Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, known to many as “drones,” have been banned in all National Parks in the United States.
On June 20, National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis signed a policy memorandum that prohibits launching, landing, or operating unmanned aircraft on lands and waters administered by the National Park Service.
“We embrace many activities in national parks because they enhance visitor experiences with the iconic natural, historic and cultural landscapes in our care,” Jarvis said. “However, we have serious concerns about the negative impact that flying unmanned aircraft is having in parks, so we are prohibiting their use until we can determine the most appropriate policy that will protect park resources and provide all visitors with a rich experience.”
In May, Yosemite National Park became one of the first parks to ban the use of drones. They were being used to capture unique views of the valley’s stunning scenery but concerned managers because “drones can be extremely noisy, and can impact the natural soundscape. Drones can also impact the wilderness experience for other visitors creating an environment that is not conducive to wilderness travel,” according to the NPS.
Unmanned aircraft have already been prohibited at several other national parks, which initiated bans after noise and nuisance complaints from park visitors, an incident in which park wildlife were harassed, and park visitor safety concerns.
According to the NPS, an unmanned aircraft flew above evening visitors seated in the Mount Rushmore National Memorial Amphitheater in September. Rangers confiscated the unmanned aircraft.
In April, visitors at Grand Canyon National Park were interrupted by a loud unmanned aircraft flying back and forth and eventually crashing in the canyon. Later in the month, volunteers at Zion National Park witnessed an unmanned aircraft disturb a herd of bighorn sheep, reportedly separating adults from young animals.
The memorandum does not affect the primary jurisdiction of the Federal Aviation Administration over the National Airspace System.
The NPS says that this is a temporary measure until permanent regulations are crafted, a prosess that can take “considerable time.” The process includes public notice of the proposed regulation and opportunity for public comment.
A press release about the ban notes that “superintendents who have previously authorized the use of model aircraft for hobbyist or recreational use may allow such use to continue.”
In the meantime, the NPS has given itself permission to use unmanned aircraft for administrative purposes such as search and rescue, fire operations and scientific study, so long as approved by the associate director for Visitor and Resource Protection.
There are 59 national parks in the United States, covering approximately 51.9 million acres. —Sean McCoy