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National Park Service: Drones are not welcome, for now

(Christinne Muschi/Reuters)

There aren’t a whole lot of things you can’t do in national parks, but flying drones is now among them.

National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis on Friday signed a policy memo instructing park superintendents to ban drone operations — launching, landing, flying — within federal park boundaries.

“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 in a statement. “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.”

Drones have already been banned in some national parks and created disturbances in others. Concerned for visitor safety, park rangers confiscated an unmanned aircraft that flew over visitors at Mount Rushmore in September. In April, a loud drone disrupted “a quiet sunset” before crashing in the Grand Canyon and another disturbed a herd of sheep in Zion National Park. Last month, Yosemite announced its ban on drones. Now it’s universal over the lands and waters administered by the National Park Service, which oversees 401 areas covering more than 84 million acres.

In a statement, Jarvis stressed that the policy is temporary — a stopgap until the organization can develop a set of regulations. Permits previously doled out for the use of unmanned aircraft will be suspended until re-reviewed and approved. Previously authorized use of model aircraft may continue. The NPS itself reserves the right to use drones for search and rescue, fire operations and scientific study, it said in the statement.

(Correction: This post previously misidentified the park that banned drones last month. It was Yosemite.)

Niraj Chokshi is a general assignment reporter for The Washington Post.

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