The Connecticut Audubon Society announced it's banning the use of aerial unmanned "drones" at all of its 19 privately-owned wildlife sanctuaries, but the measure is highlighting questions about just how far the organization can go.
The group said the ban will protect animals at the sanctuaries and ensure human visitors are free from hovering drones as well.
Alexander Brash, President of the Connecticut Audubon Society, said he's worried drones could be used to track animals like bears or moose.
"Most particularly, we were concerned about the use of drones around certain birds of prey," Brash said. "Ospreys or bald eagle nests where a drone would absolutely be detrimental to breeding and feeding and the care of young."
Because of that, Brash said the Society won't allow people to carry their drones onto its property.
Originally, the organization also said it wouldn't allow drones "over" its property, but can a private organization ban a drone from flying over its land?
"If they control the land or the waterways within the sanctuaries, they may control whether or not one may launch, land, or operate a drone from those lands or waterways," said Peter Sachs, a drone attorney. "But as far as the sky portion, that's completely out of their jurisdiction, they have no jurisdiction."
Sachs said airspace jurisdiction rests with the FAA. Because of that, Brash of the Audubon Society said his organization can't ban drones from flying over its property, but he's hopeful people will respect their wishes to leave wildlife undisturbed and not do it.
It's similar to an approach taken by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, which has effectively banned drones from state parks by regulating the locations on the ground from which a drone can be launched, landed, or operated. The state has also invoked laws of general applicability (such as noise complaints) to police drone use in state parks.
Sachs said he thinks drone operators will respect the Connecticut Audubon Society's request. "It's well intentioned," he said. "I don't think anyone should ever try to disturb wildlife. They should do just the opposite -- they should do everything in their power to not disturb wildlife. And I think all responsible drone operators do just that."
To date, Alexander Brash of the Connecticut Audubon Society said people have been respectful of the request and his organization has yet to encounter any "dramatic" incidents with drone users.