April 22–SHAMOKIN — Three bills banning the use of unmanned aircraft from disturbing law-abiding hunters and fishers have been introduced in the state Legislature.
Two bills were introduced April 7 in the state Senate and a third in the state House March 12.
All three seek to define what constitutes a drone and amend already existing legislation to prevent use of such technology to intentionally spook fish and wildlife.
It’s a tactic popularized by animal rights activists including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which sells an Air Angels Drone on its website for $324.99.
Described as a “hobby drone,” its users are encouraged to monitor hunters engaged in illegal activity with straight-to-phone video technology — drinking while possessing a firearm, using spotlights and feed lures, injuring animals and failing to pursue them. Users are instructed to share the videos with law enforcement.
PETA promoted the drones in October at the start of bow hunting season in Massachusetts. That state’s laws also make it illegal to interfere with lawful hunting and fishing activities.
The Senate proposals were introduced by state Sen. Richard A. Kasunic, D-32, of Western Pennsylvania. Those are separate proposals for hunting and fishing. The House bill includes both hobbies.
If the Senate versions are adopted, a first offense would be a summary and a second offense a misdemeanor. Maximum penalties sought are $3,000 in fines and up to 180 days in jail.
Kasunic’s chief of staff, Will Dando, is executive director of the senate’s fish and game committee. He said the legislation doesn’t specifically target PETA. It does target the unlawful disruption of the “time-honored tradition” of hunting and fishing in Pennsylvania, Dando said.
“If you’re hunting or fishing and have purchased a license lawfully, it’s (Kasunic’s) opinion that you deserve the right to not have your game disturbed,” Dando said Monday.
Travis Lau, press secretary for the Pennsylvania Game Commission, is unaware of any in-state examples of drones used to disrupt hunting. He said the commission is often tasked to review and share its opinion on the lawfulness of evolving technology used in hunting wildlife.
“It might be a necessary update for that matter,” Lau said of adding language outlawing the use of drones to disturb hunting and fishing to existing laws.
State Sen. John Gordner, R-27, cosponsored the bipartisan legislation in the Senate. He pointed out that Kasunic was the chairman of the senate’s fish and game committee when his predecessor, former state Sen. Edward Helfrick, was committee chairman.
Gordner said the proposed amendments modernize legislation to keep up with modernized technology, pointing to the use of drones in Massachusetts that have no other purpose than to “interfere and distract from otherwise lawful activity.”
“Good laws sometimes have to be amended to address evolving technology,” Gordner said Monday. “If no one was doing it, then we wouldn’t have to be concerned about it.”
Illinois adopted a law this year similar to the Pennsylvania proposals. Idaho and Wisconsin as well, according to Fox News.
But according to the International Business Times, an attorney for the PETA foundation believes such laws have no bearing on the group’s Air Angles Drone. Jared Goodman told the online publication in January that the laws, or proposed law in Pennsylvania’s case, prohibits interfering with “lawful” hunting activities. PETA’s drones are meant to monitor “illegal” hunting activities, according to the article.
“If these drones are used as intended and as advertised by PETA, neither the wildlife nor the hunters will be disturbed,” Goodman told the International Business Times. “It’s simply to capture illegal activity.”
Lau, the game commission press secretary, said another bill is pending in the state Legislature that would outlaw the use of drones in the hunting, tracking and harvesting of wild game. Alaska adopted such law earlier this month, Montana in March and Colorado in January, according to Fox News, which said hunting groups in Wyoming, New Mexico and Vermont have asked that those states’ wildlife officials seek to do the same.