(The Center Square) – Entrepreneur Mike Yoder wants to use drones to find downed hunting game.
But a 2015 Michigan law threatens fines of up to $1,000 and 90 days in prison for using drone-assisted “hunting,” which the Michigan Department of Natural Resources interprets to include using drones to locate downed game, even after the hunter has stored his weapons.
The red tape threatens Yoder’s company called Drone Deer Recovery Media, which wants to become the “Uber” of the drone industry.
Yoder filed a federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan to challenge a statute the Department of Natural Resources interpreted to ban the use of drones to locate already downed game as a replacement for a hunting dog.
“Drone Deer Recovery is providing a valuable service that is less environmentally intrusive and more humane than alternatives, yet Michigan is stretching the law to ban it,” Pacific Legal Foundation attorney Donna Matias said in a statement. “The Constitution protects Mike’s First Amendment rights to create and disseminate information collected by the drones and his customers’ right to receive it.”
Yoder started his company after seeing a Wisconsin hunter use a drone for game recovery and observing realtors use aerial photography. He says using a drone to find the downed game was far less environmentally disruptive than tracking dogs or trail cameras.
The lawsuit says Yoder and his company have a First Amendment right to collect and provide information regarding the location of downed game, and that Drone Deer Recovery customers, including lifelong Michigan hunter Jeremy Funke, have a right to receive that information. By interpreting the law to include a ban on these activities, the agency violates the free speech rights of Yoder’s company and its customers.
The Department of Natural Resources hasn’t yet responded to a request for comment about why the law exists. The law likely exists to prohibit people from using drones to track deer and kill them, which doesn’t align with the sport of hunting.
States such as Missouri, Iowa, Kansas and Pennsylvania prohibit a similar use of drones – all states in which Yoder wants to expand.
After the state enacted the drone restrictions, in 2016, the state started its drone program and by 2020, the Department of Natural Resources’ Forest Resources Division boasted seven licensed pilots and 10 drones of different sizes and capabilities, the lawsuit says.
The law appears to negate Michigan’s spending on technology, such as spending $1.2 million on mobility services and Michigan’s government mobility sector spending nearly $65,000 attending a three-day event called EcoMotion Week 2023 in Israel from May 22-24.
While the government uses drones to assess forest health, search for wildlife, and analyze traffick, Yoder can’t communicate information to his customers, like Funke, want, nor expand operations and entrepreneurship into Michigan.
The Michigan Supreme Court is also weighing a decision on whether the government can use drones to surveil private property without a warrant and then use that evidence in court for zoning violations.