'Drone Territory': B.C. First Nation hopes drone tourism will take flight

A B.C. First Nation is trying to use Canada's new drone regulations to its advantage.

Members of the Klahoose First Nation are hoping their territory will become a go-to drone tourism spot after new regulations were introduced that limit the areas where drones can fly.

According to the band's chief, James Delorme, the island First Nation is what he calls "drone territory."

"We have many wildlife, grizzly bears, and fantastic waterfalls," he said. "There's a business opportunity here that doesn't rely on resource development, [and] doesn't rely on taking advantage of anything that's going to compromise our rights and title and our traditions."

The First Nation is launching their Drone Territory project this April in hopes of getting Indigenous youth engaged in the technology.

Taking flight

Under new regulations, hobbyists cannot fly drones within nine kilometres of an airstrip. Drones in excess of 250 grams cannot be within 75 metres of buildings, vehicles, vessels, or people.

Delorme says the First Nation's relative isolation on Cortes Island makes it an ideal spot for hobbyists to safely abide by the federal rules while capturing the beauty of the region.

He thinks it's an opportunity that many B.C. First Nations could also get behind, and that the benefits of a robust drone industry could elevate other local sectors

"You can use it in forestry, you can use it in housing, you can use it in resource management — there's so many applications where a drone could enhance the work with a First Nation. There's no limit to the opportunity for other nations to get involved."

Threats to wildlife?

Critics point out that it's still unclear how drones affect wildlife, particularly in isolated regions.

A 2015 study found that black bears exposed to nearby drones exhibited high levels of stress and elevated heart rates.

However, under the new regulations, operators will not be able to fly drones closer than 75 metres to animals.

"We see the animals as ... very special to us," Delorme said. "They're sacred pieces of our life. We want to maintain that, we want to make sure that if there's any drones that are flying that it is done in a respectful way, and in the safest way."

With files from CBC's All Points West

To listen to the full interview, click on the audio labelled: 'Drone Territory': B.C. First Nation hopes drone tourism will take flight