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Lawmakers Pass Bill To Crack Down On Drones Over Wildfires

Utah Lawmakers approved a bill that gives fire regulators the right to disable drones flying over wildland firefighting operations. 

Utah Governor Gary Herbert called a special session Wednesday, in part to address the ongoing problem of drones interfering with wildfire management efforts. House Bill 3003 permits fire officials to shoot down or otherwise “neutralize” an unmanned aircraft if it’s in an area that’s under a temporary flight restriction or designated wildland fire scene. Republican Representative Don Ipson sponsored the bill.

“For the five or six times that the drones have been cited, we haven’t been able to find anybody operating them,” Ipson said. “The important thing I think in this legislation is the ability to neutralize it whether we catch the guy or not. We at least get it out of the sky and go on with our business.”

Airplanes and helicopters are used to support the efforts of firefighters on the ground. But drones often force fire managers to temporarily shut down operations.

The state legislature passed a law during the 2016 general session making it a misdemeanor to fly drones over wildfires. It went into effect just two months ago. This bill doubles the fine. Republican Representative Brian Greene voted against the bill for that reason.

“If we are concerned about safety then by all means, let’s include a provision to neutralize a drone,” Greene said. “But let’s not overreact and enhance penalties that have not yet been implemented and enforced a single time.”

Several unauthorized drones were spotted over the Saddle Fire that continues to burn in Washington County.  

Whittney Evans grew up southern Ohio and has worked in public radio since 2005. She has a communications degree from Morehead State University in Morehead, Kentucky, where she learned the ropes of reporting, producing and hosting. Whittney moved to Utah in 2009 where she became a reporter, producer and morning host at KCPW. Her reporting ranges from the hyper-local issues affecting Salt Lake City residents, to state-wide issues of national interest. Outside of work, she enjoys playing the guitar and getting to know the breathtaking landscape of the Mountain West.
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