Wyoming Legislature 2023: Drones, Colorado River Protection High On List

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By Mark Heinz, Outdoors Reporter
Mark@CowboyStateDaily.com

Drones shouldn’t be used to give hunters an unfair edge or snoop into other people’s private spaces, according to bills warming up in the bullpen for the 67th meeting of the Wyoming Legislature, which begins next week.

Lawmakers also will consider whether to form a Colorado River Authority board, charged with conserving and protecting Wyoming’s water rights along tributaries to the Colorado River. 

Keep Drones Out Of Private Places

Flying a drone too close to private property would be considered trespassing under Senate File 34.

Flying “small, unmanned aircraft” close enough to someone else’s property to disrupt their “enjoyment of the land” would qualify as trespassing and be punishable by a $750 fine, according to the bill. 

The bill stemmed from concerns that drone flights interfe with peoples’ peace and privacy, particularly in rural areas, according to earlier testimony before the Legislature’s Joint Judiciary Committee. 

The measure should provide exceptions for the commercial use of drones, such as checking power lines, legislators said. 

Some also raised concern that the bill could be too arbitrary in urban areas. It was argued that people might try to claim that somebody flying a drone over their own yard, but visible from neighbors’ yards, amounts to trespassing.

Done Use Not Fair To Game Animals

A similar bill, SF 33, would clarify that drones would qualify as “aircraft” under Wyoming hunting regulations.

It’s already illegal to use aircraft to harass or search for big game animals in Wyoming during hunting seasons. The bill would include drones in the definition of “aircraft” in that regard. 

Aircraft cannot be used to spot or “scout” for game between Aug. 1 and Jan. 31, according to Wyoming Game and Fish hunting regulations. That’s based on the principle that it violates the ethics of “fair chase.”

Fair chase is based on the principle of not using any device or method of hunting that will eliminate game animals’ reasonable chance of escape. 

Guarding Wyoming’s Water

Another major public lands and resources issue that will be discussed by the Legislature is protecting Wyoming from downriver demand on the Colorado River. 

Under House Bill 60, a Colorado River Authority board would be appointed to protect the state’s water rights on tributaries to the Colorado River that flow through Wyoming.

Wyoming is a member of the Colorado River Compact, which includes several other states, as well as Mexico. Wyoming is home some of the Colorado River’s key headwaters. 

There have been concerns that a growing drought and water crisis downstream will have reverberating effects for the Cowboy State

Under the bill, the Colorado River Authority would include members from counties along the upper Green River, lower Green River and Little Snake River basins. They would be appointed by county commissions in Sublette, Lincoln, Sweetwater, Uinta and Carbon counties. 

The state engineer, a liaison from the governor’s office and an at-large member appointed by the governor also would be included. 

The board’s mission would be “to protect, conserve, use and develop Wyoming’s waters in the Colorado River system,” according to the bill.

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