    The reasons for using drone aircraft? According to Adrean, drone aircraft can more efficiently monitor the cormorant colonies, and it’s cheaper.

    Currently the ODFW relies on photographs taken once per year by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service at a cost of $2,000 for two or three hours of piloted airtime.

    Adrean’s drone project has a total cost of about $2,000 and would allow her to fly once or twice per week during the birds’ typical breeding season, providing better data. Unmanned aircraft also eliminates the risk of a pilot’s personal safety during flights that sometimes require flying close to the ground and other physical obstacles.

    bsommers@heraldandnews.com on Twitter @BAsportswriter.