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‘Drones in forests’ bill flies through Senate committee

Amendment would add forest fire uses

A Senate bill that would allow “limited” private land use of drones to monitor and manage invasive species within Florida’s swamps and forests flew through a committee Monday.

The Senate Committee on Governmental Oversight and Accountability unanimously approved SB 822 Monday creating an exception in state law prohibiting the use of drones for surveillance on private property. SB 822 and its companion, HB 659, seek to allow state wildlife and forestry officials to use drones to track pythons, lygodium and other invasive species causing havoc throughout Florida, often deep in the bush of Florida’s natural areas.

In addition, with an amendment approved Monday, SB 822 also would expand drone use to the Florida Forest Service to be used in wildfires.

The sponsor, state Sen. Ben Albritton, a Bartow Republican, said Forest Service officials told him they wish to use the drones to look for escape routes for firefighters, measure tinder on the ground, and other purposes in fighting wildfires.

SB  822 now is heading toward its final committee stop, at the Senate Rules Committee. Meanwhile, HB 659 heads to the Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee Tuesday.

Albritton offered two examples of invasive species control that could be assisted with drones: lygodium, also known as old world climbing fern, and pythons.

“I’ve flown over in a helicopter and it was pretty easy to discern where it is. It shows up lime green. Maybe not lime green, but almost a neon green. … So the drone could make a discernment between the colors of where this old world climbing fern was, so they could measure and identify places where it pops up,” Albritton said.

“The second would be with pythons in the Everglades. I’ve been told that there is at least an emerging technology that would allow them to identify these snakes,” he added. “As you know, chasing those nasty critters down in the Everglades is a difficult task.”

Written By

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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