Which U.S. Agency Just Banned Drones?

by L. Turner

You'll never guess which U.S. agency just said no to unmanned aircraft. On Friday, the National Park Service banned drones from all national parks, setting the agency up for a big conflict with the U.S. drone program, right? Sadly, no; the Park Service isn't talking about the military kind of drone. Apparently drone hobbyism is a thing now. People are actually bringing their own unmanned drones to open spots in order to fly them. For the joy of it.

It turns out that can be kind of disruptive to the animals living in a park and the people who come to see them. In a statement, NPS director Jonathan Jarvis basically said what everyone else is thinking: You don't really need to bring your quadcopter to Yellowstone. (A quadcopter, for those of you who aren't drone hobbyists yourselves, is a flying machine with four rotors that power it.)

We embrace many activities in national parks because they enhance visitor experiences with the iconic natural, historic and cultural landscapes in our care. 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.

Jarvis said the ban was temporary until the agency could figure out what its stance on the aircraft will be.

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There have been a few drone incidents that prompted the ban, which the NPS mentioned in its statement. One drone flyer scared a bunch of people sitting in an amphitheater at Mount Rushmore last September. And there's worse, the statement notes:

In April, visitors at Grand Canyon National Park gathered for a quiet sunset, which was interrupted by a loud unmanned aircraft flying back and forth and eventually crashing in the canyon. Later in the month, volunteers at Zion National Park witnessed an unmanned aircraft disturb a herd of bighorn sheep, reportedly separating adults from young animals.

Not exactly the quiet vacation you were hoping for, huh, honey?

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Users of a forum on DIY Drones, a hobbyist site, mostly bristled at the ban. User Marius van Rijnsoever said parks were a desirable location for drone hobbyists.

That is a shame as parks are the best and safest place to fly hobby airplanes. Big open spaces and deserted areas without people.

But another user, Rob Burrows, took a different view:

As a UAV and FPV hobbyist but also a strong advocate for National Parks and wilderness, I see this move by the NPS as being done with good reason. They cite only a few egregious incidents but if you look around YouTube you can find many more examples of folks harrassing wildlife (changing their behavior with the drone) and inconsiderate flying around people, both inside and outside National Parks. I would argue that the emerging drone user group has brought this on themselves.
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The decision takes effect immediately. Majestic bighorn sheep 1, quadcopters 0.