Bans on drones for hunting and harassment making progress in legislature

(A drone at work. These cost as little as $200. Photo via AP)

(A drone at work. These cost as little as $200. Photo via AP)

Legislation that would prohibit the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), commonly termed drones, to either harass hunters or wildlife will soon be the rule of the land.

The legislation in question, a pair of bills introduced into the state Senate, passed that body last week in a unanimous 38-0 vote.

“Using remote-controlled, camera-equipped aircraft to locate wildlife in order to shoot and kill them is not sport,” said Pavlov, R-St. Clair Township as reported by the Huron Daily Tribune. “We passed legislation several years ago banning the practice of computer-assisted hunting in Michigan. This was to help preserve the purity and the challenge of hunting game. These bills will continue these same types of protections.”

Pavlov’s measures, Senate Bills 54 and 55, are each simple modifications to the state’s conservation laws.

In 54, the bill prohibits the use of a drone to interfere with hunters and interestingly enough, covers both flying UAVs and swimming unmanned submersible vehicles (USVs) such as remote control mini-subs. Anyone that violates the law by using one of these to harass a lawful hunter or angler could be subject to imprisonment for not more than 93 days, or a fine of not less than $500.00 or more than $1,000.00.

“Although there have been no documented cases of hunter harassment by unmanned vehicles in the State, the devices are a new technology and groups such as PETA have been encouraging their members to use the technology. There is concern that a person could use an unmanned vehicle to monitor a hunter or angler in a harassing manner, or use it to interfere with taking game, by maneuvering a UAV to block a hunter’s shot, for instance, or scaring away the game. The law should be updated to protect hunters and anglers before harassment become a problem,” reads an impartial analysis of the bill by the state legislature’s Fiscal Agency.

While state conservation officers would be exempt from the measure, current language also protects hunters from anti-hunting activists who would use drones to spoil or monitor lawful game harvests.

This is important, as controversial organizations such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have in the past several years enlisted the aim of cheap UAVs to harass hunters in the field. The radical group has since 2013 run an “Air Angels” campaign in which they encourage activists and like-minded members to purchase PETA-branded drones to “monitor” the woods during hunting seasons.

“Wildlife watchers outnumber wildlife killers five to one—and if even a fraction of these kind people use Air Angels, they’ll go a long way toward exposing hunters’ dirty secrets,” reads a post on the group’s website. “With PETA’s drones soaring overhead, we hope wildlife scofflaws will think twice before heeding the call of the vile.”

Bill 55, on the flip side, prohibits hunters from using any drone to harass or track any game to include fish, birds, and mammals while hunting or fishing would be illegal. Punishments and fines vary based on the species “targeted.” Harassing a turkey or wolf would be a fine of $200 and 5 days in prison while a moose could earn the violator a $5,000 fine and up to a year in the state pen.

“The bill also would be consistent with fair chase principles, which are considered to be ethical guidelines for hunting. Fair chase principles include not using aircraft to spot an animal and not using aircraft or motorized vehicles to herd or chase prey. Use of electronic communication devices also is prohibited. Fair chase principles would be violated if, for example, a hunter used an unmanned aerial vehicle to spot a deer or to chase or herd the deer toward the hunter for an easier kill,” explains a bill analysis.

The Michigan legislation is not the first of its kind. As detailed by Fox News, in the past few years Alaska, Montana and Colorado have passed similar rules while at least five other states either feel their current rules already limit UAV use or are exploring fixes to make them so. Earlier this month, Oregon introduced a measure that directs the Oregon State Fish and Wildlife Commission to create rules governing the use of drones for angling or hunting in the state.

Both Michigan measures have been referred to the House Committee on Tourism and Outdoor Recreation.

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