Irresponsible use of drones is causing problems for wildlife, say some state officials.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission has a new kind of wildlife problem.
People are increasingly using drone to get close – often too close – to wildlife.
Tom Grohol, chief of the commission’s bureau of wildlife protection, pointed out that in one recent weekend at the agency’s Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area in Lancaster County, four different people flew drones into a waterfowl propagation area. It’s closed to entry to give waterfowl a quiet place to breed.
That same weekend, a drone operator used his craft to try and get close-up photos of an eagle on a nest in York County, Grohol said.
“And it’s only going to get worse,” he added.
Commission regulations aimed at keeping people from disturbing wildlife can be used to prosecute such cases, Grohol said. Three of the four drone operators at Middle Creek got citations, he noted.
But the commission wants to make it abundantly clear to the public that drones can’t be used to “harass” wildlife.
At their meeting in Harrisburg on April 4-5, Game Commissioners will be asked to give preliminary approval to a regulation change that makes it illegal to “operate an unmanned aerial vehicle of any size, design or specification for any purpose whatsoever over lands or waters designated as state game lands.”
“So game lands will be a no-fly zone,” said commissioner Dave Putnam of Centre County.
That’s right, Grohol said.
The commission has rules that say, for example, it’s illegal to get within 200 yards of an eagle’s nest. But people who wouldn’t walk that close to a nest don’t understand flying a drone in is as bad or worse, Grohol said.
“I really think we need to make the public aware we’re addressing drones specifically,” he said.
Commissioner Jim Daley if Cranberry voiced one concern. Currently, a lot of the gas companies that have pipelines across state game lands inspect them via drone, he said.
He asked if they will be prohibited from doing that work that way.
The answer, Grohol said, is no. They can apply for a special use permit that would cover that, he said.
The regulation is aimed at those who fly drones recreationally and, intentionally or not, harm wildlife, said deputy director for administration Bryan Burhans. He said such use “doesn’t really mesh with our mission at all.”