Updated 2:34 pm, Friday, February 24, 2017
CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Add this to the long list of problems caused by buzzing drones: Frightening 1,500 elk into stampeding at a time of year when too much stress can be deadly for the animals.
This winter already is one for the books in western Wyoming. More than twice as much snowfall than usual has fallen in many areas, and more than 3 feet has accumulated at the National Elk Refuge in the scenic valley of Jackson Hole.
Typically the National Elk Refuge provides a winter haven for elk. But on Monday, David A. Smart, 45, of Washington, D.C., got a $280 ticket for allegedly launching a drone from a highway pullout and flying it over hundreds of elk resting there.
The device caused the elk to stampede half a mile through the snow. Smart was trying to film the animals and afterward was apologetic, refuge deputy manager Cris Dippel said Friday.
Nonetheless, wildlife managers take animal harassment seriously. The federal crime of which Smart was accused, disturbing wildlife, is punishable by an up to $5,000 fine.
The deep snow is a bane for animals, including bison hit by vehicles as they sought easier walking along plowed roads.
Elk, moose, mule deer and antelope fatten up during green months so when winter hits they can subsist on less-nourishing forage often covered up by snow and ice.
“It’s a crucial time of year for those animals…