By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Look out, Bambi. You’re still in danger from drones in New Mexico.
On Thursday, the State Game Commission decided to wait until next month to consider outlawing hunters from using drones in New Mexico.
“We’ll take a good, hard look to see if it’s within our power to get an outright ban,” commission chairman Paul Kienzle said as the seven-member board unanimously voted to table a proposal that would prohibit what scientists call “unmanned aerial systems” from tracking down big game by monitoring their activity from the air.
“It’s a fair chase issue,” Robert Griego, colonel of field operations at the New Mexico Game and Fish Department told New Mexico Watchdog. “That’s what we always want to maintain. We don’t want things to get to the point where it’s just like shooting fish in a barrel.”
“A person can use a drone to find a trophy animal or simply find all the animals and get a head start on other hunters,” said John Crenshaw, board president of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation. “It’s unfair to the hunters and it’s unfair to the game.”
“It’s just wrong,” said Elisabeth Dicharry, an open spaces advocate from Los Lunas who wants to see an outright ban. “All species (such as coyotes and prairie dogs) should not be hunted with drones.”
The federal Airborne Hunting Act prohibits the use of aircraft to track or shoot animals, but there is no federal law covering drones.
The measure tabled Thursday would make it illegal to use drones “to signal an animal’s location, to harass a game animal or to hunt a protected species observed from a drone within 48 hours.”
“It’s starting to grow nationwide,” said Oscar Simpson, chairman of the New Mexico chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. “I was talking to some sportsmen people here in New Mexico over the last nine months and I had three of them say their hunts were screwed up because somebody used a drone to move an elk out of the way, or to move it down to where they were.”
New Mexico isn’t the only state to consider outlawing drones for hunting.
Alaska, Colorado and Montana have already passed bans, and a combination of sportsmen’s groups and animal protection agencies are calling for states across the country to join in.
“As the price of drones comes down, they have a lot of potential for abuse,” Crenshaw told commissioners. “It seems the electronics is outrunning the rulemaking.”
While using drones for hunting is under fire, drones have also been used in places such as Africa to protect animals against poachers and to track the movement of herds for wildlife research.
“You’d look at having a research, a law enforcement exception,” Kienzle said after the meeting.
In an unusual twist, in Massachusetts, representatives of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals used drones to videotape hunters in the field. PETA said it did so to make sure hunters were obeying the law.
“To me, using drones to monitor wildlife or monitor hunters, that would be harassment,” Simpson said.
The New Mexico Game Commission plans to bring the issue up again when it meets next month in Ruidoso.
Drones aren’t new to New Mexico.
The state is home to the only flight test center approved by the Federal Aviation Administration — the Unmanned Aerial Systems Technical Analysis and Applications Center at New Mexico State University — that flies and tests drones in the southern portion of the state.
But there’s been pushback, with some civil libertarians expressing concern about drones being used as “Big Brother” and invading privacy.
Here’s more from Simpson:
Contact Rob Nikolewski at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski