SANTA FE, N.M.—New Mexico is a no-drone zone.
This week, the state’s Game Commission, in a 6-0 vote, passed “a prohibition against the use drones to harass wildlife and a prohibition against using drones to take or assist in hunting protected wildlife.”
“It was a growing problem,” said Bill Montoya, the vice chairman of the commission.
Under the new rule, “drones can’t be used for looking for game, locating it, seeing where they are,” Montoya said.
“We’ve got what we call fair chase, and I think we’re getting to the point where using drones and so forth doesn’t give the animals a chance,” he added. “It’s not sportsmanlike.”
Using drones for hunting may not be widely used, but hunters in New Mexico say they’re seeing it more often.
Oscar Simpson, of the New Mexico chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, points to one example from fall 2013, when a trophy bull elk was taken down by hunters using drones in the Cruces Basin Wilderness, near the Colorado border.
“A guy used a remote-controlled drone to move a big bull elk down to where they were and shot it,” Simpson said. “Three accounts of that happened in New Mexico. … They’re harassing animals and it’s not fair chase.”
Under the prohibition, hunters caught with drones face fines ranging from $50 to $500 dollars but can risk getting their license revoked and getting vehicles and weapons confiscated as well, depending on the severity of the infraction.
For those who may try to skirt the law, field colonel Robert Griego of the New Mexico Game and Fish Deparetment said, “Be careful. We have lots of sportsmen who believe very strongly in fair chase and they’ll report ‘em.”
“It’s hard to regulate the technology, but this is a very good idea,” Simpson said.
New Mexico now becomes the fourth state in the nation to ban drones for hunting, joining Alaska, Colorado and Montana.
Just last week, officials at the National Park Service sent a policy memorandum to its 401 park superintendents banning the launching, landing or operation of unmanned aircraft. The move was partly inspired after volunteers at Zion National Park in Utah saw a group of people using a drone to buzz desert bighorn sheep, causing younger sheep to get separated from their herd.
“It began a few years ago and it had been growing, so we just don’t want to see it be used as an everyday thing when you’re hunting,” Montoya said.