Bill by Rep. Paul Cook seeks to ban drones that impede firefighting on federal lands

By on February 21, 2017
Rep. Paul Cook

Rep. Paul Cook (R-8th District-Apple Valley) has introduced legislation that will institute a criminal penalty for anyone who launches a drone that interferes with fighting wildfires on federal property.  Aerial firefighting operations have been grounded for multiple wildfires over the past several years due to privately operated drones that have entered firefighting airspace to the detriment of firefighting operations.

The Wildfire Airspace Protection Act of 2017 would make it a felony offense to operate a drone that interferes with fighting wildfires on federal property. Violators would be fined and could face imprisonment for up to five years.

Firefighting aircraft have been grounded in recent years because of the threat posed to low-flying planes by drones.  This has prevented firefighters from keeping control of wildfires and, in at least one case, it led to thousands of additional acres being burned. Even more importantly, the suspension of air operations has threatened firefighters’ lives.

“Catastrophic wildfires are one of the biggest threats to life and property in the western United States,” said Rep. Cook. “It’s shocking that despite aerial firefighting being repeatedly brought to a halt due to these reckless drone operators, there still is no law on the books against this behavior. These drone operators not only put the lives of aerial firefighters in jeopardy, but the loss of air support for fire crews allows wildfires to spread, threatening people and houses on the ground. Interfering with our firefighters is a serious problem, and this legislation will ensure that those who endanger our firefighters will face a serious penalty.”

Rep. Cook is a member of the House Natural Resources, Armed Services, and Foreign Affairs Committees. He served as an infantry officer and retired after 26 years as a Colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps. During his time in combat, he was awarded the Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts.