A proposed ban on using aerial drones for hunting and sport fishing in Oregon has won support from groups representing hunters as well as animal rights advocates.
The legislation, House Bill 2534, directs the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission to write regulations that prohibit drones from tracking or otherwise assisting people with angling or hunting game.
“Drones have no place in sports fishing or hunting,” said Rep. Brad Witt, D-Clatskanie, who introduced the legislation.
Using such devices to scout prey doesn’t square with the concepts of “fair chase” or “fair catch,” he said during a Feb. 10 hearing of the House Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources.
The bill would also prohibit using drones to interfere with hunting and fishing.
Eight other states have banned or are in the process of banning drones for such uses, Witt said.
Representatives of the Oregon Hunters Association, Oregon Outdoors Council, Traditional Archers of Oregon, Seafood Oregon and the Humane Society of the United States testified in favor of the proposal.
“Our sport will actually disappear without fair chase. At some point, chase becomes just killing,” said Stan Steele, president of the Oregon Outdoor Council.
While the bill received a positive reception, several clarifications were suggested during the hearing to prevent unintended consequences.
There may be legitimate uses for drones, like scaring away geese from crops, that should not be disallowed by the bill, said Brett Brownscombe, acting director of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The legislation also relies on a legal definition of “drones” that excludes model aircraft, Brownscombe said.
Realistically, new model aircraft can be used to assist hunting and fishing in ways the bill intends to prohibit, he said.
The bill should also make it clearer that locating fish or game with drones is banned, said Al Elkins, lobbyist for the Oregon Hunters Association.
Elkins said he has already heard of anglers scouting suitable fishing spots along a river with a drone.
Witt said he plans to consult with these organizations in redrafting the bill to ensure it’s not misinterpreted.
“I am very open to additional language to tighten than up,” he said.
A bill related to trespassing also received a favorable reaction during the hearing.
House Bill 2051 would reduce second-degree trespassing from a criminal Class C misdemeanor to a non-criminal Class A violation.
The Oregon Forest Industries Council strongly supports the bill because many rural counties in Oregon don’t have the resources to criminally prosecute trespassers, said Heath Curtiss, the group’s director of government affairs.
By shifting second-degree trespassing to a Class A violation in certain circumstances, the county would not have to pay for the full criminal prosecution, he said.
While a person could still plead not guilty rather than pay a fine of up to $2,000, the case would be decided by a judge rather than a jury, similar to a traffic violation.
“It’s a relatively efficient process,” Curtiss said.
Representatives of hunters, defense attorneys and timberland owners supported the bill, which Witt said will soon be back before the committee after a quick series of amendments “to make a good bill great.”