With deer hunting season and oyster harvesting reaching their peaks, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources has added a new conservation enforcement tool to its fleet: its own helicopter.
The black-and-gold aircraft, Natural 1, has resumed its place after a seven-year absence on the department’s roster.
The helicopter will be used as a surveillance platform to assist Natural Resources Police officers as they patrol 17,000 miles of waterways and nearly a half-million acres of public lands.
The police aviation unit, founded nearly 70 years ago, was eliminated by the previous administration in 2009. The helicopter was then transferred to the Harford County Sheriff’s Office and painted deep blue.
About a year ago, the 1972 Bell Jet Ranger became available and Natural Resources Secretary Mark Belton became determined to bring it back home. His effort to restore the department’s aviation capability received the strong support of Governor Larry Hogan.
“Once we heard that the helicopter was available, we jumped at the opportunity to bring it back to the department to aid our conservation and enforcement activities,” said Natural Resources Secretary Mark Belton. “Natural 1 will assist our officers patrolling our public lands and waters ensuring the safety of our guests and visitors as well as the protection of our most precious natural resources.”
After a year of refurbishing, the helicopter returned to service last week with one of its original pilots at the controls to carry out oyster enforcement patrols as well as aid in the search for two missing people.
“I think it goes without saying we are all elated to have this valuable asset available to us again,” said Natural Resources Police Colonel Robert “Ken” Ziegler Jr. “This is one more major step forward for our department and its conservation mission.”
The helicopter will be used during the hunting season to enforce conservation and management laws, serve as backup to officers on patrol, and help speed rescuers to emergency accidents and incidents.
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