Senator calls on Interior Dept. not to use drones to count sheep

Alex Pappas Political Reporter
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A Republican senator is drawing attention to what he considers the “unnecessary, wasteful and duplicative programs” inside the Department of the Interior as officials warn that the country’s national parks could suffer because of the automatic budget cuts hitting the federal government.

In order to keep the country’s national parks open as the federal departments grapple with so-called sequestration, Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn is suggesting the department do away with things like a planned program to count sheep with unmanned aerial drones.

In a Tuesday letter to Secretary Sally Jewell, Coburn pointed out that 282 million people visited America’s national parks last year, yet the department warns they may have to implement reduced hours and shorter seasons, and possible closures of campgrounds, hiking trails and other recreational areas at parks because of the cuts.

“I believe the Department can continue to maintain this same level access even under sequestration,” Coburn said. “To accomplish this, the Department must prioritize its core mission, eliminate unnecessary, wasteful, and duplicative programs, and find innovative ways to do more with less.”

He pointed out that the U.S. Geological Survey still plans to use drones to count animals, despite having to shut down more than 100 gauges that warn of flooding or lack of water.

Coburn wrote that the agency plans to use “unmanned aerial drones, obtained from the military, to survey the habitat of pygmy rabbits in Idaho in August, observe Elk in Washington in July, and count sheep in Nevada in October.”

“While these studies may provide some interesting information about rabbits, sheep and other animals, canceling or delaying them is not life threatening,” he wrote. “Yet shutting down vital flood gauges, by the agency’s own admission, could be.”

Coburn also called on the department to do away with certain conferences, including those which are also sponsored by other departments. One peculiar example? A gathering held at a casino in Oregon called the State of the Beaver Conference.

“The State of the Beaver 2013 Conference, held at the Seven Feathers Hotel and Casino Resort Convention Center in Oregon several months ago, was sponsored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as well as the USDA Forest Service, the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, and the Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration,” Coburn said.

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