Today, the National Park Service announced that it had banned the use of unmanned aircraft aerial vehicles, otherwise known as drones, at all of its parks and monuments.
According to The Washington Post, the agency’s director, Jonathan Jarvis, said in a statement that the new rules are temporary, and will prohibit drone use until the agency can figure out a policy to serve the parks as well as the visitors.
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.
Drones are typically remote controlled aircraft that carry cameras, allowing the pilot to snap photos or record videos from vantage points normally inaccessible from the ground. Some of the craft buzz loudly as their multiple propellers keep them airborne.
The unmanned aircraft can range in size from smaller than a hummingbird to the size of an airliner, and their capabilities are improving rapidly.
USA Today cites a statement released by the agency explained three examples in which drones have caused disturbances:
— Last September, an unmanned aircraft flew above evening visitors seated in the Mount Rushmore National Memorial Amphitheater. Park rangers confiscated it.
— In April, visitors at Grand Canyon National Park watching the sunset were interrupted by a unmanned aircraft flying and eventually crashing in the canyon.
— Later that month, volunteers at Zion National Park saw an unmanned aircraft disturb a herd of bighorn sheep, reportedly separating adults from young animals.
Controversy surrounding the use of drones in U.S. skies has increased since the Federal Aviation Administration took steps last fall to allow the use of unmanned aircraft for private and commercial purposes.
While the new ban is in effect, drones cannot be launched from, landed in or flown over the land or water overseen by the The National Park Service. The agency manages 84 million acres of land and a total of 401 National parks and monuments with over 20,000 employees.
The Associated Press reports that some drone operators have complained that a ban favors some park users over others. They also say many unmanned aircraft flights are made without incident and with respect for other park users and wildlife.
There are some exceptions to the current ban of drones. The memorandum directs superintendents to continue to allow model aircraft hobbyists and clubs that already have approval to operate in some parks to continue to do so. Commercial operators like film makers can also apply for a permit to operate a drone.
The National Park service says it may still use drones for scientific studies, search and rescue operations, and fire related situations.
Photo via Yosemite National Park FaceBook page