Open Space Committee Seeks To Ban Drone Operation From Grassland Preserves

Open Space Advisory Committee member Chris Williams said some drones look like predators of birds that nest in the grassland preserves.

The operation of drones would be banned from two native grassland preserves under a recommendation from the township Open Space Advisory Committee.

The Committee’s concern is that the drones will scare nesting birds – some of which are threatened species, or on the state’s special “concern” list – from their nests and make them abandon whatever eggs the birds are incubating.

Federal Aviation Administration rules prohibit local governments from banning drones in airspace, but they are free to limit from where they can be operated.

The idea was broached at the Committee’s June 15 virtual meeting by Committee member Chris Williams, who said he tried to have drone operators removed from the Negri Nepote Native Grassland Preserve, but was told that there was no local ordinance prohibiting them from the property.

“I thought we had something that said we wouldn’t allow them to launch from our properties,” Committee chairman Bob Puskas said.

The Township Council in 2018 was preparing such an ordinance, after a recommendation by the Open Space Committee, but it was never presented for a vote.

“In the meantime,” Township Manager Robert Vornlocker told the Committee, “the federal government decided to relax their restrictions and allow drones to be flown over areas where people are assembled. That’s the direction that they’ve taken.”

“They are regulated by the FAA, and the FAA has taken a relaxed approach to drones for personal use,” he said.

But, Vornlocker said, the township could ban the drones from being operated on township-owned property.

“You can make the recommendation to Council … then Council can make a decision as to whether or not they want to proceed,” he said.

Mayor Phil Kramer, who has been known to fly a drone, put up a mild objection.

“We’re doing all this because one person saw two people with a drone,” he said.

“No, we’re doing this because they look like predators and they scare the birds,” Williams said. “I saw in the paper that a drone crashed into a colony of birds, and the colony of birds abandoned the nests.”

“Mr. Mayor, it happens more than you think,” Puskas said. “Probably a few times a month.”

The recommendation from the Committee to the Council is to ban the operation of drones from within Negri Nepote or the John Clyde Memorial Grassland Preserve – formerly known as the Griggstown Native Grassland Preserve – from April through the end of August, which is the nesting season. The only exception would be for official township business.

The only Committee member to object to the recommendation was Bob La Corte, although he did not state his objection.

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