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Like it or Not, Here Come the Drones

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Picture this: a hunter is stalking a herd of elk, but they disappear in the timber. He has no idea where they are. He lifts a small camera-equipped drone out of his belt holster, activates it, and sends it up over the trees. The tiny aircraft transmits video back to him, or he retrieves it when it lands, and he spots the elk in the footage. With that knowledge, he continues his stalk to the unseen animals.

Fair? Ethical? In my opinion, not at all. Not even close. Many states agree, and several have already outlawed the use of drones when hunting. Alaska, Montana, and Idaho were among the first to ban the tiny aircraft. The prestigious Boone and Crockett Club, America's oldest conservation organization, recently passed a new rule, stating that the use of a drone when hunting will disqualify a trophy animal that otherwise might be eligible for the record book.

drone2HOW POPULAR? The interest in drones is booming nationwide. Technology continues to improve every day due to the public demand. You can buy a drone for a child for $20, and you can purchase one equipped with a camera for less than $60. More expensive models allow more bells and whistles. Remember B&H photo in New York City? When I was buying film and cameras years ago, that company was one of my favorites with great prices and a variety of products. Check out what's hot in their catalog now. Drones, dozen and dozens of models.

PROBLEMS. Many incidents of drone use have been in the national spotlight recently. One crashed near the White House. Another went down in a popular geyser pool in Yellowstone Park, and the owner was fined several thousand dollars. There have been near misses with airplanes near airports . There were concerns that drones would be active over the Super Bowl game, endangering people in the stands. A reputable report states that drones will be as common as cell phones in 10 years.

POSITIVE BENEFITS? Are there positive aspects of drones? Sure. As crazy as it sounds, Amazon is seriously pursuing an idea of using them to bring a package to your doorstep. That would solve all sorts of delivery issues when perfected. You can use drones to offer a new aerial perspective for a variety of family activities. Amazing footage of outdoor scenes from an aerial view can be obtained, such as sending the drone up over a bubbling creek, or filming a beaver cutting down a tree, or filming an osprey nest from high above.

LAW ENFORCEMENT. There are law enforcement advantages as well, such as sending a drone out to look for patches of marijuana in the wild, observing a house containing possible suspects, and a myriad of other purposes. A game warden can use a drone to observe possible violators who are suspected of keeping too many fish, or checking a hunting camp to see what critters are hanging in trees. Then too, farmers can use them to map their crops, foresters can use them to monitor wildfires in remote areas, and so on.

PERSONAL PRIVACY. But what about the negatives from the standpoint of personal privacy? For example, if you've wondered what goes on at the swimming pool behind your neighbor's six foot high fence, you might send up a drone and check it out. But is it legal? Not in Texas. New laws have been enacted to protect a person's privacy. Other states are considering similar legislation. In Oklahoma, legislators are considering a law where it could be legal to shoot a drone down over your property.

A woman in southern Maryland thought it was cute when her nephew filmed the property from high above, but when he maneuvered it just outside the window she was watching from, she became concerned. She was a member of a group of farming representatives and met with state legislators to consider laws that would restrict drones over private property without the owner's consent. Said one surveillance expert, "drones make it possible to invade privacy without trespassing.

PROTECTING YOUR PROPERTY. An on-line organization goes so far as to offer people free registration for protecting their privacy. You sign up with your address, the organization records your address and GPS location in a database, and coordinates with participating drone manufacturers to automatically prevent drones from flying over your property.

SHOOT IT DOWN? I like the Oklahoma law being considered by legislators -- shoot down a drone if it's hovering over your house. But that can pose new problems. Suppose it crashed and hurt someone. Suppose the bullet or spent shot injured someone on the ground. Obviously, this is a complicated issue.

The Obama administration is now working with FAA to come up with guidelines. One thing is for sure -- drones aren't going away.

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