Remote-Controlled Electric Aircraft in California Reserves?

Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area (Photo by Robert Sahara)

Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area (Photo by Robert Sahara)

Question: I am a conservation advocate and an avid wildlife photographer. Over the last several years, I have been photographing birds and landscape views of Southern California’s wildlife areas. I am interested in expanding this documentation with video, and in particular aerial video taken from a remote-controlled electric helicopter. While I am very aware of the need to not disturb or harass local wildlife, I am wondering if there are regulations that restrict or prohibit the use of RC-aircraft in or around the perimeter of ecological reserves and conservation areas? (Bill K.)

Answer: There is no general prohibition against using radio-controlled “vehicles” in wildlife areas (California Code of Regulations Title 14, section 550). However, in ecological reserves, prohibitions against: 1) disturbing any bird, mammal, etc.; 2) operating vehicles; and 3) operating any type of aircraft or hovercraft without permission may apply (CCR Title 14, sections 630(a)(1) & (a)(4) and (a)(17)). There is also a provision that prohibits the use of any motorized, hot-air, or unpowered aircraft or other device capable of flight or any earth orbiting imaging device to locate or assist in locating big game mammals beginning 48 hours before and continuing 48 hours after any big game hunting season in the same area (CCR Title 14, section 251(a)). In addition, a permit could be required if there are concerns your aircraft will “ … herd or drive… or disrupt animal’s normal behavior patterns, which includes, but is not limited to breeding, feeding or sheltering …”

Under federal regulations, this may be illegal if you are using the video for any commercial purpose.  “Under current federal aviation rules, using unmanned aircraft — what commonly are referred to as drones — for commercial purposes is prohibited in the United States.”

Please contact the Regional Manager for the area you intend to visit for information on the application of these laws. For a list of contact numbers available, please go to www.dfg.ca.gov/regions/.


Serving abalone at a fund-raiser?
Question: My husband and I are residents of both Humboldt and Sutter counties. We occasionally dive for abalone in Humboldt where we live. If we don’t consume them right away, we freeze them whole in the shell as the local game warden advised us years ago. I also work for a nonprofit hospice in Sutter County and they are having a fundraiser in May at a private house, where many of our staff will prepare appetizers for 100 guests. I want to prepare abalone appetizers from three abalone that we already have tagged and frozen from last season. The event is being professionally catered for the meal and dessert and so they are selling tickets, but no one is paying for or making money from the abalone I want to cook. The abalone is such a minuscule part of the meal. I just want to make sure I am allowed to bring it to an event like this and I was not able to find anything specific about that in the regulations. Please advise. Thank you. (Amy M., RN)

Answer: Sport-taken abalone may not be bought, sold, bartered or traded (Fish and Game Code, section 7121.) If sport-taken abalone are used for a non-profit fundraising dinner, then the cost of attending the dinner must be advertised as a requested donation to the organization putting on the dinner. In your situation, if you are just providing a few abalone for an appetizer, and as long as the dinner is not advertised to contain abalone in order to sell more tickets to the fund-raising dinner, then I think that would be ok. However, you should contact your local game warden where you will be having the dinner to confirm they are in agreement.


Running dogs with GPS for pigs and coons?
Question: Since bear and bobcat hunting with hounds is now banned in the state of California, can we still use GPS collars on hounds for hunting pigs, coons, etc.? (Dean C.)

Answer: You may use dogs to hunt raccoons and pigs, however, the use of GPS collars is prohibited (CCR Title 14, section 265(d)(2)).


Poke poling – need a license?
Question: Do I need a fishing license to poke pole for monkey-faced eels? (Anonymous)

Answer: Yes, the only exceptions are if you are 15 years old or younger or if you are fishing from a public pier or the most seaward jetty of a public harbor. Otherwise a fishing license is required and all regular fishing regulations apply.

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Carrie Wilson is a marine environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. While she cannot personally answer everyone’s questions, she will select a few to answer each week in this column. Please contact her at CalOutdoors@wildlife.ca.gov.

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