The Environmental Impacts of Drones on the Human and Natural Environment

Drones provide enormous benefits but also have significant environmental impacts. They can wreak havoc in ecosystems and human environments if not used appropriately and in limited numbers in limited locations. While the then-new regulations seemed to reign some potential impacts, it was done without the knowledge an Environmental Assessment (EA) would provide to guide and define what regulations are needed.  Commercial and hobbyist “model” drones, as the FAA refers to them, are referenced as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). In previous efforts to protect wildlife from intrusive drones, we found inadequacies in the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) process as it formulates policy and the regulations published in September 2015.

We found that the FAA was ignoring the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). We petitioned them to follow NEPA and conduct an EA. NEPA is the foundation all of us depend on for protecting ecosystems, the nonhuman species living there, and the human environment. We next received a request from the Council of Environmental Quality (CEQ) for further documentation, which we sent. The CEQ is in the White House and was created by NEPA.

Then-President Obama, relating to the model drone that crashed on the White House lawn over the weekend in 2015 stated, “We don’t really have any kind of regulatory structure at all for it.” 

Fast-forward to 2020, the FAA posted that there are 854,650 commercial and hobbyist drones registered with that agency. We assume there are more drones now as he registration requirement is relatively new.  The number of recreational drones filling the sky will increase and so will the impacts. Add to that are the many commercial businesses and medical facilities that are be investing in drone-delivery. Amazon and others have been testing prototypes and getting licensing established.

Green Vegans believes an Environmental Assessment was required when it established regulations in 2015. And, we believe that an environmental review under NEPA should have led to an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The public, wildlife, and wildlife protection agencies need an EIS on drones for planning and understanding how drones impact birds, for instance.  It is the way everyone understands the acceptable from the unacceptable environmental impacts on the natural and human environments.

In the coming months, we will be reviewing current data published by researchers on this topic. We have no doubt that an EIS is needed more than ever. After that research, we will send another request to the FAA and CEQ.

Road Barriers

indexRoad barriers are the sections of concrete walls that run between lanes of opposing traffic on highways. These safety dividers for vehicles and their occupants can stretch for miles without interruption on interstates. They are walls, many of them several miles long, without any way for wildlife to pass. Studies about some of their impacts on wildlife have been contradictory. Despite what intuition tells us, our past research indicated it was not consistently indicated that wildlife and domesticated individuals were being unreasonably impacted by road barriers.

Our position is that, at minimum, these barriers must be modified to allow wildlife passage. We also have concerns about the environmental impacts that include habitat fragmentation, free movements to and from areas where wildlife will find mates, food, shelter and a sense of safety. The construction of wildlife corridors built as “lids” and tunnels over and under interstate highways can be effective, but as a program, are expensive and unlikely to be installed as often as needed. Green Vegans will revisit this issue when we have a volunteer to do the research.