Harrisburg lawmakers consider hunter drone bills
HARRISBURG - State lawmakers will consider regulating the use of aerial drones to monitor hunting activities and help hunters pursue game.
The Senate weighed in on the emerging national issue last month when it unanimously approved legislation to ban use of drones to disturb and harass hunters, anglers and boaters.
But a pending House bill puts a different spin on the issue by proposing to ban hunters from using drones to spot or hunt wildlife during any big game season.
The Senate legislation is spurred by an animal rights group which announced plans last year to use drones, or remote-controlled aircraft, to record footage of hunters breaking game laws and terrorizing animals. While there are no official reports of drones being used for these purposes in Pennsylvania, bill supporters don't want to wait until hunters report harassment by drones.
Rep. Gerald Mullery (D-119) has sponsored similar legislation in the House. He thinks Pennsylvania should get ahead of the issue by banning anti-hunting drones before they appear in the skies.
The drones are noisy and can spoil recreational opportunities for law-abiding citizens by scaring away wildlife, said Mullery.
Following the Senate action, the drone issue moves to the House where Rep. Marc Gergely (D-35) drafts legislation to prohibit hunters from using drones.
"That's not hunting," said Gergely.
The catalyst for this debate, which is taking place in other states as well, is technology that's becoming more affordable.
Drones are being marketed to the hunting community.
The activist group, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), touts the use of small remote-controlled helicopters outfitted with a video camera as "hunter watchers" with the intent of recording illegal or cruel hunting practices.
PETA's action prompted several states to enact drone bans where hunter harassment is the objective.
The Senate-approved bill defines a drone as an "aircraft that is operated without the possibility of direct human intervention from within or on the aircraft."
Those using unmanned aircraft to interfere with someone's lawful taking of game or wildlife would be charged with a summary offense in a first case conviction and misdemeanor for subsequent cases under the legislation sponsored by Sen. Richard Kasunic (D-32).
His measure would exempt U.S. Fish and Wildlife officers, law enforcement and military personnel from the provisions.
Using a drone to interfere with legal boating and fishing would be a summary offense in Mullery's bill. Interfering with legal hunting would be a second-degree misdemeanor under the bill.
Gergely suggested that using aerial drones violates a hunting tradition that gives an animal a fair or sporting chance to escape. Most of Pennsylvania's hunting laws are based on this tradition, he said.
"It (drones) gives hunters an unfair advantage in using modern technology in a way it was never intended to be used," said Heidi Prescott, an official with The Humane Society of the United States. The society supports the intent of Gergely's proposal and is waiting to see how the introduced bill looks.
Mullery is also interested in Gergely's bill.
Pennsylvania laws make it illegal to harass hunters, said Travis Lau, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Game Commission. The Senate bill would provide some more clarity, he added.