ALBANY -- New York now has a fleet of drones ready to help the environment.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation announced Monday it has deployed 22 drones around the state to help with environmental issues and in emergency situations.
“The use of drone technology will help us do our jobs better and faster while saving taxpayer dollars," DEC commissioner Basil Seggos said in a statement.
Drones have already been able to assist in a number of situations around the state, the agency said.
A barge in the Hudson River carrying over 60,000 barrels of gasoline ran aground last April, and drones were able to search the area for any potential oil spills.
In Steuben County, the DEC was able to extinguish 45 acres of grass fires, using drones to pinpoint where to send firefighters.
Drones have also been able to map out and track coastal erosion around Lake Ontario, and DEC officials said it could have taken weeks to have traveled the area otherwise to collect the data.
Drones have also been used for forest conservation, monitoring migratory and hibernation patterns of certain animals and assisting search and rescue teams find missing persons, the agency said.
DEC said the drones cost between $1,000 and $14,000 each, and it has cost $422,000 over the past two years to start and operate the program.
The drones use infrared and traditional cameras. They are piloted primarily by certified forest rangers and environmental conservation officers who can control them from up to three miles away. The drones can also be flown up to 400 feet in the air.
They have been useful in recent weeks, too.
The state has sent two drones to Texas and Puerto Rico to help search-and-rescue teams after recent Hurricane Harvey.
And Gov. Andrew Cuomo has sent three drones to Puerto Rico to work with the power authority to help rebuild the power grid after Hurricane Maria last week.
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