In a crucial time for large mammals such as elk, a drone operator launched his unmanned aircraft into the sky and flew over a wintering herd of elk on the National Elk Refuge in Wyoming.

As the state of Wyoming has been plagued with more than twice as much snowfall this season, elk, deer, and other wildlife in the western states need to conserve resources to survive.

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As the drone flew over the wintering herd, panic immediately ensued, causing approximately 1,500 elk to scatter in a hurry, dispersing for nearly ½ mile.  It was later discovered that the drone was not registered through the Federal Aviation Administration.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Federal Wildlife Officers were immediately on site and issued a ticket to David A. Smart, 45, of Washington, DC in the amount of $280.  The accused is also subject to possible federal charges of disturbing wildlife, which alone can result in fines of upwards of $5,000.

Drone use on the National Elk Refuge has been sporadic, explained Deputy Refuge Manager Cris Dippel. “We’ve had a number of reports in the last few years, especially on the Refuge Road and near the sleigh ride area,” he explained.  Previous incidents have usually involved wildlife, including elk and bighorn sheep, and included other infractions such as trespassing.

Long winters, especially during heavy snow years like the current one in the Jackson Hole valley, can take a toll on wildlife. Repeated disturbances from human activity can stress animals and impact their health and survival. “There are plenty of wildlife viewing opportunities for people on the National Elk Refuge during the winter,” Dippel added. “We ask people to do use caution and good wildlife ethics while viewing and photographing animals.”

The National Elf Refuge provides vital winter habitat for the Jackson Elk Herd as well as additional species such as birds, fish, and other big game species.


Feature Image:  National Elk Refuge