Although they once seemed like something out of a sci-fi novel, drones are becoming more and more commonplace. Typically thought of for their role in global warfare, in the US unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are often used for far less controversial tasks. The Forest Service has used drones to map forest fires (as well as to keep an eye on illegal California grow sites); some police departments use them to photograph accident scenes; and several universities fly UAVs as part of new drone-related curricula. Even Amazon wants to use drones to deliver that self-help book you're too embarrassed to buy at the store.
As ubiquitous as drones are sure to someday be, the fact is they still creep a lot of people out. And in outdoorsy states across the countries, hunters and fishermen are anticipating the use of aerial drones to track wildlife by opting out now, before the technology even exists.
Oregon, Montana, Alaska, and Illinois have each put together proposals to ban the use of drones in hunting and fishing. Sportsmen in these states fear that if the technology would someday be used to scan an environment for game and fish, hunters and fishermen would have an unfair advantage over the animals, as well as negate the thrill of the chase that many sportsmen seek.
Jean Johnson of the Montana Outfitters and Guides Association appeared before the House Fish, Wildlife and Parks Committee (FWPC) earlier this month to testify in favor of House Bill 278, which would limit when and where drones could be used, as well as outlaw any drone scare tactics that hunters or fishermen might employ against each other in order to secure their own access to wildlife.
"Hunting is not aerial drones guiding hunters or moving game," Johnson said. Representative Jeff Essmann of Billings, who is sponsoring the bill, said he took a personal interest in the issue after his stepson saw several drones flying over the state's Castle Mountains on the opening day of big-game season.
"The federal government has failed to move quickly" on the issue, he said.
In Oregon, House Bill 2534 would take similar action against drones.
"Keeping hunters from using advances in technology to boost their chances goes back decades," The Oregonian reports. It has long been illegal in the state to use aircraft to mark big-game animals, and the ban on drones would follow the same logic.
"It's amazing how technology is changing and what the can put out there for hunters to use," Ron Anglin, of the state's Department of Fish and Wildlife, said in the article. "We've got to get out ahead of it before it happens."
Elsewhere, opposition to the use of drones centered on how the use of unmanned aircraft would affect local jobs. In Alaska, small aircraft are regularly used to monitor fish populations in the state's rivers and along its coasts. But drones would potentially eliminate those pilots' jobs, some Board of Fisheries officials fear.
"I'm for keeping pilots employed, and not using unmanned aircraft for fish spotting," member Reed Morisky said during a board meeting last week. Board chair Tom Klubertson elaborated: "We've had aircraft in this region for a long time," he said. "There are folks who stake their livelihoods, and contribute to local economies flying their aircraft. I feel it's just an unnecessary move, and … it's not something I want over my head."
Issues of hunting, fishing, or employment aside, many of those opposed to drones appear to agree that the machines are just plain weird.
Todd Eames, a fly fisherman from Billings, told the state's FWPC that he had been spotted by a drone while angling on the Boulder River with his brothers a couple of years ago.
"The drone sat there and watched me for ten minutes," he said. "Our biggest concern was who was watching us. It was just a very uncomfortable situation."