Colorado Parks and Wildlife warns hunter to leave their drones at home
EAGLE COUNTY — It’s not so much that using drones as a hunting aid has become a problem, but more that the practice has potential to become a big issue.
So officials with Colorado Parks and Wildlife want tech savvy hunters to know they need to leave their drones at home when the venture out into the backcountry.
“We haven’t had any trouble yet, but it is coming. It is on everyone’s radar,” said Perry Will, Colorado Parks and Wildlife area wildlife manager. “My concern is I can see people trying to run elk off private property and on to public land.”
Colorado Parks and Wildlife Law Enforcement and Public Safety Assistant Director Heather Dugan said this week that the agency is seeing more cases of Colorado hunters illegally using drones.
“The bottom line is, if it’s related to a hunt in any way, you can’t do it,” Dugan said. “For scouting, locating, anything. If they fly before they take an animal, they’re illegal. If they use the drone to locate an animal they may have shot and wounded, they’re illegal.”
Dugan stressed that the use of a drone for hunting is not only a violation of Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission Regulations, but also a violation of the Federal Airborne Hunting Act.
Even for non-hunters, drone use on Colorado Parks and Wildlife land is restricted. It is not legal to take off or land a drone in any of Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s more than 350 state wildlife areas. Drone use in state parks is limited to those parks with a designated area for model aircraft use. Even then, drone operators should be aware that it is illegal to harass wildlife.
“The harassment definition is that it causes any change in the behavior of the wildlife. So if the animal runs, if it changes direction, if it stops eating, that’s harassment. Any change in the animal is considered harassment and it’s illegal,” Dugan said.
Penalties for violating drone laws can range from $70 to as steep as $125,000. “If we can prove they used a drone to locate wildlife and then killed it, it would be an illegal possession of that animal,” Dugan said. “That could be a fine of up to $125,000. It just depends on the circumstances and range of what they’re doing.”
Additionally, if a drone operator is found to be in violation, then their drones or related equipment could be subject to seizure.
“In many cases, we seize the equipment to see what video they had to prove their behavior,” Dugan said. “If we proved it, we might elect to request that it’s forfeited as a public nuisance. They’re obviously using it for illegal activities and shouldn’t continue to possess it.”