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June 12, 2014 | By | Posted in General News, Legislature

Lawmakers worry about drones’ impact on hunting, fishing

By Andrew Staub | PA Independent

Consider it a preemptive strike.

That’s how state Sen. Richard Kasunic described a pair of bills that would outlaw the use of drones to disrupt legal hunting and fishing activities in Pennsylvania.

“It hasn’t happened here in Pennsylvania yet, but I’m sure that in due time it will happen,” Kasunic, D-Fayette, said Wednesday.

The possibility may sound a little far-fetched, given that most of the talk about drones focuses on military capabilities. But  even Amazon is considering using unmanned aircraft to deliver packages, and Dominos is exploring ways to use a quad-copter to drop off piping-hot pizzas.

There’s another possible civilian use: monitoring hunters and anglers.

WATCHING FROM ABOVE: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals are encouraging wildlife watchers to use drones to monitor hunting. Pennsylvania lawmakers aren't so happy about that possibility.

WATCHING FROM ABOVE: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals are encouraging wildlife watchers to use drones to monitor hunting. Pennsylvania lawmakers aren’t so happy about that possibility.

Ashley Byrne, a campaign specialist with the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said drones have been used effectively overseas to police poachers.

In America, PETA last year conducted its own test flight of drones as part of a program to keep watch over hunters. The organization began offering drones for $324.99 as part of its online catalog, describing the “Air Angels” as “The New Hobby for Animal Protectionists.”

The animal-rights activist group has painted its “Air Angels” as tools to capture evidence of hunters illegally shooting deer from the side of the road or cracking open a cold one while pursuing their next trophy buck. That footage could then be used to alert authorities to problems, PETA said.

“The idea is that poachers need to rethink the idea that they can get away with murder out there alone in the woods with no one watching,” Byrne said.

The drones could also capture the “cruel” side of hunting — such as animals dying slowly after being shot, Byrne said.

While activists might catch illegal activities on tape, they could also scope out hunters and anglers doing nothing unlawful. It makes for a privacy problem in the eyes of state Sen. Richard Alloway, R-Franklin, an outdoorsman and chairman of the Senate Game and Fisheries Committee.

“Most Americans don’t want drones spying on us or watching our activities for any reason, particularly if they’re not criminal,” Alloway said.

Like Kasunic, state Rep. Gerald Mullery, D-Luzerne, is sponsoring legislation in the House that would prohibit the use of drones from interfering with lawful hunting, fishing and boating.

After more than 30 years of hunting, Mullery thinks drones would just interfere with lawful activities.

ALLOWAY: The chairman of the state Senate Game and Fisheries Committee said Americans don't like the possibility of more spy games.

ALLOWAY: The chairman of the state Senate Game and Fisheries Committee said Americans don’t like the possibility of more spy games.

“These are people simply there to disturb that,” he said, adding that drones could also interrupt bird watchers and other outdoor-related tourism.

Drones would not be used to interfere with hunting, Byrne said. Rather, they would capture footage from high overhead. She dismissed the idea the drones could be a spy tool, saying hunters would be monitored on public lands.

“Anyone who is suggesting that these laws be implemented has something to hide,” Byrne said.

Pennsylvania lawmakers, though, are just the latest to explore such a ban on drones. Illinois legislators have already passed a bill that makes the use of drones to interfere with hunters illegal, and several other states have looked into similar laws.

Travis Lau, a spokesman with the Pennsylvania Game Commission, said the agency believes the use of drones to interfere with hunting may already be covered under existing law that addresses the harassment of hunters.

“As a point of clarity, and drones being a big issue, maybe it’s better to clean up that language and address it specifically,” Lau said.

John Arway,executive director of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, said it’s rare to see anglers being harassed. So far, the state has had no conflicts regarding drones, he said.

While Arway said he wouldn’t be bothered by a drone while fishing — and doesn’t think anyone acting lawfully would — he believes the aircraft could be a nuisance to hunters who head to the woods to escape background noise.

“What the future holds is hard to say,” Arway said. “A lot of times technology surpasses common sense.”

Staub can be reached at Andrew@PAIndependent.com. Follow @PAIndependent on Twitter for more.

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