The seven-member Alaskan Board of Game voted unanimously last week to ban the use of drones, or remote-controlled aerial vehicles, in the pursuit or spotting of game animals. According to the Anchorage Daily News, the decision was made because drones gave hunters a decided advantage over wild animals and hunters who do not use drones for scouting. The decision to prohibit the use of drones was supported by many conservation and hunting organizations, who see the use of the aerial vehicles as a violation of fair chase ethics.
In Alaska, hunters are allowed to scout for game animals in a conventional aircraft as long as they do not harvest the animal on the same day. Officials say that drones provide a much larger advantage. Unlike conventional aircraft, drones can relay live images to a hunter on the ground instantly.
“Other people don’t have a fair opportunity to take game if somebody else is able to do that,” said Captain Bernard Chastain, operations commander of the Alaska Wildlife Troopers. “On the biology side, if you make it too easy to take animals, then there’s not opportunity for everybody else out there, because they can only allow so many animals to be taken.”
Chastain added that up until now, there was no law concerning the use of drones in the state. It was only recently that drones became widely available and cheap enough to pose an issue for Alaskan wildlife officials. Lightweight drones equipped with a camera can be purchased for around $1,000 or less.
“The Alaska Wildlife Troopers are aware of remote-controlled airplanes, helicopters and quad-copters that are being used to spot and assist in taking big game,” a statement by the Board of Game said. “Some of these remote controlled aircraft can operate up to several hundred feet above ground, giving the hunter an unfair advantage and potentially causing a direct conservation concern to the resource.”
ABC News reported that in 2012, a group of hunters legally harvested a moose with the help of a drone. Although the hunters are not being investigated, the case did draw attention to the fact that more hunters are beginning to look to drones for tracking game through the state’s dense forests. Conservation groups such as the Pope and Young Club and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers oppose the use of drones because of the alleged negative effects it may have on wildlife. Earlier this year, the state of Colorado also banned the use of drones in hunting.
“Sportsmen appreciate this commonsense, thoughtful clarification to Colorado’s regulations,” said Backcountry Hunters and Anglers Director Land Tawney after the state announced the ban. “Drones have many legitimate potential uses in science, agriculture and search-and-rescue. However, hunting should remain an activity of skill and woodcraft, not just technology. If drones take off in hunting fields, it will split the ranks of hunters and everyone will lose.”
The Pope and Young Club also encourages its members to refrain from using drones during hunts. The response from hunters to the Alaska drone ban was mostly supportive of the new regulations, although drones can still serve a purpose in the field besides research. Some sportsmen have begun using the aerial vehicles to track destructive feral hogs, which are considered a nuisance in many states.
The new Alaskan regulations now go to the state Department of Law for review and will likely take effect beginning July 1.