Committee temporarily grounds drone bill

PIERRE – A bill that would allow hunters to use drones to spot predators was put on hold Thursday by the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee as its members worked on amendments.

Rep. Lee Qualm, R-Platte, explained that HB1073 would allow hunters to use drones to spot coyote dens.

“There are a lot of our farmers and ranchers who deal with predators,” Qualm said. 

Tony Leif, director of the Wildlife Division at the Department of Game, Fish and Parks, said the department thought the bill was a “reasonable exception to the prohibition on using aircraft” to hunt animals.

Leif explained that the drones could only be used to spot animals. It’s illegal to use drones to move or disturb game animals.

If the bill is approved, Leif said his department would make the proper arrangements with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure that the state law complied with the Federal Airborne Hunting Act.

According to the bill, the use of drones would be allowed from January through September and again in December. Leif said cutting out October and November would keep hunters from being tempted to use drones during the big game seasons.

Chris Hesla, representing the South Dakota Wildlife Federation, asked that the bill be amended to prohibit the use of drones on public lands which are already heavily hunted.

“It would just create another conflict,” Hesla said.

Another amendment was proposed by Sen. Deb Soholt, R-Sioux Falls, who asked if September could be struck from the months when drones would be allowed. September is the month for big game hunting by archers.

Qualm said he would consider both as friendly amendments. The committee will meet again on Feb. 12 to reconsider the bill with its amendments.

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