National parks ban drones

U.S.G.S. employee launches an unmanned aircraft to survey sandhill crane populations in Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge in Colorado

Floyd Truetken/USFWS

Story update August 21 - Since we first published this story in July, the National Parks Service has also banned drones from flying over the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, which traverses 14 states from Georgia to Maine.

July 1 - On June 20, 2014, the National Parks Service banned remote-controlled aircraft at all national park lands.

Director Jonathan B. Jarvis signed an order directing park superintendents to ban visitors from using small unmanned aircraft, also known as drones. The temporary order calls for further study before more permanent action will be taken, allowing for public comment in the coming months.

Some parks have already reviewed the use of drones and banned their use due to complaints from visitors and concerns for wildlife and visitor safety. These places include:

  • Grand Canyon National Park, where visitors watching the sunset in April reported being disturbed by a drone flying and crashing in the canyon
  • Zion National Park, where volunteers saw a drone separate young bighorn sheep from their caregivers in April

Park rangers report one to four drone sightings every week at Zion, Aly Baltrus, chief of interpretation at Zion, told USA Today.

Drones can be useful for the same reasons that they can be disruptive. They can carry cameras, allowing for observation of wildlife and gathering of information in otherwise inaccessible areas. The National Park Service has used unmanned aircraft for remote research projects in places like Haleakala and Olympic National Parks, and for monitoring fire in Yosemite. Jarvis has specified exceptions for such purposes.

“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.”

Balancing public recreational use with conservation of lands has long been the challenging charge of the National Parks Service. When these lands also include Wilderness Areas, the task can involve even more factors since this type of designation necessitates preservation.

Join us during this 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act as we celebrate America’s protected lands - and look towards protecting more.


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