The brave new world of monitoring wildlife: aerial trail cameras?

Here’s a video that could portend to “trail cams, the next generation.” First, a tip of the hat to Chad Love and his Field Notes blog for sharing this video, and his views on it, last week.  

Rob DriesleinIt shows two Norwegian guys monitoring a European moose via a personal drone aircraft. For laughs and pure entertainment, take a look at how Beavis and Butthead might sound if they spoke Norwegian. It’s an incredible view of a moose, which must be wondering if it’s witnessing a giant hummingbird. On the serious side, does aerial camera monitoring pose yet another way to pester wildlife?

Demonstration videos of these devices show users live-monitoring animals (and people) from the air. Some operate simply via your tablet or smartphone, and they generate their own Wi-Fi network, making it possible to film as long as you have your device (i.e., iPhone or iPad) connected to it. If it generates its own Wi-Fi network, then presumably I could use one of these devices anywhere – deep in a blufflands valley to monitor deer or in the Boundary Waters for a close-up view of a moose.

I contacted the company that builds one of these helicopters and learned it can fly 165 feet, so it’s not exactly going to cross Basswood Lake and stream back live video. Yet. Like all new electronic toys, here’s betting the range, and cost, of personal drones will decrease quickly with popularity and technological improvements.

As I mentioned in this week’s Outdoor Insights column, I suspect the moose video is the tip of the iceberg, and we’ll soon regularly see wildlife hobbyists posting aerial videos of deer and other critters. Then what’s the technological next step? How long before amateur-grade “quadricopters” can handle a payload the size of small firearm? With an infrared scope? Some landowners may embrace that (for now, purely hypothetical) idea as a new landscape-sterilizing, predator-killing technique.

Or imagine this scenario: You’re sitting in a treestand near a trail, and a guy pulls up on an ATV and quickly aerial scans the area, maybe even buzzing your stand a time or two. Maybe I’m being a little alarmist here, but I’ve seen technology like this sweep the outdoors community in the past.

This is remarkable technology, and I don’t begrudge any company for manufacturing such a device, which obviously has great entertainment purposes and legitimate practical applications. I do think the hunting community and law enforcement should at least think ahead to what we consider an ethical use of these devices. New technology can establish a foothold quickly with the public, sometimes before law enforcement can understand it and react. Existing laws in many states probably already render them illegal to aid in hunting, but like two-way radios and cell phones, the potential for abuse exists.

New gadgets are part of the outdoors equation, but I’m especially interested in watching this one unfold.

Categories: Rob Drieslein

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