September 20, 2013
To: New Mexico Game & Fish Commission
From: New Mexico Chapter, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers
Issue: Regulating Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Systems (Drones) in Hunting
Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Systems (commonly called “drones”) are increasingly important in the military and have high potential to contribute to the fields of wildlife biology, search-and-rescue, agriculture and many other applications. However, in private hands there is small but growing interest in using these highly sophisticated remote-controlled aircraft to scout, monitor and stalk big game. Backcountry Hunters & Anglers believes this technology represents a widespread opportunity for abuse, and if not regulated early poses a significant threat to fair chase hunting and fair distribution of hunting opportunity.
According to the UAVS Industry Association: “While military operations continue to dominate current UAS applications, the future will see increasing use of UAVs in parapublic and civil roles. It is important for the growth of the industry that paths to the civil market are opened as early as possible and UAVS takes very seriously the challenges of operating UAVs in the civil environment.” According to an article in the New York Times, one company sells 7,000 civilian UAVs a year, more than the US military drone fleet. As one industry promoter predicted, “the sky is going to be black with these things.”
A YouTube video posted January 2013 depicts a Norwegian man stalking a moose with a remote controlled UVAS. The moose seemed perplexed, as it watched the machine hover above and monitor its every move. There are also online videos of UVAs with night-vision and heat-sensing technology being used to detect and kill feral hogs in the southeastern United States.
It takes little imagination to visualize how an unscrupulous hunter or outfitter might use these powerful machines to scour a mountain range looking for a bighorn ram or harass a pronghorn herd across the distant prairie to hunters. Or to flush waterfowl off ponds to waiting hunters.
While Backcountry Hunters & Anglers acknowledges the potential beneficial use of UAVS for science and game surveys, we feel strongly that state wildlife departments should curtail their use to protect the principles of fair chase and fair opportunity. We have a responsibility to make sure that hunting remains a primitive pursuit involving woodcraft and skill, and does not merely exploit technology.
Is this technology regulated in current hunting regulations?
While we understand that New Mexico Fish & Game Regulations specifically restrict the use of aircraft to “Shoot at, pursue, harass, harry, drive or rally any protected species by use of or from a motor-driven vehicle, powerboat, sailboat or aircraft. OR Hunt from, signal locations of protected species to hunters from or harass game with aircraft; hunt protected species observed from aircraft within 48 hours of observation; or hunt protected species the same day of air travel, except by commercial airline or direct flight to a landing strip”, it is also our understanding that the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) currently does not consider personal drones operated under 500 feet as an “aircraft” (see attached article from BHA’s “Backcountry Journal” for further description).
Therefore, we strongly urge that the New Mexico Game & Fish Commission adopt regulations which specifically prohibit the use of personal drones during the hunting season. New Mexico BHA believes such a regulation is necessary to ensure that drones are NEVER used to scout or hunt ANY of our wildlife, including predators. Drones are a clear violation of fair chase and have no place in our rich tradition of hunting game using personal wits, strength and experience.
We appreciate NMGF staff’s commitment to ensuring that clarifying language which prohibits the use of drones for scouting and hunting throughout the hunting season is provided when the chapter regulations are updated. We ask that this revised language:
- Be broader than the current regulations regarding use of aircraft, which state that it is illegal to: Shoot at, pursue, harass, harry, drive or rally any protected species by use of or from a motor-driven vehicle, powerboat, sailboat or aircraft. OR Hunt from, signal locations of protected species to hunters from or harass game with aircraft; hunt protected species observed from aircraft within 48 hours of observation; or hunt protected species the same day of air travel, except by commercial airline or direct flight to a landing strip.
- Include an outright ban of drones for any scouting during the hunting season.
- Include clarifying language that ensures unmanned, remote controlled aircraft are included within the definition of “aircraft.”
We ask that the NMGF commission please support these efforts by directing staff to draft and propose regulations which ensure personal drones are prohibited for hunting all game species in New Mexico – the threats to our hunting traditions and the principles of fair chase are just too great to do otherwise.
The New Mexico Backcountry Hunters & Anglers Board
Peter Lupsha, Tome
Oscar Simpson, Albuquerque
- New York Times. “A Drones Eye-View of Nature.” May 6, 2013.
- The Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Systems Association (UAVS). Website.
- New York Times. “Domestic Drones Stir Imaginations, Concerns.” March 17, 2013.
- Youtube. “Da Moose.”
- Ars Technica. “Hunting Feral Hogs. At Night. With Drones.” May 3, 2013.