published Friday, May 2nd, 2014

New Mexico taking aim at drone use in hunting



Members of the Box Elder County Sheriff's Office fly their search and rescue drone during a demonstration, in Brigham City, Utah, in this Feb. 13, 2014, file photo.
Members of the Box Elder County Sheriff's Office fly their search and rescue drone during a demonstration, in Brigham City, Utah, in this Feb. 13, 2014, file photo.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico is in line to become the next state to take aim at the use of drones for hunting big game animals.

Alaska, Colorado and Montana already have outlawed the use of drones in hunting, but some sportsmen groups and animal advocates are pushing to see that regulations are passed in every state to protect the concept of fair chase.

They argue the art of hunting should be based on skills and traditions that have been honed and passed down over generations, not technological advancements such as drones.

"Hunting an animal with your physical senses, with your eyes and your ears and even to a lesser extent your sense of smell, that puts you on fairly even ground with these animals that can see far better, hear far better and smell far better than we can," said Joel Gay, a spokesman for the New Mexico Wildlife Federation.

Drones would simply take the challenge out of hunting and could lead to the sport becoming more exclusive, Gay and others said.

There's only anecdotal evidence of drones being used for hunting, but the national group Backcountry Hunters and Anglers and the Humane Society of the United States both say they want to get ahead of the issue before it becomes a problem.

In New Mexico, the state Game Commission is set to vote this month on a proposal that would make it illegal to use drones to signal an animal's location, to harass a game animal or to hunt a protected species observed from a drone within 48 hours.

All of that is already illegal if done from an aircraft. The proposal calls for redefining aircraft to include unmanned, remote-controlled drones.

Vermont is also considering changes to its hunting rules, while Idaho and Wisconsin have included prohibitions on the use of aircraft to hunt wildlife in existing regulations.

But there are some groups that don't see the need to act quickly to regulate drone-assisted hunting.

Blake Henning, vice president of lands and conservation with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, said he has yet to hear from the group's more than 200,000 members about drone concerns.

"We've got all kinds of other things we're trying to address," he said.

Like helicopters and airplanes, Henning said drone-assisted hunting will undoubtedly have to be regulated at some point, but he noted that wildlife research could benefit from the technology.

From Nepal to South Africa, scientists are already using drones to monitor endangered species and to track poachers.

In the U.S., federal aviation regulators do not yet allow for the commercial use of drones, but the government is working on operational guidelines and has said that as many as 7,500 small commercial drones could be flying within five years of getting widespread access to U.S. skies.

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