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Deer Counting via Drone in Arlington

Arlington County will launch a fleet of drones in April in an attempt to get an accurate count of the deer population that call the urban county home.  The unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) will take to the sky just before sunrise beginning April 5 and fly until just after sunset for as long as two weeks.

The county has contracted with a firm to pilot the drones, and the operation will be overseen by the county police.  Because drone flights this close to Washington, D.C. are strictly prohibited, the county had to seek special permission from a host of federal agencies and coordinate closely with Reagan National Airport to conduct this mission. 

The drones will be seeking heat signatures in the woods to develop a count of Arlington’s white-tailed deer population.

“We’ve all seen deer in the county at one time or another,” said Alonso Abugattas, the county’s natural resource manager.  “We’d like more than just anecdotal evidence.  We want to clearly see how many and where they are so we can mindfully steward our natural resources.”

Ever mindful of privacy concerns, the county wants to assure residents that the drones will be looking only for deer and will “not identify people.”

Thermal and infrared imagery has helped improve counting by relating animals’ unique heat and visibility signatures to precisely count only deer.  In one study, it was shown that UAVs, commonly referred to as drones, can be about 43 percent to 96 percent more accurate than ground or human-made observations in counting wildlife.

This aerial survey will take place, weather permitting, beginning 30 minutes before sunrise through 30 minutes after sunset starting Monday.  The drones will not be flying at night.