WASHINGTON (AP) -
The National Park Service is taking steps to ban drones from 84 million
acres of public lands and waterways, saying the unmanned aircraft annoy
visitors, harass wildlife and threaten safety.
the park service’s director, told The Associated Press he doesn’t want
drones flushing birds from their nests, hovering over rock climbers as they
cling to the sides of cliffs or buzzing across the face of Mount Rushmore.
Jarvis said he
would sign a policy memorandum on Friday directing superintendents of the
service’s 401 parks to write rules prohibiting the launching, landing or
operation of unmanned aircraft in their parks.
Two large national
parks, Grand Canyon in Arizona and Zion in Utah, have already changed their
rules to ban drones. Some other parks have interpreted existing regulations
to permit them to ban drone flights, but Jarvis said each park must change
its “compendium” - a set of regulations unique to that park - if a ban is to
National Park in California, where officials announced last month they would
adopt a policy prohibiting drone flights, hobbyists have been using unmanned
aircraft to film the park’s famous waterfalls and capture close-up shots of
climbers on its granite cliffs. Zion officials were spurred to take action
after an incident in which an unmanned aircraft was seen harassing bighorn
sheep and causing youngsters to become separated from their herd.
At Mount Rushmore
in South Dakota, park rangers last September confiscated an unmanned
aircraft after it flew above 1,500 visitors seated in an amphitheater and
then over the heads of the four presidents carved into the mountain.
“Imagine you’re a
big wall climber in Yosemite working on a four-day climb up El Capitan, and
you’re hanging off a bulb ready to make a (difficult) move, and an unmanned
aircraft flies up beside you and is hovering a few feet from your head with
its GoPro camera running,” Jarvis said in an interview. “Think about what
that does to your experience and your safety,”
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.
range from no bigger than a hummingbird to the size of an airliner, and
their capabilities are improving rapidly. Use is growing as their price tags
decline. The park service wants to get out in front of that by putting in
rules place now, Jarvis said.
“This is a
different kind of aircraft, and it is being used in different ways than what
we have seen from the (model aircraft) hobbyists,” he said. “We want to have
some control over it now before it proliferates.”
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. Also, parks can continue to grant permits for drone flights for other
purposes like research, search and rescue, and firefighting, he said.
Commercial operators like moviemakers can also apply for a permit to operate
a drone, he said.
“We would have to
hear why they would necessarily need this type of equipment in order to
accomplish their goals,” Jarvis said.
While parks are
changing their individual rules, the park service will be drafting its own
rule to ban drone flights in parks nationwide, he said. Jarvis said he hopes
to have a proposal ready in about 18 months.
The ban only
affects what Jarvis described as “operations inside parks,” and not high
altitude flights over parks.
The park service
has been working closely with the Federal Aviation Administration, although
the service’s action is separate from the FAA’s ban on commercial drone
flights, he said.
The FAA ban is
being challenged by commercial drone operators.
Two years ago,
Congress directed the FAA to put regulations in place provide for the safe
integration of commercial drones into the national airspace. The regulations
were supposed be finished by September 2015, but the agency isn’t expected
to make that deadline.