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Drones: New High Plains Hunting Sport?


There could be a new kind of hunting season on the high plains, and the object of the hunter’s focus?  Drones. 

Drones are flying objects, typically equipped with cameras.  They range in size, up to several feet across.  The number of blades vary, and they are built and operated primarily by hobbyists and others for personal use.  Video is a large part of the appeal, allowing life to be seen from another perspective. 

The little town of Deer Trail, Colorado is about an hour east of Denver, and in the 2010 Census had a population of 546.  The town began pondering licenses to hunt drones — with a $100 bounty attached — in July according to the Denver Post.

Phil Steel is spearheading the campaign.  He says drones are an invasion of privacy in a recent conversation on Colorado Matters.  Steel worries they will be used by businesses to track people's behaviors and by the government for surveillance.  He also says the measure in mostly symbolic, but if the ordinance passes, and licenses are issued, he will be there to shoot one down.

A copy of the proposed Deer Trail ordinance is here.

Novelty version of a Deer Trail CO drone hunting license

Kim Oldfield, Deer Trail Town clerk, says she can’t keep up with the demand for licenses, even though the ordinance has not been passed.  Phil Steel is selling novelty versions of the licenses on his own website.  The city is not accepting the funds.  Oldfield says she had been returning checks for the licenses, until the job became overwhelming.  Now, she’s putting them into a pile until the issue is settled. 

A link reminding people the licenses are not valid, but providing an opportunity to design and download one can be found here

Margot Kaminski is a lecturer at Yale Law School in New Haven, Connecticut.  She has a special interest in drones and privacy law.  She was a guest on Colorado Matters.

Kaminski says the proposed Deer Trail ordinance is a more extreme version of reaction that has been seen in other places.  People fear unbounded surveillance.  She cites a Seattle case in which a woman in her third story apartment bedroom, noticed a drone outside her window.  She looks out and saw the man who was operating the object.  She and her husband asked the man to leave and contacted the police.  No action was taken.  No law was broken.  Most states have not created regulations.   

Drones can also be beneficial.  There is an incidence where a drone hobbyist captured a photo of water coming out of a Texas packing plant.  The water was red.  Those images helped to spur investigation showing the plant was dumping waste into the water behind the plant.  Drones are also used by oil companies for pipeline inspections.

The FAA currently regulates drone operation.  The rules say you cannot fly a drone commercially.  Changes are expected in 2015 that allow commercial operations of drones.

The Deer Trail ordinance will be voted on in December.