Are those drones over Boise? Yes.

By KATHLEEN KRELLER  Idaho Statesman

Idaho Power Co. fish biologist Phil Groves doesn’t want to see any more of his colleagues injured or killed in helicopter crashes while doing research.

So he has embraced technology typically used by the military and hobbyists: drone aircraft.

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game frequently surveys salmon nests in streams and tributaries. It’s common practice to use planes and helicopters for biologists’ annual wildlife counts.

In August 2010, a helicopter chartered by Fish and Game crashed in Downtown Kamiah, killing biologists Larry Barrett and Danielle Schiff and pilot Perry Krinitt.

“It really struck home hard for me,” Groves said. “I had flown in that helicopter. I had known Larry Barrett very well. … Gosh, I had been in that helicopter many times. That could have been me.”

To find a safer, more affordable way to count fish nests, Groves used his research skills to find a good alternative. Idaho Power ended up investing about $16,000 in small, maneuverable, remote-controlled aircraft from Germany called Hexakopters.