House Mistakenly Passes Bill That Would Allow Drones to Fire Bullets at Wolves, Other Wildlife Predators

Measure relaxes earlier prohibitions on use of unmanned aircraft in Oregon skies but is expected to be amended in Senate.

(Provided by Oregon Wild)

The Oregon House yesterday passed House Bill 3047, which explicitly expands the permitted use of drones in Oregon airspace and, according to the bill summary, allows the "use of unmanned aircraft system capable of firing bullet or projectile."

In previous sessions, acting on concerns that drones were invading people's privacy and potentially being used as weapons, Rep. John Huffman (R-The Dalles) sponsored legislation prohibiting the use of a drone "as a dangerous weapon."

But this session's bill, sponsored by Huffman, would loosen some of those restrictions, allowing drones that fire bullets or other projectiles, provided the user gives prior notice to the Oregon State Police and Department of Aviation. The bill sailed through the House by a 50 to six margin yesterday.

In earlier testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, proponents advanced a number of possible uses for drones firing projectiles—setting fires preemptively to help battle the state's increasingly common forest fires (a job now done with helicopters); propelling safety equipment or emergency supplies to people lost in the wilderness or trapped in burning buildings; inoculating cows; aiding arborists climbing trees; and controlling wildlife predators, such as wolves and coyotes.

“I have envisioned a potential solution to Oregon’s current dispute
between ranchers, wolves and environmentalists concerning wolves and other wildlife predation on livestock which would use [drones] that could detect and deploy non-lethal projectiles or countermeasures appeasing the end goals of all stake holders,” said Jon Linthwaite, of ODIN Aerial, a Silverton drone company on April 10.
A few lawmakers expressed concernes that HB 3047’s allowing drones to fire bullets opened dangerous loopholes.
Rep. David Gomberg (D-Otis) was one of just a few people who voted against the bill on the House floor yesterday.

"The presentation on the floor wasn't clear and when it looked like there was some potential to use these devices for hunting or predator control, I wasn't comfortable and voted 'no,'" Gomberg tells WW. "I spoke later to the sponsor [Huffman] and understand there's going to be an effort to address such concerns on the Senate side."

Related: Oregon wolf population growth stagnates after wolves lose endangered species protection.

Rep. Paul Evans (D-Salem) questioned Huffman on the floor, asking whether the bill would allow drones to shoot bullets. Huffman replied that it would not—a seeming contradiction of the bill’s plain language.
After the vote and further questions from Gomberg and others, Huffman says he realized he’d made a mistake.
“In the draft, I just didn’t catch that it said a bullet is an acceptable use,” Huffman says. “There was never intention of having the word ‘bullet’ in there. It will be taken out on the Senate side. We are still committed to prohibiting the weaponization of drones.”

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