Drones vs. Birds, Establishing Clear Policies

ASNV recently weighed in on Fairfax County’s work to establish criteria for flying recreational drones, model airplanes, quadcopters and other recreational flying devices in the county’s parks.  Park staffers are identifying potential sites in the county for these activities, at the direction of the Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) Board.

Some people are concerned that the county will allow these activities in a grassy field known as the Laurel Hill/Barrett House site in the Lorton area.  Bobolinks and meadowlarks have been observed there this spring and both birds have suffered serious population declines in Northern Virginia.  In addition, there are few grasslands and meadows left in Northern Virginia, valuable habitat for these birds and their prey.

ASNV wrote to FCPA:

“We recommend that you establish an overall policy that includes the following steps and criteria:

  • As a first step, prepare a comprehensive biological inventory of any area under consideration so that FCPA and the public will understand what natural resources are present in all seasons before allowing the activity or before disturbing the area;
  • Prohibit these activities in natural areas or natural resource parks.  Maintain and enhance natural areas in our parks.
  • If you allow these activities, use already disturbed areas like parking lots or soccer fields when not in use by people.
  • Conduct a public process to report on your biological inventory, criteria and options; invite public comment at a public meeting and on any draft plans. 
  • Support your decisions with science. . .”


On Laurel Hill Park, ASNV made these points:

“This area has historically been a stopover area for Bobolinks (Dolichonyx oryzivorus) and nesting habitat for Eastern Meadowlarks (Sturnella magna).  There are very few comparable sites left in Northern Virginia that support these two bird species.  Migratory Bobolinks have been observed here regularly over the years, including quite a number this spring.  On May 9 of this year, meadowlarks were confirmed attempting to breed when one was seen carrying nesting material at the site.  Bear in mind that we have experienced a steady regional decline in Eastern Meadowlark observations from 1996 to 2016 (see attached chart based on the Northern Virginia Bird Survey), so any positive signs in Fairfax County should be welcome news.  The property no doubt is home to many insect and other wildlife species that cannot survive in other habitat types.

“We urge you to –

  • conduct a comprehensive biological survey of this property to determine what natural resources are present in all seasons before allowing more recreational activity;
  • mow the field, if needed for grassland or meadow management, only after the breeding, nesting and raising of young are completed;
  • prohibit active recreational activities, including recreational flying devices, on this property;
  • provide an opportunity for the public to comment on any proposed plans; and
  • preserve it as natural habitat and consider enhancing it with appropriate native plants.”

Park staffers say that decision-making will be a public process, that the public will have an opportunity to weigh in.  ASNVers may wish to express their views to their member of the Board of Supervisors and Park Authority Board.  We will update this report in future newsletters.