- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 3, 2015

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - A Billings lawmaker wants to keep drones from interfering in Montana’s hunting and fishing sports.

Republican Rep. Jeff Essmann introduced House Bill 278 in the House Fishing, Wildlife and Parks Committee on Tuesday. It would ban all unmanned aerial devices from harassing people before, during and after they hunt or fish.

Todd Eames, of Billings, testified in favor of the bill. He said he was followed by a drone two years ago when he and his two brothers were fishing in the Boulder River.

“We were standing in the river, probably had been there about three hours, when I look up and about 10 feet above my head was an aerial drone,” Eames said.

The drone hovered above him for about 15 minutes, buzzed over to his brothers and left a short time later, Eames said. He never discovered who owned the device or its intention.

The measure would also prohibit the use of drones to photograph people hunting or fishing in public places without consent, and from using drones above waterways during fishing season.

John MacDonald opposed the bill on behalf of the Montana Newspaper Association. He said the bill’s provision barring photography in public places would violate First Amendment rights.

“There is a very distinct difference between harassing a hunter or fisherman and a legal right in the state of Montana to photograph,” MacDonald said. “When you are engaged in a public activity, and hunting is a public activity, or you are in public, there is no expectation of privacy in a situation like that.”

MacDonald said the situation Eames described could be construed as harassment.

Chuck Flynn of the Montana Pilots Association said the bill may contradict a rule enacted by the Federal Aviation Administration allowing drones to be flown up to 400 feet above ground over private land. Essmann’s bill would prohibit drones from flying above private land without written permission during hunting season.

Under a law passed in February 2012, the FAA is expected to provide further guidelines on drone usage by Sept. 30 of this year.

Montana law already prohibits shooting at game from an aircraft and using an aircraft to track wildlife on the same day as hunting it.

In March, the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission enacted a rule against using drones to harass hunters.

Other state wildlife and game commissions have banned drones from hunting and fishing practices in Alaska, Colorado and New Mexico.

Tennessee passed a law last year to ban drones from harassing hunters and anglers. Similar bills were proposed in Illinois and Oregon last month, and one failed in Alabama last year.

Under HB 278, harassing a hunter or fisherman with a drone would carry a fine of $300 to $1,000 and up to six months in jail. The fine increases to $500 to $2,000 if the aircraft was used to hunt big game.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide