By Josh Lepchitz, Associate Technical & Public Relations Editor

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), better known as drones, have made a big splash into culture recently. John Oliver tackled the issue of drones being used for aerial attacks on enemy combatants, and the makers of South Park raised questions as to to privacy issues that surround drones for personal use as well as taking on a few other issues.[1] Drones, especially for the hobbyist sector, are becoming incredibly popular and widely available. Economic forecasters predict that over the next decade the drone industry will generate over $82,000,000,000.00 and create over 100,000 well paying jobs.[2] According to Mike Blades, a senior analyst for Frost & Sullivan specializing in aerospace and defense, over $720,000,000 was spent world wide in 2014 alone.[3] The driving force behind these numbers is not the military or government market but the everyday consumers.[4] Drones available for consumer purchase range in price from under $100 to several thousands of dollars. It should be plain to see that the drones on the lower end of the price spectrum do not have the range, capabilities, or durability of the more expensive UAVs, but technology and consumer demand are growing at an extremely rapid rate. An apt analogy would be to compare this budding technology and its market to that of cellular phones. It would not be unreasonable; in the near future to see extremely technologically advanced drones for a reasonable price, no different than the cell phone you currently have in your pocket at this moment. This issues that arise with controlling advanced recording, and streaming devices are plentiful, especially privacy concerns, but a growing concern is how will this technology effect wildlife?

Drones aren’t only capable of harassing human populations but they are also capable of tracking and harassing animal populations as well, and it has not gone unnoticed. As of today Colorado, and Montana have statutes, and regulatory laws that make the act of using of drones to aid in hunting a criminal offense, and Michigan, Wyoming, and Arizona are amongst some of the other states likely to join them in the near future.[5] There is a push on a national scale, but for the majority of states no laws are on the books other than the standard FAA regulations.[6] Even the rules promulgated by the FAA are minimal at this point. Under the FAA there are two categories of drone flights, commercial and non-commercial[7]. Under the FAA commercial flights are banned but a Federal Court in Parker v. Huerta could overturn that.[8] When it comes to non-commercial flying of drones the only regulations made by the FAA are that the pilot must stay away from flight-controlled airspace such as airports, stay under 400 feet, stay within the line of sight of the operator, and stay away from crowds.[9] This leaves a lot of wiggle room for a “sportsman” to track, or flush out large game making it easier to bag his trophy. It also makes hunting much easier for poachers, unlicensed hunters, and out of season hunters. Being able to quickly find a trophy animal, get to the location of the animal, make their kill, and extract their trophy before proper authorities can prevent the illegal activity. Now it is unfair to think that all hunting enthusiast would take advantage of such a situation but it is reasonable to think that some would.

While some states have been taking the option of banning drones for the aid of hunting other countries, and even some state conservation agencies have taken a separate approach and began to utilize drones in their operations. Alaskan conservationist have been using drones to track and count endangered species such a as polar bears, as well as using the technology to keep a watchful eye on the the various species.[10] Similar programs have sprung up in African nations to protect species and prevent poaching.[11] Drones also provide a way for biologist and ecologist to observe the animals from a safer, less intrusive distance and aid in the expansion of their knowledge base.

It seems that no matter how they are being used, either for noble or illicit reasons, drones are going to be a growing part of our culture and seem to be infiltrating in so many facets of life ranging from agriculture to spectator sports. Just like cell phones, it is likely that they will become such a fixture in everyday life that a federal regulatory agency, maybe the FAA, will have to take a firm step forward and establish some governance on how drones are used. Until then it seems as if states are in control of the issue and only a select few seem to be addressing the full spectrum of issues that can arise from drones and their usage.

[1] Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO television broadcast Sept. 28, 2014) available at, South Park: The Magic Bush (Comedy Central television broadcast Oct. 29, 2014) available at

[2] Clay Dillow, What is the drone industry really worth?, Fortune (March 12, 2013, 6:09 PM)

[3] Barbara Booth, Is it time to buy your kid a drone for Christomas?, CNBC (Dec. 22, 2014, 9:27 AM),

[4] Clay Dillow, Get ready for ‘Drone Nation’, Fortune (Oct. 8, 2014, 3:58 PM)

[5] Michael R. Shea, The Drone Report: Do Unmanned Aerial Systems Hae a Place in Hunting and Fishing?, Field and Stream, Kathleen Gray, Bills making using drones to hunt a crime, Detroit Free Press (March 25, 2014, 7:17 PM)

[6] Id

[7] Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Operational Approval, Notice N8900.227, U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration, July 30, 2013, available at

[8] Kevin Robillard, Judge strikes down small drones ban, Politco Pro (March 6, 2014)

[9] Supra note 7.

[10] Crispin Andrews, Drone-Powered Wildlife Conservation is Taking Off in Alaska, Earth Touch News Network (June 18, 2014)

[11] Piyush Jain, Drones Keep Wildlife Alive with Air Shepard Program, Clapway (March 25, 2015) – photograph source.