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U.S. government bans drones from all national parks

Bad news if you were hoping to get some aerial footage of the Grand Canyon or Shenandoah this weekend: The U.S. government’s National Park Service has just issued an order banning drones from being launched, landed or operated in any of the 59 parks across the States. That’s an instant no-fly zone of about 84 million acres.

There is some hope for the future, as this is just a temporary order signed by National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis. Within the next couple of years, the NPS is planning to produce a full and comprehensive policy on the use of these small aircraft in protected areas, which will take on board further research into drone use and suggestions from the public.

In the meantime, a number of noise and nuisance complaints, as well as concerns over the safety of visitors and wildlife, have prompted the blanket ban. There’s still the flexibility to allow exceptions as and when required (when fighting fires, for example, or conducting scientific research). Many parks across the country have already prohibited the use of drones, including Yosemite and Zion.

“We embrace many activities in national parks because they enhance visitor experiences with the iconic natural, historic and cultural landscapes in our care,” said Jarvis in the official press release from the NPS. “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.”

The NPS statement cites two examples of drone use that tipped the balance: a “quiet sunset” at Grand Canyon interrupted by a low-flying drone that eventually crashed into the canyon, and a herd of bighorn sheep in Zion National Park disturbed and scattered by a drone. Violation of the ban could lead to a $5,000 fine and even jail time, though an NPS spokesman emphasized that in most cases park rangers would simply issue polite warnings to anyone spotted contravening the ban.

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