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Drones in the outdoors | Opinion

In the last few weeks, two developments — one, national, one local — suggest an uneasy future for the use of camera-toting drones in the great outdoors. And even more decisions will come from the courts about what’s allowed and what’s not.

First, a two-page color ad for drones greeted readers of Backpacker magazine in the November 2017 issue. The ad, on the magazine’s first two pages, shows a couple walking across a forest bridge while a drone hovers beside them over a creek.

“Mavic Pro brings nature closer to give hikers breathtaking views and lasting memories,” reads the type.

Second, in mid-October, a man at Hoover Ponds County Park near Central Point in southern Oregon was arrested after shooting down a drone with an air rifle.

One person’s outdoorsy aerial video recording device, it seems, is another’s skeet.

The issue of drone use in the great outdoors is bound to get more complicated because what was, a decade ago, a rarity is gaining popularity fast; last May, 667,637 people had registered drones with the Federal Aviation Administration. (Speaking of litigation, such registration is unlawful, a court of appeals in Washington, D.C. ruled last spring).

The number of unregistered hobbyists, of course, goes far beyond that, and will only grow as, say, double-truck advertisements appear in national magazines.

While courts grapple with the use of such devices, which can take photos and videos from the air, some restrictions are firm — for now.

No flying drones in national parks, for example, or in designated wilderness areas. The latter prohibit motorized vehicles — and drones are just that.

But you can fly a drone above national forests, some state parks and most Bureau of Land Management land, provided FAA regulations are adhered to.

The Forest Service guidelines say:

Avoid wilderness areas and primitive areas.

Avoid flying over noise-sensitive areas or populated sites, including rivers, campgrounds, trail heads and visitors centers.

Don’t use drones to disturb or harass wildlife.

Abide by state privacy laws.

Don’t interfere with official aerial activities.

Last summer, a travel blogger posted online drone footage from above the Eagle Creek Fire, which is a no-no, according to the U.S. Forest Service. Fighting a fire is one of those “official aerial activities.”

That person wasn’t cited. However, the 33-year-old man who shot down the drone in Jackson County was arrested on suspicion of criminal mischief, a felony. Deputies said they will forward the case to the FAA for review.

The drone issue is challenging because it involves the constitutional rights of those flying them on land that’s traditionally been set aside for people to “get away from it all.” The Backpacker ad portends an ominous future — people deep in the woods being followed by a remote-control helicopter that has a camera affixed to it.

What’s wrong with this picture?

The trail to clarity on this issue promises to be long and winding — and even then will likely leave more up in the air than just the drones.

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