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Man fined for starting stampede at National Elk Refuge with drone


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STAR VALLEY, Wyoming — It has been a wild calendar year for Western Wyoming National Parks with tourists doing things that have made international headlines. From a man placing a bison calf in his SUV, to a group of Canadians tromping over delicate areas, to a man being dissolved completely after he fell into a boiling hot spring, Yellowstone and the surrounding areas have had their hands full.

Now the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has issued a ticket this week for the illegal use of a drone on the National Elk Refuge. According to a press release from the National Elk Refuge, a Washington, D.C. resident was cited and fined of disturbance of wildlife.

According to provided information, “the drone operator launched his equipment from a pullout along North Highway 89 and flew the UAS over a wintering herd of elk. The action created enough disruption to cause approximately 1,500 animals to bolt and run, dispersing the herd for nearly ½ mile. The animals, which had been resting along Flat Creek, scattered as far east as Miller Butte. In addition to creating a wildlife disturbance, the drone was not registered through the Federal Aviation Administration.”

The fine for such a disturbance can reach up to $5,000 although this fine was reported at $268.00.

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 use caution and good wildlife ethics while viewing and photographing animals.”

This article was originally published by the Star Valley Independent. It is used here with permission.