Springfield — DNR is getting more attention in the capital than it had bargained for as lawmakers hit the home stretch of the spring legislative session.
Unfortunately for the agency, budget cuts are trumping pending measures that could allow bobcat hunting and the use of suppressors on hunting guns. Another pending bill is set to outlaw the use of drones for hunting and fishing.
On the fiscal front, Gov. Bruce Rauner suspended funding for nearly three dozen programs supported by state grants as he tries to plug a budget hole. Included in the suspensions are DNR grants for park and recreational facility construction ($89.5 million), open space lands acquisition and development ($56.3 million) and bike paths, mud-to-parks, and other programs ($2.6 million).
Including museum grants and programs, DNR’s portion of the state grant pullback is roughly $178.8 million.
Meanwhile, at the Statehouse, lawmakers will be working until the end of May to pass various legislation.
House Bill 433, which would allow hunters to use suppressors, or “silencers,” on their firearms is still alive and was sitting in the House Rules Committee as legislators returned April 14.
Senate Bill 1371, which proposed a ban on using drones for hunting, appears to be close to moving forward. It had been scheduled for a third reading in the Senate in late March as lawmakers prepared to break.
An amendment to the original bill was approved on March 19. The bill’s new language added a definition of “drone” as an “unmanned aerial vehicle, not including remote controlled devices incapable of flight without attached support between the ground and the device.”
The ammendment also provides that “it is unlawful to hunt on property where wildlife were spotted using manned or unmanned aircraft, including drones, until the next calendar day after the aircraft has landed (rather than 24 hours after landing).”
Basically, the legislation would outlaw the use of the aerial robots for tracking wildlife and birds.
Sponsor Sen. Julie Morrison, D-Deerfield, said drones provide “an unfair advantage.”
Colorado, Montana, and Alaska prohibit flying unmanned vehicles while tracking wildlife. Lawmakers in at least six states have proposed similar bans.
“Most of the hunters I’ve talked to see using drones as cheating,” Morrison told the Chicago Tribune earlier this year. “They want to keep the hunt challenging.”
SB 1371 would allow conservation police officers and other DNR employees to confiscate drones that are used for hunting – either to take animals down or to scout out wildlife locations.
Hunters could also be charged with a Class A misdemeanor, which is punishable by a fine of up to $2,500, up to one year in jail, or two years’ probation.
An existing state law imposes similar penalties on hunting out of season or during prohibited times, and using poison or explosives to hunt game.