Sportsmen support ban on drones

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The practice of stalking and bagging big game with the aid of radio-controlled, camera-equipped drones may soon be a thing of the past in the state if New Mexico Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, New Mexico Council of Outfitters & Guides and other hunting organizations get their way.

The issue was discussed at the May meeting of the New Mexico Game Commission, but was tabled until the commission meets again in Mescalero on June 26, in order to clarify the definition of a drone.

According to the agenda the commission will hear and consider action as appropriate on a "Proposal Prohibiting the Use of Drones for Hunting." The regulations being considered would include civilian drones within the existing regulations of aircraft for hunting and would prohibit drone use within 48 hours of a hunt.

In a public hearing at the May meeting the commissioners heard from a number of New Mexico hunters and outfitters who wanted to see the agency protect hunting tradition and fair chase from the "Unmanned Aerial Vehicles."

Oscar Simpson of Albuquerque told the commissioners that "there will be a lot of abuse if drones are allowed," and that anything other than an outright ban will lead to controversy among sportsmen when individuals are scouting with drones."

He said "during the past nine months and during three difference hunting and fishing events" he had an opportunity to speak with various sportsmen and that "90 percent wanted an outright ban of drones." Simpson said he wanted to ensure drones are not allowed to harass wildlife or hunters in the process. "It is good for scientific and in emergency purposes, but it is not a good tool for fair chase in scouting or hunting," he said.

Kerry Romero, executive director of New Mexico Council of Outfitters and Guides, told the commission her organization supports an outright ban on the use of drones as it relates to hunting and scouting, and also hunting or wildlife harassment.

Elizabeth DeCherie of Los Lunas agreed, saying the use of drones or any unmanned aircraft should be prohibited for any and all hunting for all species both unprotected and protected game species. She said it could violate a number of rights including fair chase, property rights and could interfere with migratory birds in flight.

"While we're glad to see the New Mexico Game & Fish Commission taking action on this timely issue, the proposed regulations would still leave the door open for hunters to scout game with drones outside of the 48-hour window," Randy Gray, board member of New Mexico Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, stated in a press release given to the commission. "We'd prefer to see New Mexico follow the lead of Alaska, Colorado and Montana and implement an outright ban on the use of drones for any hunting or scouting."

The controversy is not limited to New Mexico. The mayor of Deer Tail, Colo., last year, proposed issuing drones hunting licenses, which would allow the shooting down of drones. An initiative to make it legal to shoot down drones failed in April.

The public is invited to attend the meeting on Thursday, June 26, at 9 a.m. at the Inn of the Mountain Gods, 287 Carrizo Canyon Road in Mescalero. Game Commissioners will hear general public comments, limited to three minutes.

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