The Connecticut Audubon Society has banned the use of drones in its sanctuaries to protect wildlife from the increasingly popular aerial devices.
The move was proactive, according to Connecticut Audubon President Alexander Brash. There have only been a couple of instances of drones spotted near Audubon sanctuaries.
“Some of the larger birds of prey, like bald eagles, start laying eggs in late February and March, Ospreys return in March and lay March through April, so we really wanted to be out in front on that and make sure the rules were established before our migrating wildlife returns,” Brash said.
The statewide organization, independent from the national Audubon Society, has 19 sanctuaries around the state.
Audubon officials are concerned that drones may temporarily lure predatory birds away from their nests, putting their eggs in danger, said Patrick M. Comins, director of bird conservation for the national Audubon Society. They can also scare away nesting birds before eggs have hatched, Comins said.
Larger predatory birds are more than capable of destroying a drone.
“Your typical drone... a bald eagle would just smash it,” Comins said. “In a sense you are putting your drone at risk.”
The local society initially stated drones would be prohibited from flying over sanctuaries, but then realized it can only regulate what happens on the ground.
The airways are regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration. While people may be able to legally fly drones from other properties over the sanctuary, the Audubon Society can prevent people from being on its property while flying a drone, Branford attorney and drone enthusiast Peter Sachs said.
“You can ban things from the ground all you want, but as far as the sky is concerned, it’s none of their business,” Sachs said, “No one controls the skies accept for the federal government.”
While it may be technically legal to fly a drone over the sanctuary, Sachs said using a drone in a wildlife sanctuary is a bad idea.
“There are plenty of places to fly, stay away from wildlife,” Sachs said.
Other laws do restrict drone use, including an FAA law prohibiting use within five miles of an airport. For this reason drones are not allowed over the Quinnipiac Valley Audubon Society in Cheshire. The sanctuary, which is independent from both the state and national Audubon societies, is located 3.7 miles away from Meriden-Markham Munipal Airport, said board member Corrie Folsom-O’Keefe.
Comins said using drones on Audubon property may be in violation of other federal laws, including the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald Eagle Protection Act.
“If you were flying up to a hawk’s nest with a drone and disturbed it, if you were hovering right over a shore bird or foraging bird, you could technically be violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act,” Comins said.
Dennis Schain, Communications Director for the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said the department stands behind the Audubon’s decision.
“DEEP appreciates steps CT Audubon has taken to ban drones from their sanctuaries and in fact we have taken a similar stance regarding their use in or over our state parks,” Schain said. “Use of drones over public lands poses public safety issues, can impact people’s enjoyment of our parks, and create risks to natural resources and wildlife.”