Editors note: This story was first published by the author, a graduate student at the Missouri School of Journalism, in Newsweek.
By Paige Blankenbuehler
SANTA ROSA NATIONAL PARK — In Sector Pocosol, an administrative section of Costa Rica’s Santa Rosa National Park, there’s a wide, open field of browned grass. Its perimeter is guarded by towering trees, branches barren of their leaves, which cover the ground after falling in the dry season heat. Shade is a stranger, and by 3 p.m. it’s already 106 degrees. In the field, part of the vast Área Conservación de Guanacaste (ACG), I stand beside Arturo Cortés Angulo, a volunteer firefighter. Sweat covers his forehead as his thumbs hover over the controller of a drone.
A white machine with red stripes and four propellers sits in the grass in front of him, while an instructor speaks in stilted Spanish phrases. Its propellers buzz on and off. A group from the University of Missouri is training the firefighters to implement drone technology into their fire management strategies and better protect the conservation area. The Santa Rosa Program Protection and Fire Brigade, led by Julio Días Orias, isn’t the first firefighting team to employ drones—in Brookings, South Dakota, for example, a fire department made a $1,500 investment in March on a drone and GoPro Camera. But Santa Rosa is at the forefront of adding drones to land management strategies—and the first team to do so in Central America.