The Connecticut Audubon Society announced Tuesday, Feb. 2, that it has banned the use of drones at all 19 of its sanctuaries because of concerns that they are likely to disturb wildlife and cause an annoyance to visitors.
In establishing this policy, the organization believes it is the first in the state and one of the first in the nation to ban drones.
Although there has been only one recent incident of a drone at a Connecticut Audubon sanctuary, the organization is instituting the ban proactively, in anticipation of increasing drone use across the nation. The Federal Aviation Administration announced last week that almost 300,000 drone owners registered their unmanned aircraft in the first 30 days after the FAA’s new online registration system went into effect last year.
The Connecticut Audubon Society’s 19 sanctuaries are located in Fairfield, Westport, Weston, Redding, New Milford/Bridgewater, Hampton, Milford, Pomfret, Goshen, Haddam, East Haddam, Montville, Middletown and Stonington.
“No creature – great or small, human or wildlife – visits our sanctuaries hoping to be buzzed by a drone,” said Alexander Brash, president of the Connecticut Audubon Society. “We are taking this action to protect the birds and animals that consider our sanctuaries home, and to ensure that our sanctuaries are also a place of respite for our human guests too.”
“Among other rules, motor boats and vehicles are already prohibited in our sanctuaries, so banning drones is the logical next step,” said Peter Kunkel, chairman of Connecticut Audubon Society’s Board of Directors. “We believe our sanctuaries are where the state’s wildlife should have a chance to live unharassed, and where humans should be able to enjoy the peace and quiet of nature.”
In 2014, drones were banned temporarily in all national parks; they have been prohibited in San Francisco parks since last year.
Because the recreational use of drones is relatively new, research into their effects is just getting underway. Wildlife biologists have noted that small unmanned aircraft, if flown too close to animals, may cause unnecessary and harmful stress, and are likely to scare birds and other wildlife into scattering from their breeding, resting and feeding areas. Drone use near nesting birds is likely to result in broken or dropped eggs.
A study last year in Minnesota showed that when drones were flown near a group of black bears, their heart rates increased by 400 percent; one bear was roused from its hibernation by a drone. In France, researchers found that when drones approached wading birds from above, the birds scattered – a reaction likened to the reaction when a bird of prey approaches.
As the state’s original and still independent Audubon Society, the Connecticut Audubon Society has centers in Fairfield, Milford, Old Lyme, Glastonbury, Hampton and Pomfret. It manages two museums, and its 19 sanctuaries cover 2,600 acres. In addition, using the charismatic nature of birds, the Connecticut Audubon Society conducts advocacy for the state’s environment and its wildlife and operates an award-winning curriculum-based outdoor education program, called Science in Nature.