State Game Agencies, National Parks Address Drone Use

New Mexico became the fourth state last week to prohibit the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) for hunting and game scouting, as other agencies and lawmakers across the country examine the potential uses — legitimate and otherwise — of so-called drones by those in the outdoor community.

In a 5-1 vote June 26, the New Mexico Game Commission approved a proposal prohibiting the use drones to locate game, to harass a game animal or to hunt a protected species within 48 hours of observation with a drone.

In January, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission voted to make Colorado the first state to prohibit civilian use of drones by hunters. Within weeks of Colorado’s action, Montana’s Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commissioners outlawed drones for use by hunters as part of its 2014-15 hunting regulations. Then, in April, the Alaska Board of Game approved a measure to ban hunting big game with the aid of UAVs, based on its longtime prohibition of same-day airborne hunting, meaning hunters cannot pursue big game animals on the same day they fly-in to a location.

Game agencies in Idaho and Wisconsin have determined drone use is already covered under current prohibitions of aircraft to hunt, to harass hunters or to disturb wildlife.

Also this year, the country’s two primary big game record-keeping groups, the Boone & Crockett Club and Pope & Young Club, publicly announced they would not accept entries of game animals hunted with the aid of drones.

And on June 20, National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis signed a temporary policy memorandum that directs superintendents nationwide to prohibit launching, landing, or operating unmanned aircraft on all lands and waters administered by the National Park Service. Jarvis said the next step will be to propose a Servicewide regulation regarding unmanned aircraft. That process can take considerable time, depending on the complexity of the rule, and includes public notice of the proposed regulation and opportunity for public comment.

“We embrace many activities in national parks because they enhance visitor experiences with the iconic natural, historic and cultural landscapes in our care,” Jarvis said. “However, we have serious concerns about the negative impact that flying unmanned aircraft is having in parks, so we are prohibiting their use until we can determine the most appropriate policy that will protect park resources and provide all visitors with a rich experience.”

As the use of UAVs equipped with high-tech miniature cameras and other devices becomes more widespread and they become more affordable, watch for their civilian use to attract continued scrutiny and regulation in the outdoors.

How do you feel about the unregulated civilian use of drones on public lands?

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