National Park Service bans drone use in all national parks


Yosemite National Park. (Mark Berman/The Washington Post)

If you’re heading to the Grand Canyon this summer, leave the drone at home. (We’re assuming for the purposes of this sentence that you have a drone, but if you don’t, just pretend that you have a drone.)

The National Park Service announced Friday that it had banned the use of unmanned aerial vehicles — better known as drones — in all of its parks.

Jonathan Jarvis, the agency’s director, said in a statement that the decision stems from “serious concerns about the negative impact that flying unmanned aircraft is having in parks.”

Drones were prohibited in other national parks earlier this year after complaints regarding noise and an episode involving young sheep getting separated from adults. In May, the agency said that drones were banned in Yosemite National Park because an increased number of visitors had been using drones to film climbers and capture other aerial footage. Drones would not be allowed because they could disturb visitors, adversely impact wildlife in the area and potentially interfere with emergency rescues, the Park Service said.

Jarvis said that the new rules are only temporary and will prohibit drone use until the agency can figure out a policy to serve the parks as well as the visitors. Of course, the Park Service notes that the process of figuring out drone-related regulations could “take considerable time.” Any permits already issued for unmanned aircraft have been suspended and need to be reviewed and approved again.

While the rules are in effect, drones cannot be launched from, landed in or flown over the land or water overseen by the agency, which manages 84 million acres of land and 4.5 million acres of oceans, lakes and reservoirs.

There is an exception: The agency says it may still use unmanned aircraft for certain things, like scientific studies, search and rescue operations and fire-related situations.


Crew members carry a drone after a test flight at a ranch near Sarita, Tex., in Jaunary. (Eric Gay/AP)

Earlier this month, the Federal Aviation Administration announced that it had approved the first commercial drone flights over land. The FAA has said that fully integrating drones into the airspace over the United States will take years. It has selected sites across the country where drones will fly in specially-designated airspace to test things like the impact on air traffic control and links between drones and controllers.

The agency estimates that there could be about 7,500 small, commercial drones in the air by 2018. Industry groups have also asked the FAA to develop regulations for small drones, which can be operated by hobbyists but not actual companies.

The National Park Service’s drone announcement arrived the same day that The Post released the first part of an investigation into military drone crashes. Since 2001, more than 400 large U.S. military drones have crashed around the world, hitting houses, farms, runways, highways and even an Air Force transport plane that was in the air, reports Craig Whitlock. Nearly a quarter of the most severe crashes occurred in the U.S.

Mark Berman is a reporter on the National staff. He runs Post Nation, a destination for breaking news and developing stories from around the country.
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