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Montana politics, elections and legislative news.

Montana Sportsmen Push Bill To Ban Aerial Drones

Sunday, aerial firefighters working on the Rice Ridge Fire were forced to ground their planes after a drone was spotted flying over the fire. This is the third time this summer that drones have interfered with firefighting on the Lolo National Forest.

The security detail at the White House aren’t the only people worrying about encounters with small aerial drones. Some of Montana’s sportsmen want limits placed on the popular flying machines.

Todd Eames from Billings says he and his brothers were fishing when he realized that someone, possibly from a nearby ranch, was watching him.

“I looked up and about ten feet above my head was aerial drone," said Eames. "And it had a camera suspended in the middle of it, and it sat there and watched me for probably fifteen minutes. It was odd, because you’re in the middle of a river in the middle of a forest and all of the sudden there’s a drone.”

So Eames called his state Senator Jeff Essmann who wrote a bill making it illegal to use a unmanned aerial vehicle to harass or photograph anyone legally hunting or fishing.

The bill drew lots of support from sporting groups at a committee hearing Tuesday, but John Macdonald of the Montana Newspaper Association reminded lawmakers that banning photography of someone in a public place raises first amendment issues.

“When you are engaged in a public activity and hunting is a public activity, or you are in public, there is no expectation of privacy in a situation like that."

Other witnesses mentioned that control of public airspace belongs to the FAA, not the state. A somewhat embarrassed Essman told the Fish Wildlife and Parks Committee the bill is a work in progress.

“I’m not gonna stand here and tell you you need to pass this thing without amendments."

The committee will decide later whether to amend the bill or just let it crash and burn.

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