By Taylor W. Anderson

The Bulletin

Bill in Salem

House Bill 2534 would put Oregon in line with a number of other states that have banned using drones for hunting.

Sponsors : Rep. Brad Witt, D-Clatskanie

History : The conservation group Backcountry Hunters and Anglers has worked state-by-state to get these types of bills passed. Oregon already bans hunting within eight hours of hunters receiving information from drones or airplanes. The idea, BHA members say, is to go with fair-chase ethics.

What’s next : The Legislature convenes Monday. A hearing on the bill hasn’t yet been scheduled.

When it comes to drones, Oregon lawmakers are already considering passing measures that would catalyze a burgeoning industry in Central Oregon and the Columbia Gorge.

Add to that a bill by Rep. Brad Witt, D-Clatskanie, that would prohibit drones for hunting and fishing and put Oregon in line with other states that have already passed similar legislation.

Witt has proposed House Bill 2534, which would direct the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to adopt rules that would prohibit drone use “for the purposes of angling, hunting, harassing or tracking as an aid to angling or hunting.”

The bill would likewise prohibit using drones to interfere with hunters and anglers.

The state already prohibits hunting within eight hours of using drones for scouting animal whereabouts.

“You can’t hunt for eight hours after scouting using aircraft,” said Brian Jennings, a Bend-based hunter who’s an outreach coordinator for national conservation group Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. “It seemed to us, hey, why not just ban it? It’s not ethical.”

That group is taking a state-by-state approach to getting bans on the books. Last May, Jennings wrote a letter to the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission asking for the new rules. But before that happens, the commission needs the power to write the new rules from the Legislature.

It’s not clear how widespread the issue is. Oregon State Police couldn’t find a single citation related to hunting within the eight-hour timeframe after the hunter received information from a plane or drone, potentially a misdemeanor.

“We feel it could be much stronger and simply ban the use of drones for scouting (and) hunting,” Jennings said, “to respect the fair chase ethic.”

Videos in recent years have hit the Internet showing different ways hunters are using the drones to find animals. One, from Louisiana, shows a drone with an infrared camera that relays information to a hunter on the ground with an infrared scope on a rifle as the hunter targets feral hogs in a field one by one.

Alaska, Montana, Colorado and New Mexico have already put such rules in place, and a slew of other states are considering the legislation.

Drones have emerged as a potentially useful tool for the department itself for fish and wildlife conservation, and the rules would exempt Fish and Wildlife. The department is considering using the drones to create virtual tours that show the effects of environmental restoration efforts. The tours could also help viewers learn to read river patterns.

Mark Morrisson, with the drone interest group SOAR Oregon, said he was still reviewing the bill and that he’s interested in the language because “Oregon commercial tuna boats have used (drones) to spot schools of fish.”

Some deep-sea anglers look for fish that rise to the surface as signs of more fish, said fishing outfitter Jack Glass, of Troutdale, who added he’d never heard of anyone using drones to do that.

Chris Olson, of Newport Marina Store and Charters, also said he’d never heard of anyone using drones to spot fish.

Fish and Wildlife employees say they don’t believe drones are a widespread issue, though the technology is rapidly becoming cheaper and its popularity is spreading.

Rick Hargrove, an ODFW spokesman, pointed to the ethical issues of using drones for hunting and the potential for hunters to be harassed by people using other drones.

“It’s an interesting bill in the sense that you know it’s not necessarily about fishing and hunting,” he said. “This again comes back down to kind of a privacy thing. Why am I being harassed by this machine while I’m out doing something legal?”

The animal-rights group PETA recently started selling its own drones that it markets as a way to catch illegal hunting on footage.

Hargrove wasn’t sure how long it would take the department to create the new rules if given the authority.

— Reporter: 406-589-4347,

tanderson@bendbulletin.com

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