NTSB Urges Ban On Aerial Hunts
Should ranchers and officials with
the Department of Agriculture continue to use aircraft for hunting
predators? That question has been answered by at least one
authoritative source -- the NTSB.
Steve McCreary, an investigator with the NTSB, said flying close
to the ground, as is required when hunting predators, and shooting
a gun from a plane do pose some special safety risks.
"You do have to be a bit more precise," he said. "You have to be
careful you don't shoot the plane, also." But he said it is unclear
whether the safety record of such flights is any better or worse
than general aviation.
Conservation groups have a different take on the matter
The group Sinapu, based in Boulder (CO), said it has documented
21 crashes involving federal predator control flights since 1989.
The group said there are documented cases of the aircraft hitting
trees and power lines and even instances in which the gunner
accidentally shot the aircraft.
"Recent crashes that involved shooters who target wildlife from
aircraft underscore the necessity of ending this practice," said
Wendy Keefover-Ring, with Sinapu's carnivore protection
But that might not sit well in other parts of the government,
away from the Department of Transportation and the NTSB.
The USDA is the largest
operator of such flights through its predator control program. It
uses 18 of its own aircraft and also contracts out to private
pilots. In June, a USDA-operated predator control flight crashed
near Big Timber (MT). The helicopter, operated by the wildlife
services division of the USDA, lost all power while maneuvering
about 40 feet off the ground, according to an NTSB initial report.
The pilot and gunner suffered minor injuries.
But what's the real agenda here? Steve Pilcher, executive vice
president of the Montana Stockgrowers Association, said he thinks
environmentalists are using the plane crashes as a ruse to end the
practice of killing predators. "Like any activity, there is a
certain amount of risk attached to it," he said of the flights.