Drones Banned in National Parks


aerial view

Late­ly, it’s been next to impos­si­ble to scroll through a Face­book feed with­out encoun­ter­ing a repost of some kind of drone footage. Drones tak­ing you inside a vol­cano. Drones tak­ing you into a fire­works dis­play. At times, it might seem like drones are tak­ing over the world.

There’s no doubt that drones can cap­ture some spec­tac­u­lar videos, but not every­one likes the idea of using them to get up close and per­son­al with nature: the Nation­al Park Ser­vice (NPS), for one. It’s not inter­est­ed in jump­ing on the drone train.

What Hap­pened?
The NPS, which man­ages all 58 Nation­al Parks through­out the USA, has launched a tem­po­rary ban on drones with­in the country’s Nation­al Parks. This includes launch­ing, oper­at­ing, or land­ing a drone—basically, using a drone in any way its meant to be used. The ban is not nec­es­sar­i­ly set in stone for­ev­er: its tem­po­rary nature means that it’s a way to stop the prob­lem while the NPS deter­mines a more suit­able long-term solution.

First, drones are noisy. The drone videos that make it online are usu­al­ly set to some toe-tap­ping tunes, but in real­i­ty, the devices can be some­thing of a nui­sance to those who have set out to enjoy some peace and qui­et in a nation­al park. Appar­ent­ly, these peo­ple are some­what vocal with their complaints.


Sec­ond, drones can be inva­sive. Part of the appeal of drones is that they can fly just about anywhere—like explor­ing the nat­ur­al habi­tats of ani­mals who would nor­mal­ly flee from a per­son try­ing to film them. But drones can go too far: take the case of a drone film­ing some bighorn sheep in Utah’s Zion Nation Park. The drone agi­tat­ed the sheep and end­ed up sep­a­rat­ing the lit­tle ones from the adults. Inter­fer­ing with animals=not a good thing.

Final­ly, unruly drones can dam­age frag­ile arti­facts and del­i­cate ecosys­tems if they aren’t con­trolled care­ful­ly. For instance, vis­i­tors to Arizona’s Grand Canyon Nation­al Park weren’t ter­ri­bly impressed to watch a drone crash into the canyon. Sure, the Grand Canyon has sur­vived tougher conditions—but what would hap­pen if a drone crashed into Mount Rush­more or a bird nest?

Beyond Nation­al Parks
The prob­lems out­lined aren’t lim­it­ed to the fron­tiers of Nation­al Parks. Indeed, indi­vid­ual state parks are set­ting their own drone bans, like California’s Mon­terey Bay Nation­al Marine Sanc­tu­ary and Colorado’s Gar­den of the Gods pub­lic park. Chances are pret­ty good that oth­ers will soon fol­low in their footsteps.

The Good
Drones aren’t evil—the NPS sees them as some­thing new that requires cer­tain pro­to­col to ensure that they are used prop­er­ly and respon­si­bly. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, that means ban­ning them out­right while the NPS fig­ures out exact­ly how to reg­u­late their use. Plus, the NPS does acknowl­edge that drones can do some good. Drones are still per­mit­ted to be used in Nation­al Parks for fire safe­ty, search and res­cue oper­a­tions, and for sci­en­tif­ic study. Once appro­pri­ate reg­u­la­tions are estab­lished, hope­ful­ly respon­si­ble film­mak­ers can get back out there, bring­ing us clos­er to the incred­i­ble wilder­ness in our backyards—safely.