By Mark Heinz, outdoors reporter
Flying a drone near enough to private property to interfere with the owner’s “enjoyment” of the property would be a form of trespassing in Wyoming, under a draft bill forwarded this week by the Legislature’s Joint Judiciary committee.
Just how close would be too close for drone flight might be broadly open to interpretation, some members of the committee noted. Also, there should be some exceptions made for drones performing work – such as checking power lines for damage.
City Vs. Country
The draft bill is one of a few drone-related measures the Legislature will consider during its 2023 session. Some others forwarded by the Judiciary committee included a draft bill making it illegal for drones to peer into, or deliver contraband, to jails and prisons. Another would clarify the definition of “unmanned aircraft” as it relates to drones being used to harass wildlife or illegally scout for game, either before or during hunting season.
The drone trespassing draft bill aims to curb drones disrupting people’s work or leisure, or violating their privacy on their own property.
“A person is guilty of trespass by small unmanned aircraft if the person causes a small unmanned aircraft to enter into the immediate reaches of the airspace over the private property of a landowner and the entry substantially interferes with the landowner’s or his authorized occupant’s use and enjoyment of the land,” the draft said.
Some committee members noted that “immediate reaches of airspace” might be reasonably easy to determine on rural properties. But it could get murky in towns and cities, where people’s yards are right next to each other.
“Is the drone over your property, or is it your neighbor’s property, or is it an easement?” committee member Art Washut, R-Casper, said.
People could also operate drones from concealed positions in towns, making it difficult to catch aerial trespassers, Washut said.
“Unless you can capture the drone, how do you catch who is manning it?” he said.
Police departments in Wyoming could get flooded with calls from anybody who thought a drone was irritating them, Washut said.
However, that’s not likely to happen, said committee member Rep. Ember Oakley, R-Riverton. It would be no different than calls police already get for matters such as vandalism.
“It’s what law enforcement does,” she said.
Exceptions For Commercial Use
Committee members agreed that there should be exceptions made for commercial drones. That could include those used to photograph or video property damage for insurance claims. Drones are also frequently used by utility companies to check for damage on infrastructure such as gas lines and power lines.
A drone on an inspection flight along a power line across a farm or ranch shouldn’t be a problem, Brett Moline told the committee over Zoom. He’s the director of public and governmental affairs for the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation.
“We (farmers and ranchers) would rather see them using drones to inspect lines than have them driving through our pastures,” he said.