By SEAN ELLIS
BOISE -- A new Idaho law that takes effect July 1 will prevent people from using drones to spy on farmers and ranchers.
A bill that has been signed into law by Gov. Butch Otter restricts people from using drones to spy on anyone but it was crafted specifically with agriculture in mind, said its sponsor, Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise.
It's meant "to protect the agricultural community from unreasonable searchers," said the Idaho Senate's assistant majority leader.
The bill was widely supported by the state's farming community, which sees increased drone use as inevitable but wants to ensure unmanned aerial vehicles aren't used against them for nefarious purposes.
"We want to make sure the private property of farming operations is protected and this piece of legislation does that," said Food Producers of Idaho Vice President Roger Batt. Drones can do a lot of good, he added, "but it's also nice to know farming operations are protected."
The new law, which prevents any person, entity or public agency from using a UAV to conduct surveillance or observation of private property, requires law enforcement to obtain warrants in most cases before using drones to collect evidence.
The bill allows individuals to use drones to take pictures or video of their own property, which is important for the growing number of farmers who want to use that tool to improve their operations, said north Idaho farmer Robert Blair.
Blair, who uses a drone aircraft to take high-resolution images of his crops, in 2006 became the first farmer in the United States to own and use a drone aircraft on his own land.
Farmers are exempted from the new law because "I'm flying over my own land. Pardon the pun, I'm under the radar," he said.
"You can do anything you want on your private property but you are restricted from using it on your neighbor's property," Winder said.
The bill's passage took on added meaning in early April when one of the nation's largest animal rights groups, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, announced it would use drones to spy on hunters and farmers.
In an April 8 news release, the group said it intended "to fly the drones over factory farms ... and other venues where animals routinely suffer and die."
"It comes down to private property rights," Blair said. "Would I let people walk around my farm without an invitation? In PETA's case, I am not giving permission to fly over my farm."