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Bill would allow more restrictions on drone usage in local parks

Three people stand and look in the same direction. One holds a small piece of electronic equipment. In the background are several vehicles and model airplanes.
Dallas Wingdingers
used with permission
Members of the Dallas Wingdingers club fly remote-controlled aircraft at a field outside Dallas, OR.

Oregon cities and counties could limit the use of drones under a bill that’s scheduled for a hearing this Wednesday, Feb. 22 in Salem.

Existing Oregon law prevents local governments from regulating drones. Senate Bill 812 would let those governments ban the takeoff and landing of any unmanned aircraft, but only in parks.

That has some enthusiasts worried that concerns over irresponsible drone usage will result in a widespread prohibition.

Some regulation is a good idea, said Joe Miller, who lives in Dallas, Oregon and flies radio-controlled planes with a club there. Drones and other remote-controlled aircraft shouldn't be flown low over people, or used to take intrusive photos, he said.

But Miller doesn’t want a blanket ban in city and county parks.

“If you designate a spot that is safe, kind of away from the majority of folks, an open area…" he said. "Don’t just say ‘no, we’re not going to let anybody do it.'"

Miller said his club, called the Dallas Wingdingers, has a designated area just outside city limits, and is unlikely to be affected by the bill, if it passes.

"They're just out there to have a little bit of fun." he said. "We follow all the rules and fly as safely as possible."

The Portland Audubon Society supports the bill. In submitted testimony, the organization said an increase in drone usage in parks has disrupted wildlife.

"Parks provide critical habitat for dozens of bird species and millions of individual birds," wrote lobbyist Kyle Linhares on behalf of Portland Audubon. "We feel that allowing local governments to restrict drone activity on park land is a reasonable and prudent step."

Separately, the League of Oregon Cities, which also supports the bill, is trying to assure lawmakers on the Senate Natural Resources Committee that it's not suggesting cities and counties implement widescale drone bans.

"We’re not tying to ground the fun," LOC lobbyist Scott Winkels wrote in submitted testimony.

"Flying drones is a pastime that’s growing in popularity and is perfectly appropriate in some parks- but not all parks and not in every part of a park," he wrote. "Just like a city may prohibit radio controlled cars on ball fields, a city should be able to prohibit (unmanned aircraft) take-offs and landings where they are unsafe or damaging to wildlife."

Chris Lehman has been reporting on Oregon issues since 2006. He joined the KLCC news department in December 2018 and became News Director in March 2023. Chris was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and graduated from Temple University with a degree in journalism. His public broadcasting career includes stops in Louisiana and Illinois. Chris has filed for national programs including “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered.”
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