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DWR launches drone law enforcement team

By Ashtyn Asay - Daily Herald | Sep 23, 2022

Photo supplied, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources

An undated photo of a Utah Division of Wildlife Resources law enforcement drone.

It’s not a bird. It’s not a plane. Utahns looking to the sky next time they are out experiencing nature might catch a glimpse of a law enforcement drone.

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources announced Thursday that, in an effort to expand its law enforcement investigative methods, the department has launched its first conservation drone team.

The drones are already in use and are controlled by the new Unmanned Ariel Systems team. Members of this team underwent training to meet Federal Aviation Administration licensing requirements.

Currently, five investigators have been assigned to the drone team throughout the state. Each one is certified to operate the drones for law enforcement work.

The Unmanned Ariel Systems team will operate similarly to the DWR’s K-9 conservation officer team and will be called in to assist with a number of situations, including documenting crime scenes, searching for evidence, locating illegally taken wildlife, assisting landowners by investigating illegal trespassing on private property, and helping other law enforcement agencies with search-and-rescue efforts.

The new team will also assist biologists with wildlife surveys, document boating accidents, investigate hunting-related shooting incidents and investigate wildlife/human encounters.

According to Wade Hovinga, DWR Captain, the use of drones by conservation officers will help them be more effective as they complete both law enforcement and public service duties.

“Using drones will help us more effectively solve wildlife crimes, and having trained law enforcement drone pilots will also allow us to assist other law enforcement agencies with search-and-rescue efforts or any other investigations,” Hovinga said in a press release. “Utah conservation officers are public servants, and these new tools will help us better serve the public, whether we’re solving poaching crimes or locating lost hunters.”

The DWR conservation officers enforce wildlife laws, work to educate and protect the recreating public while also assisting local law enforcement agencies and responding to non-wildlife-related criminal code violations.

Additional conservation officer job duties include:

  • Patrolling Utah’s mountains and lakes, investigating wildlife-related violations.
  • Assisting biologists with studies and surveys to help inform management decisions.
  • Removing nuisance wildlife from urban areas.
  • Helping other agencies with various investigations and enforcement.
  • Assisting in search-and-rescue missions, wildfire evacuations, and other emergency response efforts.
  • Helping with Hunter Education, teaching new hunters about how to be responsible and ethical.
  • Enforcing Utah’s laws.

More information about Utah’s conservation officers, and a form to report any wildlife-related crime, can be found on the DWR website.


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