WASHINGTON — National Park Service land and water spaces are temporarily off-limits for drone enthusiasts after officials banned use of the unmanned aircrafts.
National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis signed a policy memorandum June 20 directing superintendents of 401 National Park Service-administered parks to begin writing rules prohibiting unmanned aircraft.
“We embrace many activities in national parks because they enhance visitor experiences with the iconic natural, historic and cultural landscapes in our care,” Jarvis said. “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 ban specifies launching, landing or operating drones are all prohibited on more than 84 million acres of land and water over which the National Park Service has jurisdiction, according to the agency.
The ban on unmanned aircrafts will be a temporary measure until more permanent statewide regulations are drafted and approved, Jarvis said.
The next step is for the National Park Service to begin larger, more permanent regulations on the use of unmanned aircraft, Jarvis said.
The ban does not prevent the park service from using their own unmanned aircraft to conduct research, search and rescue or other administrative purposes, according to the release.
Park superintendents are required to write a justification for banning drones in compliance with applicable laws and provide public notice that drones are no longer allowed.
In Maryland, there are 17 national parks, including eight located in Prince George’s County. They must all comply, effectively banning drone enthusiasts from the spaces until further action is taken.
The memorandum comes after unmanned aircrafts were banned from a number of parks across the nation following complaints about the noise and nuisance the aircrafts created.
Jarvis said there have been several cases in which park attendees and wildlife were disrupted by unmanned aircrafts.
In one case, a drone flew over a crowd of visitors at Mount Rushmore, threatening park safety, park officials said. In another instance, an unmanned aircraft disrupted a herd of bighorn sheep at Zion National Park, volunteers at the park reported.
But some drone enthusiasts think the decision is overbroad and will limit responsible drone users.
“One bad apple can spoil it for the whole bunch,” said Belinda Kilby, who uses drones for photography with her husband. “I believe this is a major pre-action that is the consequence of a limited number of complaints.”
Kilby’s project, Elevated Element, takes photography of landscapes and architecture from in between 50 and 150 feet in the air.
She said the temporary ban prevents drone artists from utilizing National Park spaces.
“Right now it certainly prevents us from being able to go out and do some beautiful aerial photography,” she said.
Kilby, who follows a safety checklist when she and her husband operate the drones, said she thinks only the offenders should be punished.
“If you are flying safe and responsibly, and you apply for a permit in advance and explain the nature of your flight, there should not be any reason for anyone…to be prohibited from doing so,” she said.