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Ron DeSantis to decide if drones should target invasive wildlife species

Pythons are on notice.

Governor Ron DeSantis has a decision to make regarding legislation that would expand permissible use for drones that moved to his desk Wednesday.

HB 659, sponsored by Jacksonville Republican Rep. Jason Fischer, would allow state agencies, such as the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, to use the aircraft over swamps and other people-free places where invasive species (like pythons) and other nuisances have proved problematic.

The bill, if signed into law, would allow wildlife and forestry officials to use drones to track pythons, lygodium and other invasive species inhabiting Florida’s forests, wetlands, and wilderness spaces, often to the detriment of native wildlife.

Fischer contended in deliberations earlier this year that this “limited and targeted” bill, which he says would not expand mass surveillance by law enforcement, lines up with the Governor’s focus on environmental issues.

Law enforcement agencies could not use drones for this bill.

Fischer asserted that technology could save money compared to using humans for these same purposes.

When asked in committee if this bill could target poachers, Fischer said that while law enforcement is exempted, the bill “would provide enough information so that law enforcement could look into” poaching and potentially drug-trafficking.

Fischer noted that many drone bills are controversial, but this one is really about “trying to protect the environment.”

In Senate discussion, sponsor Ben 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.”

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Florida Politics’ Scott Powers and A.G. Gancarski contributed to this post.

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