Aerial drone ban goes into effect at Zion, other national parks

Skies over Zion National Park and other National Park Service sites around the nation should remain clear of not only piloted aircraft, but also aerial drones, now that the National Park Service has banned their use. Photo credit: Robert Nieter.

ZION NATIONAL PARK, Utah – The National Park Service’s ban on aerial drones being used inside National Parks, primarily to capture photos and video, is now in full effect nationwide.

The Park Service initiated the drone ban in late June, but gave park superintendents two months to implement the policy.

Ray O’Neil is the acting chief ranger at Zion National Park. He says the policy tightens a long-standing ban on private aircraft being used in National Park airspace.

“We’ve had a ban on aerial delivery in National Parks for decades,” says O’Neil. “We started to become concerned at Zion, and others at the national level started to be concerned too, that our existing regulation might not be sufficient to deal with drones.”

O’Neil says there were cases of aerial drones disturbing and scaring bighorn sheep, as well as visitors at Zion National Park. The Park Service reports similar incidents involving drones at other National Parks, including an incident earlier this month in which a drone crashed into the Grand Prismatic hot spring at Yellowstone National Park.

O’Neil says despite the prohibition on drones, the National Park Service may eventually use the technology to help locate people stranded or injured at parks.

“We may find there are some agency uses for unmanned aerial systems, like search and rescue or mapping fires, where we may use some drones for administrative use,” he says.

O’Neil says anyone cited for using an aerial drone inside a National Park could face a misdemeanor charge and a fine of up to $5,000.

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