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By Keith Coffman
DENVER (Reuters) - Colorado this week is considering banning the use of unmanned drones to help hunters spot game as communities across the United States grapple with how to regulate the new technology.
Hunting game animals from the air has been illegal for more than 40 years under federal law and also under Colorado's hunting regulations, Randy Hampton, spokesman for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said on Wednesday.
The proliferation of drones for commercial purposes has exploded in recent years so wildlife managers need to address the issue before it becomes a problem, Hampton said.
"We want to make it clear what the rules and regulations are with this new technology," he said.
Hunting generates nearly $404 million annually to the state through license fees, outfitting, equipment sales, lodging and other related activities, according to state figures.
It is illegal to hunt an animal until 48 hours after a scouting flyover has been conducted, Hampton said, in line with the "fair chase" ethos adhered to by many hunters.
Hampton said the drone ban, if adopted, would be part of an updated package of hunting regulations that commissioners will vote on early next year. If approved, the ban would go into effect at the beginning of Colorado's big-game hunting season in August 2014.
Americans are most familiar with drones because of the use of armed, unmanned aircraft by the United States for counter terrorism operations against Islamist militants in countries like Pakistan and Yemen.
Their use within the United States has triggered privacy concerns and prompted Idaho and Virginia to restrict the use of drone aircraft by police and other government agencies.
The Colorado town of Deer Trail near Denver is protesting the proliferation of unmanned aircraft by asking voters to approve selling novelty drone-hunting licenses.
Shortly after announcing the idea in September, the town received nearly 1,000 checks to purchase the whimsical licenses.
The town-wide vote scheduled for December on selling the licenses has been challenged in court and opponents note that shooting down unmanned aircraft would be a crime and could carry civil fines as well.
Proponents envision the novelty licenses being part of a quirky festival to attract tourists that would feature a skeet shooting contest using small model airplanes instead of clay targets.
"It is a statement, but really just a novelty that could generate interest in the town and bring in some money through festivals or something like that," town clerk Kim Oldfield said. "It wouldn't allow people to shoot things out of the sky."
(This story was refiled to correct typographical error in first paragraph)
(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Lisa Shumaker)