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Drone takes to Idaho skies

Technology used to track down terrorists in Afghanistan is being used in Idaho.

A few years ago a drone known as the Raven was flying over Afghanistan’s mountainous region, seeking out insurgent strongholds. But now it has a different job in the Gem State. It is tracking down invaders taking over the rangelands: noxious weeds. The BLM got the device free as Army surplus.

“So these are pretty rugged systems, and we’re just repurposing them for natural resource use,” said Lance Brady, who manages the unmanned aerial vehicle program.

The Raven is tracking down the rush skeletonweed. The Bureau of Land Management says the weed has spread quickly through the state over the last few years. It chokes out native wildlife, leaving nothing for cattle to graze on

“It can reduce crop yields by up to 80 percent for a lot of the farmers in the region,” said Matt Clarkson, BLM noxious weed range technician. “It takes over native plant communities.”

The hand-launched Raven, an unmanned aircraft system, flies a few hundred feet off the ground for about an hour. It has optics and cameras pointed pointed in different directions to record what it sees. It even has some infrared capability.

Using these Army drones on American soil has raised a few eyebrows. Some people have expressed concern about eyes in the sky keeping a close watch on American homes. Congressional representatives have even brought forward bills to outlaw drone use without a warrant. But the BLM said its plan to put flying drones in Idaho skies won’t run afoul of privacy issues.

“We’re only flying over BLM-managed land,” said Brady. “We’re not flying over private land or state land or any other ownership other than BLM property.”

Unless you are a sage grouse, your privacy probably isn’t getting invaded. When the BLM demonstrated the drone to Local News 8, the agency took the reporter to Idaho’s southern desert, with the nearest house being 25 miles away

If you see rush skeletonweed, the agency is asking that you get in contact with your local BLM office.

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