National Park Service bans drones from 84 million acres over safety, noise worries

Posted at 9:19 PM, Jun 20, 2014
and last updated 2014-06-21 06:50:50-04

WASHINGTON (CNN) – Attention, campers: National parks are becoming “no drone” zones.

The National Park Service announced Friday it is prohibiting drones — properly called unmanned aircraft — from all NPS-controlled lands and waters. That includes 84 million acres in every state and territory, including monuments, battlefields, historic sites, seashores, rivers and trails.

It all comes down to noise and safety, said Director Jonathan Jarvis in a statement announcing the policy.

“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,” Jarvis said.


The Federal Aviation Administration already has greatly curtailed the outdoor use of drones for commercial purposes, pending rules that it is developing.

But hobbyists have been relatively free to operate drones in public areas, provided they stay below 400 feet and are flown away from populated areas and full-scale aircraft.

A lawyer who represents drone enthusiasts called the NPS’ temporary ban “overly broad” and said he expects it will be greatly narrowed when it goes through the federal rule-making process.

“It’s very broad in that it sweeps in every national park-controlled location, including things like beaches and forests where there really aren’t the same sensitivity to noise, and where model airplanes have been allowed for decades,” said Brendan Schulman.

The NPS said individual parks have been enacting drone bans for a number of reasons.

Last September, an unmanned aircraft flew above visitors seated in the Mount Rushmore National Memorial amphitheater. Park rangers confiscated the drone because of concern for visitor safety, the NPS said.

In April, a loud drone interrupted visitors enjoying a quiet Grand Canyon sunset. And volunteers at Zion National Park in Utah witnessed a drone disturb a herd of bighorn sheep.

All previously issued permits for drones will be suspended until reviewed by a senior NPS official, who also must approve any new special use permits. Superintendents who have previously authorized the use of model aircraft for hobbyist or recreational use may allow such use to continue, the statement said.

Schulman said Friday’s action by the NPS also calls into question the validity of that fine, saying that the agency has stated it needs the new regulation because earlier regulations do not cover unmanned aircraft.

In a separate case, Raphael Pirker earlier this year successfully challenged an FAA prohibition on commercial use of drones after the FAA fined him $10,000 for using a small drone to take promotional videos of the Virginia Medical Center. The FAA has appealed that decision.