A forestry company in Victoria, Australia, is using drones and thermal cameras to spot koalas before trees are cut down or controlled burns take place.

Hazelwood Forestry, in Latrobe Valley is regularly tasked with cutting down Hancock Victoria Plantations’ eucalyptus and pine trees. One complication is that carelessly harvesting – which some companies might go ahead and do – puts native koalas in danger.

drones used for koala conservation thermal imaging

Well hidden among the pine tree canopy, they can be difficult to spot from below.

“We are really ramping up how to manage and protect them in forestry operations,” said Eloise Cluning, who operates the Hazelwood North company with husband Russell and was speaking to the Latrobe Valley Express.

“Koala spotting – we do it every day before that day’s harvest. We actually capture and translocate koalas under a permit from DELWP,” Cluning said, during a recent seminar on the use of drones in forestry with the Institute of Foresters of Australia.

A civilian commission overseeing the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department called Thursday for an end to the agency’s use of a drone during law enforcement operations, but Sheriff Jim McDonnell said the device is too important to ground.

The Civilian Oversight Commission voted 5-4 to call for the grounding of the drone program, which began in January. Critics have decried the use of the drone, fearing possible “mission creep,” suggesting the drone could be used for spying and could one day be armed or be deployed as a weapon.

“We definitely are feeling good that the Sheriff’s Civilian Oversight Commission did the right thing,” Hamid Khan of the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition told KNX Newsradio after the panel’s vote.

McDonnell, however, said that while he respects the commission’s input, the drone program “is too important as a public safety tool” to end.

“I will not face the loved ones of a victim whose life could have been saved by our ability to deploy (a drone),” McDonnell said.

“We have used the (drone) judiciously, only five times since the program launched nine months ago,” he said. “These include two search-and-rescue missions for a missing 5-year-old Pasadena boy, one search-and-rescue for a missing woman whose car was found in Malibu and two active shooter situations where the (drone) allowed for the safe search for additional victims.

“In each of these situations, the (drone) was deployed only in circumstances that met the strict criteria of our department policy and FAA regulations,” McDonnell said. “It is unarmed, will remain unarmed, will not be used in any manner that violates the constitutional rights of individuals.”

McDonnell said in January the $10,000 drone would be used only for search-and-rescue operations, bomb detection, hostage situations and other critical incidents.

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Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell announces on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017 the department’s newest tool, an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) at the Hall of Justice. The $10,000 drone can be used to assist rescues, HazMat, disaster response and tactical situations, like active shooter incidents. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

The Los Angeles Police Department acquired two drones in 2014 but never launched them after protests about potential surveillance uses. LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said he was unwilling to trade public confidence for the advantages of drones, but three years later changed course.

Last month, the LAPD presented its plans for a drone program to the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners and also held four public meetings to get feedback.

Khan and other representatives of the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition spoke out against the drones, expressing many of the same concerns about mission creep. The LAPD said the guidelines it is considering would create limited uses for drones and that the devices would not be used for general surveillance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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