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Oregon Coast Drone Rules, Laws: Stay Away from Wildlife or Face Fines

Published 07/13/2017 at 6:44 PM PDT - Updated 07/13/2017 at 7:14 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Drone Rules, Laws for Oregon Coast: Stay Away from Wildlife or Face Fines

(Newport, Oregon) – The rising popularity of drones equipped with cameras has resulted in a deluge of lovely sights and scenes from photographers and videographers along the Oregon coast, but at least one agency has a warning about their use. It must be done responsibly, say officials at Oregon Coast Aquarium and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

Drones are classified as small aircraft by the Federal Aviation Administration, and it has issued numerous regulations about their use. This includes flying below 400 feet as to not interfere with aircraft.

More importantly to the coastline, drone pilots need to steer clear of wildlife. According to Newport's BLM office – which oversees Yaquina Head Outstand Natural Area – drone use is not even allowed there due to the likelihood it would disturb wildlife. Animals may see drones as predators or some kind of threat, causing them to panic and possibly hurt themselves – or certainly cause them undue stress.

In fact, use of drones is not allowed near any offshore rock or any wildlife refuge area. This includes Cape Meares, Cannon Beach's Haystack Rock, Seal Rock and more. The basic idea is any place that has wildlife nesting or resting on it, such as seals, sea lions or bird colonies. These all fall under federal laws regarding unmanned aerial systems, or UAS.

According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife: “Launch the UAS more than 100 meters (328 feet) from wildlife. Never approach animals or birds vertically with the UAS.”

BLM's site manager at Yaquina Head, Janet Johnson, said that in spite of the best intentions of drone flyers, staff there have seen wildlife heavily disturbed by their presence.

“So we’ve taken a no-tolerance approach to their use,” Johnson said.

In June 2014, the National Park Service issued a temporary ban on drones in all of its parks, monuments and historic sites. The ban, while temporary, is in effect indefinitely until a permanent decision regarding drone use is reached. This included any lands within the National Wildlife Refuge System.

Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge spans the entire coast and encompasses 1,800 offshore rocks, reefs and islands. These landforms provide habitat for a wide variety of marine wildlife, including seabirds, seals and sea lions.

According to Kelly Moroney, Project Leader for the Oregon Coastal Refuge Complex, drones can disturb seabird colonies, which may result in nests being destroyed or abandoned. About one million birds call these places home each year.

“One way we can help protect this resource for future generations’ enjoyment is by reducing human-caused disturbance,” Moroney said.

Visitors can enjoy the precious natural resources on the Oregon coast, provided that they respect wildlife first, Moroney said: Boats and aircraft (including drones) are required to stay at least 500 feet away from offshore rocks and islands included within Oregon Islands Refuge. Disturbing seabirds and marine mammals is illegal; violators can be fined hundreds or even thousands of dollars, depending on the location and severity of the disturbance.

In Oregon, most of the entire coastline is essentially part of the state parks system – some 363 miles. Just about of it is managed by Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, and their rules are somewhat different because not all areas are wildlife refuges. Drone use is allowed on most beaches and within other state parks, with some restrictions. Drones cannot approach or disturb wildlife, and they cannot be flown within campgrounds, according to Dylan Anderson, Park Manager for the Beverly Beach Management Unit in Newport.

“As an agency, we support any measures that safeguard our natural resources as well as the well-being of our visitors,” Anderson said. “We understand that visitors can fly their drones responsibly on our beaches, but they must be cognizant of wildlife and the privacy of other visitors. At certain sites that are considered more ecologically sensitive - such as Seal Rock State Wayside, which hosts nesting seabirds during the summer - drone use may be more restricted, and a ranger might be stationed there to enforce the restriction.”

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