Creative hunters beware: hunting with UAVs won't fly

The Regina Leader-Post
February 13, 2014
By The Regina Leader-Post
Feb. 13, 2014, Regina - Using an unmanned aerial vehicle to stalk wild game in Saskatchewan isn't just unethical in the eyes of hunters, it's also against the law.

"It's against everything we're taught when we take hunter's safety, and the ethics of hunting," Darrell Crabbe, executive director of the Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation, said.

By attaching a camera to a drone, hunters can locate their prey from the air. The devices can even be used to move animals from one area to another.

"Of course, with every new technology people try to take advantage and break the rules with it," Crabbe said.

Using drones for hunting has recently become an issue in the United States. Many feel the devices give hunters an unfair advantage, flouting the concept of fair chase.

Section 47 of the province's wildlife regulations states aircraft can't be used to hunt or spot wildlife. To ensure it was staying on top of technology trends, the ministry reviewed its hunting regulations six months ago, after the state of Colorado began examining the use of drones.

Because Transport Canada considers the drones, known as UAVs, to be aircraft, the government feels its legislation is already up to date.

"If you're flying it for any purposes it is considered an aircraft, and as such then, our regulations speak to the fact that it's illegal to use an aircraft to hunt or spot wildlife," Brent Bitter, manager of spatial information management and modelling for the Ministry of Environment, said.

Bitter said the ministry's conservation officers have had no reports of drones being used for hunting in the province. Hunters who use aircraft could find themselves in court facing fines ranging from $100 to $10,000, or a maximum fine of $100,000.

Across the border, Saskatchewan's neighbouring states are also dealing with drones. Unlike the province, they've opted to reword their hunting regulations. Although aircraft can't be used for hunting in North Dakota, the state felt the growing availability of UAVs made it necessary to change the wording of regulations so that UAVs are specifically prohibited.

"If you can't do it with a manned aircraft, we're not going to let you do it with an unmanned one," Robert Timian, chief game warden for North Dakota's game and fish department, said.

Brian Hoffart, president of the Outfitters Association of Saskatchewan, said he hasn't heard of anyone in the province using drones for hunting. However, if it's happened in the U.S., there's a chance it can happen in Saskatchewan, he said.

"Usually (when) something happens down there, we're pretty quick to follow because hunting is a fairly tight fraternity," he said.

That's not to say UAVs don't have good uses. The Wildlife Federation has researched using them for habitat mapping, while the Ministry of Environment is currently testing UAVs for taking aerial photos of environmentally sensitive areas, or for use during emergencies such as chemical spills. "They are potentially going to be a great tool that we can use, but with that again comes people that want to use them for all the wrong reasons," Crabbe said.

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