When you think about drones and their use in national parks, you think how they are capable of capturing some stunning aerial shots of that place. Or maybe perhaps you have purchased a drone and now you want to take some amazing pictures over an national park? But at the end , the question is whether you can fly with a drone in a National Park? Therefore all the questions that people often ask about flying a drone in a National Parks will be answered in this article. So let’s talk more about that today!
So Can I Fly My Drone in National Park? No, you are not allowed to fly your drone in a National Park. Since June of 2014, the National Park Service (NPS) place the ban for use of drones in National Parks, so you can’t take off, land or operate a drone within a National Park. This ban from NPS applies to the 417 National Parks, 23 trails and 60 rivers.
Let’s first clarify that the National Park Service (NPS) is not the same as the U.S. Forrest Service or USFS. The NPS is ran by the Department of Interior while the USFS is ran by the Department of Agriculture. What concerns us is the NPS. The NPS representative tried to ban even flying over the park. (Note: FAA controls airspace, so it is allowed to fly over the national parks.) His argument was that flying too close to wildlife could still lead to a citation for disturbing wildlife. But he did acknowledge that there was that loophole that allowed flying over the park as long as you do not take off, land or operate with a drone within the park. So, the only way you can get around these rules and fly in a national park is to take off and land outside the national park.
“Launching, landing, or operating an unmanned aircraft from or on lands and waters administered by the National Park Service within the boundaries of [insert name of park] is prohibited except as approved in writing by the superintendent.”
Source Link: National Park Service (NPS)
What If You Are an FAA Certified Drone Pilot?
No matter what you own a FAA certified drone license, you are not allowed to fly with your drone in national parks. The ban for flying a drone in national parks applies to recreational and commercial drone pilots. Here is the National Park Service release:
“This [ban] applies to the launching, landing, and operation of unmanned aircraft on lands and waters administered by the NPS.”
– The NPS
Why Flying a Drone Is Prohibited in National Parks?
We already said that drone owners must know that the use of drones is strictly prohibited in national parks. The Director of National Park Service (NPS) passed a law in August 2014 prohibiting and banning the use of drones in all National Parks because their presence could distrub people and animals in the park. The problem is the sounds that drones create, thus interfering and disrupting the serenity that nature and parks create.If you violate these rules it can lead to a $5,000 fine or jail time of up to 6 months. The only way you can legally fly at National Park is if you takeoff and land outside the National Park area, because the FAA controls airspace in the USA.
There are currently 59 National Parks, but there are a total of 417 locations in the National Park system according to the NPS representative. All of these 417 locations are off-limits to drones. There are also another 146 locations that are related areas. These 146 locations do not have the same restrictions on drones. Many people ignore the rules, that their drone does not have the right to fly over a National Park. On the other hand, flying in Regional Parks is authorized.
Some of the bans on drones in National Parks:
- Walking paths
- Historic sites
- Biking paths
Penalties For Flying a Drone In National Parks
If you get caught by flying a drone in a national park, you can end up in jail up to six months or be fined up to $5,000. Several people have already been caught by violating these rules and fined. In the subheading below, you can see some of the penalties that have been done so far and in what period.
Drone Incidents at National Parks
These are some of the drone incidents after the ban on drones was issued in national parks:
- In June, 2014: The YouTube video was posted by some man in Denali National Park. The drone problem caused it to disrupt the local bird population through its flight.
- In September, 2014: The German tourist accidentally crashed his drones in the lake of Yellowstone Park. He was fined with $1,600. He also received a ban on entering the park for one year.
- In August, 2017: The use of drone forced the helicopter to land so that the potential collision does not occur in Yellowstone Park.
- In Spring, 2019: The drone company Skydio used their drones to promote their new selfie drone by shooting footage in Yellowstone National Park. The charge is unknown to the public.
How Drones Disrupt Wildlife
Drone democratization is already starting to disturb, especially in the heart of the national parks where they disturb the wildlife and create nuisances for other visitors. Evidenced by the press release from the National Park of Port-Cros which indicates that “the noise and the displacement of the drones are the main cause of disturbance and stress for animals and in particular for birds, some species of which are rare and can be disturbed during the nesting period. In fact, drones are perceived as a predator by birds, and the drone causes a high level of fear and flight or defense behavior. There are examples where you can see the behavior by certain birds, when the device s approach too close to their nest.
Can Drones Fly in a National Forest?
Although it’s banned to use drones in National Parks, it’s possible to fly with a drone in the most of the national forest. To be completely sure if you are allowed to use a drone in a particular national forest, check it on the website of that district. National Forest cover a much larger area than National Parks, making much more land available for flight. So drone flight in national forest is okay, but you should definitely check if some kinds of permit for commercial flights are needed.
Can Drones Fly in Wilderness Areas?
Flying a drone over wilderness areas is not allowed. The reason is that drones are considered “motorized equipment” and are unable to land safely in wilderness areas. These are environmentally sensitive areas where flying a drone can excessively affect wildlife. Because of that, animals could change their natural behavior or cause some kind of harm. So flying a drone in wilderness areas can harass and disturb a lot of animals that live there.
Can Drones Fly in State Parks?
Each state has different rules regarding to the use of drones in state parks that are under their jurisdiction. Therefore, you should first check what rules apply in your country. Many state parks allow the use of drones, but there are those states where this is prohibited. In case you get caught flying a drone, you can get a big fine. The easiest way to check if you are allowed to fly in some state park is to check the park website. There should be stated all the details what are all permitted activities at the park. It is up to you to check the laws, because in the end you are responsible for that! The parks are still amazing places to fly with your drone and take some greate footage. So obey the law, be creative and fly safe!
Other Alternative Places For Flying Your Drone in Parks
Although drone use is banned from national parks, there are other beautiful areas where drone use is permitted. So here are some examples where you can capture amazing aerial photos with your drone:
- National forests
- State parks
- Local parks
Note: These are potential places where the use of drones could be allowed, but be sure to check first with the website of these parks. So make sure to see the laws the regulations for your area.
National Parks are without a doubt the incredible places to fly with your drone. The view of the National Park from the air is simply breathtaking. Unfortunately, flying a drone in a national park is banned by the NPS, and the penalties are very strict in that regard. Certainly this law that ban your drone from flying over National Parks creates a lot of lost opportunities from taking some amazing footage. But the thing is that, most of the things found in national parks are too important, so risking flying with your drone and damaging some of them is not acceptable. Therefore, you must adhere to these rules of NPS and leave your drone at home. I hope that we answer all the questions that are related with drones and national parks.