Wildlife Response to Unmanned Aircraft Systems during Monitoring

Wildlife Response to Unmanned Aircraft Systems during Monitoring


The Olympic Peninsula Audubon Society will meet on Wednesday, October 15, 7:00pm at the Dungeness River Audubon Center at Railroad Bridge Park, 2151 W. Hendrickson Road in Sequim. It will be a joint meeting with the Friends of the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge (DNWR), a non profit group that supports the operation on the DNWR.

Sue Thomas, Wildlife Biologist for the Washington Maritime National Wildlife Refuge Complex, (NWRC), will present “Wildlife Response to Unmanned Aircraft Systems during Monitoring”. Each year, use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS or drones) is increasing, but what are the consequences to wildlife? We conducted a pilot (less) project on closed Refuge Islands along the outer coast of Washington to assess the level of disturbance to seabirds and marine mammals. Additional objectives included assessing whether UAS can be used in place of traditional aircraft during annual aerial surveys and assessing photo quality. Sue will present results from test flights of two different types of UASs including a fixed wing “Puma” and a rotary blade “Quadracopter” model, both owned by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Sue has 18 years of experience in wildlife biology with a focus on Ornithology. She began her career working for the United States Forest Service conducting forest-wide wildlife surveys for raptors, bats, amphibians and forest carnivores for 6 years. During fall migration, she took time off to count migrant raptors in 4 states and eventually worked her way up to counting approximately 4.5 million raptors in Vera Cruz, Mexico, the largest raptor count site in the world. In 1998, Sue began working for the United States Forest Wildlife Service as the Regional Shorebird Biologist for the Pacific Region. She was responsible for coordinating an international Snowy Plover survey; conducting seasonal aerial waterfowl surveys in the Dakotas; banding shorebirds in a demographic study in Barrow, AK; banding waterfowl in Saskatchewan; and completing Black Oystercatcher detectability and movement studies in the San Juan Islands. She transferred to the Washington Maritime NWRC in 2009 where she conducts annual seabird colony counts within the Washington NWRs; midwinter waterfowl and shorebird surveys on the Dungeness NWR; and research and monitoring of seabirds on Protection Island and San Juan Island NWRs.