Drone Flyer Fined for Causing Stampede at National Elk Refuge

A Washington, D.C., man was recently ticketed and fined for an incident at the National Elk Refuge in which he allegedly caused a stampede of elk while piloting a drone.

National Elk Refuge

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the unnamed man was cited for illegally using an "unmanned aircraft system," or drone, and for disturbing wildlife.

In a press release, the agency said that man flew the drone over a wintering herd of elk, which reportedly created enough of a disturbance to cause around 1,500 elk to stampeded for about a half-mile inside the Wyoming refuge.

The Associated Press said the man was fined $280; disturbing wildlife can result in up to a $5,000 fine.

In addition to creating a wildlife disturbance, the drone was not registered through the Federal Aviation Administration, the wildlife agency said.

According to the agency:

Policies regarding use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems may vary between land management agencies. Drone operators are required to familiarize themselves with and comply with all applicable restrictions in the areas where they are flying. Drones are especially dangerous when used near wildfires, which frequently occur on federal lands. They can interfere with wildland fire air traffic, such as air tankers, helicopters, and other aircraft used to suppress wildland fires. Forty-one wildland fire drone incursions were reported in 2016, resulting in a range of actions including grounding aircraft, canceling flights, and diverting aerial resources to other locations.

Long winters, especially during heavy snow years like the current one in the Jackson Hole valley, can take a toll on wildlife, officials say, and repeated human disturbances can cause stress and impact health and survival of animals.

national elk refuge

"There are plenty of wildlife viewing opportunities for people on the National Elk Refuge during the winter," Deputy Refuge Manager Cris Dippel. added. "We ask people to do use caution and good wildlife ethics while viewing and photographing animals."

General guidance and policies regarding the use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems can be found on the Federal Aviation Administration's web site at https://www.faa.gov/uas/.

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