Aviation unit Natural 1 returns to DNR for surveillance duty
ANNAPOLIS — As deer hunting season and oyster harvesting reached their peaks, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources 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 sevenyear 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 governor’s administration in 2009. The helicopter then was transferred to the Harford County Sheriff’s Office.
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 Gov. 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,” Belton said. “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 recently returned to service with one of its original pilots at the controls to carry out oyster enforcement patrols and 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 NRP Col. 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.
After a seven-year absence, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources has an aviation unit, Natural 1, back and ready to patrol. 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.