Drones Banned from All US National Parks

Grand Canyon National Park
A spectacular view overlooking Grand Canyon National Park. (Image credit: National Park Service)

Drones have been banned from all national parks in the United States, according to new regulations established by U.S. government officials.

The National Park Service (NPS), the government agency that manages the nation's national parks, monuments and other historical sites, has outlawed launching, landing or operating drones over all federally administered lands and waters. Jonathan Jarvis, director of the National Park Service, signed the policy memo into effect on June 27.

"We embrace many activities in national parks because they enhance visitor experience with the iconic natural, historic and cultural landscapes in our care," Jarvis said in a statement. "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." [8 Amazing National Park Structures]

In May, Yosemite National Park in California banned the use of drones anywhere within the park's boundaries. NPS superintendents had reported that these flying bots were frequently being used to film above Yosemite's treetops to capture stunning aerial views of the landscape.

Park officials hope the drone ban will cut down on the number of noise and nuisance complaints filed by visitors, and will help ensure the safety of those on NPS grounds.

Last September, park rangers confiscated a drone that caused a disturbance when it flew over the Mount Rushmore National Memorial amphitheater in South Dakota. In April, visitors to Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona complained about a drone that loudly flew over the area and eventually crashed into the canyon.

Similarly, volunteers at Zion National Park in Utah reported an incident where a robotic flyer flew near a herd of bighorn sheep, causing a commotion that scattered and separated some young sheep from the adults.

Despite the prohibition, the NPS may use drones for search-and-rescue operations, fire safety and scientific study, according to Jarvis, but these uses will require special approval.

Jarvis said the ban is a temporary measure until government officials can assess how people can safely operate these flying bots over densely populated areas, in urban settings, and in the same airspace as manned aircraft.

The NPS rules also do not infringe on the jurisdiction of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which oversees all aspects of the country's civil aviation. The FAA is currently developing official rules for the use of commercial drones. Regulations for small commercial drones that weigh less than 55 lbs. (25 kilograms) are expected to be released in 2015.

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Denise Chow
Live Science Contributor

Denise Chow was the assistant managing editor at Live Science before moving to NBC News as a science reporter, where she focuses on general science and climate change. Before joining the Live Science team in 2013, she spent two years as a staff writer for Space.com, writing about rocket launches and covering NASA's final three space shuttle missions. A Canadian transplant, Denise has a bachelor's degree from the University of Toronto, and a master's degree in journalism from New York University.