Nat'l Parks Ban Drones Temporarily; New Rules Being Considered

By Daniel Taylor, Esq. on June 23, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The National Park Service is temporarily banning the use of drones over land and water administered by the agency while it crafts rules that may severely limit their future use in national parks.

The move comes after national parks such as Yosemite began enforcing individual bans on the use of unmanned aircraft amid increasing numbers of visitors using drones to shoot video or observe wildlife in the parks, reports The Huffington Post.

What led to the park service's new anti-drone stance?

Harassing the Bighorns

Among the incidents cited by the park service in instituting the ban on drones over park land was an incident in Zion National Park earlier this year, in which volunteers observed a remote-controlled drone "harassing" a herd of bighorn sheep, in the process separating young sheep from their mothers.

The National Parks Service's press release announcing the temporary drone ban also recounts incidents at Mount Rushmore and the Grand Canyon where unmanned drones flew over areas where visitors had gathered. The drone in the Grand Canyon incident later crashed in the canyon; no one was hurt.

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New Rules

The policy memorandum signed by NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis on Friday directs park superintendents to add rules prohibiting the use of drones within national parks to each park's regulations.

Though all previous permits issued for drone use in national parks will be suspended pending review, new permit applications will still be accepted and reviewed by the NPS' Associate Director. The rules also note that the NPS itself may use drones over park land for "purposes such as search and rescue, fire operations and scientific study."

The new rules are temporary, pending an overhaul of the National Park Service's regulations, a process which the press release notes could "take considerable time."

The release also notes that the Federal Aviation Administration still has primary jurisdiction over national park airspace. The FAA has said that it plans to issue new rules for commercial drones sometime in 2015.

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