Bill Becomes Law Allowing Drone Use to Combat Wildfires

Due to a law passed this week, the Department of the Interior will begin working with related agencies to use unmanned aircraft systems to fight wildfires. The legislation, which involves many provisions dealing with public lands and conservation efforts, passed with overwhelming bipartisan support before being signed into law on Tuesday.

The John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act, named after the late representative from Michigan, addresses a range of land management objectives including fire safety initiatives.

Section 1114 of the act calls for the modernization of wildfire management technology through the use of unmanned aircraft systems, or drones.

The law calls for the Secretary of the Interior to work alongside the Secretary of Agriculture, the Federal Aviation Administration, and state firefighting agencies to “establish a research, development, and testing program, or expand an applicable existing program, to assess unmanned aircraft system technologies, including optionally piloted aircraft, across the full range of wildland fire management operations in order to accelerate the deployment and integration of those technologies into the operations of the Secretaries.”

This program must be developed within six months. Within two years, the agencies must then jointly develop and operate a tracking system to “remotely locate the positions of fire resources” as they are used in wildfire management.

The legislation passed 92-8 in the Senate and 363-62 in the House.

The Department of the Interior has previously used drones at night when helicopters struggled to maintain visibility in certain environments. The department reports that drone operation requires 1/7th the time and 1/10th the resources required of other missions.

Following the recent tornados ravaging Alabama, state law enforcement and firefighters also used heat-seeking drones to locate victims toppled by rubble.

This legislation creates the first congressionally mandated interagency drone research and development project taking place within the federal government.

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