Embracing new technology, the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands and the Maine Forest Service are in the process of purchasing up to 20 drones to help monitor and map the state’s natural resources.
The project is being funded by a $10,792 grant recently awarded from the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund to the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. The money will be used to purchase the drones, as well as software and training…
20 drones doesn’t sound like a lot, but there aren’t a lot of forest rangers, so the state is well on its way to its stated goal of giving every ranger a drone.
In case you were wondering, the “Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund” is another part of the state government that doles out a designated part of the state lottery’s takings. So they’re not raising taxes for this, exactly; they’re funding it through manipulation instead of coercion.
Speaking of manipulation, the BDN went on to repeat what the department says it’ll be using these drones for – mostly monitoring the ecosystem and collecting footage for promotional videos, with a few passing mentions of “logging activities” and “compliance on conservation easements.” The state would very much like us to forget that the Forest Service is a law enforcement agency that regularly works in support of other law enforcement agencies, and that law enforcement agencies love surveillance.
The BDN does eventually gets to the privacy issue, starting in paragraph 10, before ending on an upbeat note about how the new drones will reduce the Forest Service’s gas usage because we’re supposed to think only about the ecosystem and conservation while reading this, but too late. Almost every preceding paragraph offered a little bit of cynic fuel – a partial obfuscation here, a downplaying or gilding there – and by the time the BDN mentioned “new challenges” caused by the state’s desire for a fleet of flying cameras I was way ahead of them.
Admittedly, the Forest Service is the local law enforcement agency I’m least worried about – from that PDF I linked to above, their worst use of force in a six-year period was pepper-spraying an angry dog – but I am worried about the precedent. Sure, there are only 70-odd forest rangers, including senior staff, but what happens when the State Police wants its own fleet of drones and the larger towns’ police departments start thinking of doing the same?