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What you need to know for 11/19/2017

Editorial: Drone restrictions needed to protect Adirondack experience

Editorial: Drone restrictions needed to protect Adirondack experience

Small aircraft have potential to ruin experience for visitors, disturb wildlife
Editorial: Drone restrictions needed to protect Adirondack experience
Photographer: Shutterstock

When you’re experiencing the Adirondacks, you want to see eagles and hawks soaring through the air, not noisy drones buzzing over your head.

So begins the latest chapter in the ongoing Adirondack struggle between nature and technology.

State officials are trying to work out a plan to maintain the unspoiled tranquility of the Adirondack wilderness while coping with some visitors’ desire to enhance their experience by flying mini-helicopters for entertainment and photography.

While it might seem harmless to allow people to fly the devices, there are concerns about noise disrupting not only hikers, but Adirondack wildlife.

Even small drones can be as loud as 75 decibels, about the same as a vacuum cleaner or an electric drill. At lower decibel levels, the buzzing sound they make can make them more annoying than other louder objects, startling hikers and animals.

What can be more annoying that talking a solitary walk through nature and hearing an electronic buzz overhead? That’s the kind of man-made intrusion people go to the Adirondacks to escape.

There’s also a concern about safety. Not everyone is an expert with the remote control. 

A 2-pound object such as a lightweight drone, falling just 50 feet from the sky, will land at about 38 mph. That’s enough to give a person a nasty headache, if not something worse.

On a crowded summit, that could be a serious problem. 

Your right to take aerial photos with your helicopter shouldn’t override other people’s rights to enjoy the views without worrying about what might smack them in the head.

The pressing need for some kind of reasonable and enforceable regulation comes as a Canadian man earlier this year became the first person convicted of flying a drone in the Adirondack Forest Preserve. He pleaded guilty in August and paid $150 in fines and court fees.

Existing law prohibits the operation of “motorized equipment” in the heavily protected High Peaks Wilderness, including areas designed as Wilderness, Primitive or Canoe. That apparently includes flying a remote-controlled drone over the forest. 

You’d think that existing law banning motorized equipment would be all the legislation that’s needed to keep drone enthusiasts from ruining the nature experience for hikers, campers and fishermen with their buzzing aircraft.

But the law has problems.

While it’s illegal to launch a drone from the ground in the Wilderness Area, it’s not illegal to fly one over it. So if you’re standing on a road, you can fly the device over the woods, and state forest rangers can’t touch you.

As drones become lighter, smaller, more portable and more popular, the state will have to be the spoiled sport and impose greater restrictions to protect inconsiderate people from spoiling the Adirondack experience for others.

That could mean an outright ban on the devices anywhere in the Wilderness and Primitive areas. It could mean restricting operation of the devices to within, say, 100 yards of another person or mountain peaks where others are gathered, as some have suggested. It could be imposing restrictions on how high they can fly or only allowing quieter types of drones.

And it could mean imposing greater fines for drone activity that results in an injury or harms the environment (such as crashing one in a location where it can’t be retrieved.)

And it means posting signs at trail heads discouraging the use of drones so they don’t interfere with the enjoyment of others.

The Adirondack Park is a public resource  specifically designed for people to enjoy its natural beauty with limited outside intrusions.

State officials need to quickly impose restrictions on the newest intrusions before it becomes impossible to stop them.

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