Drone LAws National Parks USA

Drone Laws In American National Parks 2024

In 2024, a blanket ban prohibits flying drones in US national parks, with rare exceptions requiring written approval. The ban protects wildlife, guarantees visitor safety, and preserves the natural environment. Violating these laws can lead to fines and even jail time.

To legally fly, you’ll need to obtain special permission from the park superintendent and follow strict regulations.

Consider exploring nearby national forests or BLM lands as alternatives.

If you’re set on capturing stunning aerial footage in a national park, buckle up because maneuvering through the permitting process is no walk in the park.

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Blanket Ban Policy Memorandum 14-05

Issued in June 2014, Policy Memorandum 14-05 established the National Park Service’s blanket ban on launching, landing, and operating drones within national park boundaries.

This means you can’t fly your drone in any of the 429 sites managed by the NPS, including the 63 designated national parks, historic sites, monuments, and more.

The policy is backed by federal law 36 CFR § 1.5, which gives park superintendents the authority to impose restrictions to protect public safety, natural resources, and visitor experiences.

So, even if you think you’ve found the perfect spot for an epic drone shot, resist the temptation. Getting caught could land you in some serious trouble.

Now, you might be wondering if there are any exceptions to this rule. The short answer is yes, but they’re pretty rare.

If you want to fly a drone in a national park, you’ll need to get written approval from the superintendent.

And let’s be real, unless you’ve got a really compelling reason (like conducting scientific research or assisting in emergency operations), your chances of getting the green light are slim to none.

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Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 36 CFR 2.17(a)(3)

In addition to the blanket ban, CFR 36 CFR 2.17(a)(3) specifically prohibits using drones to deliver or retrieve people or objects in national parks, except in emergency situations or with a special permit.

This regulation is part of the larger framework that governs the use of aircraft within the boundaries of NPS-managed areas.

So, what does this mean for you as a drone enthusiast?

Basically, you can’t use your drone to transport anything or anyone into or out of a national park. Whether it’s delivering a picnic basket to a friend or retrieving a lost item, you’ll have to find another way to get the job done.

There are a couple of exceptions, though.

If there’s an emergency situation involving public safety or the risk of serious property loss, drones might be allowed to assist. However, this would likely be coordinated by park officials or emergency responders, not individual visitors.

The other exception is if you’ve obtained a special permit from the park superintendent.

These permits are typically granted for specific purposes, such as scientific research or official park business. As a recreational drone pilot, it’s unlikely that you’ll qualify for one of these permits.

The bottom line is that when you’re visiting a national park, it’s best to keep your drone safely packed away unless you want to risk facing some serious penalties.

Stick to enjoying the breathtaking views from the ground, and leave the aerial adventures for another time and place.

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Reasons Drones Are Banned In Americas National Parks

You might be wondering why drones are banned in America’s national parks.

It comes down to three main reasons: protecting wildlife, preserving the visitor experience, and addressing safety concerns.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these factors.

Wildlife Protection

One of the primary reasons drones are banned in America’s national parks is to protect the wildlife that inhabits these pristine natural areas.

When you visit these parks, you’ll encounter a diverse array of animals, from majestic birds soaring through the skies to shy mammals scurrying through the underbrush. The presence of drones can be incredibly disruptive to these creatures, causing them undue stress and anxiety.

Imagine you’re a nesting bird, diligently caring for your eggs or young chicks. Suddenly, a loud, unfamiliar object comes whirring overhead, sending you into a panic. You might abandon your nest, leaving your offspring vulnerable to predators or the elements.

Similarly, larger animals like bears or elk could be startled by drones, leading to erratic behavior that puts both the animals and park visitors at risk.

Visitor Experience

Not only do drones pose a threat to wildlife, but they also detract from the serene, immersive experience that visitors seek when exploring America’s national parks.

Imagine you’re hiking through a pristine wilderness, marveling at the breathtaking landscapes and listening to the gentle sounds of nature. Suddenly, the buzzing of a drone shatters the tranquility, pulling you out of the moment and reminding you of the modern world you were trying to escape.

Moreover, drones can be a nuisance to other visitors.

The noise they generate can be disruptive, especially in areas where people come to find peace and solitude.

Additionally, the presence of drones can make some visitors feel uneasy, as they may perceive it as an invasion of their privacy. It’s essential to remember that national parks are meant to be enjoyed by everyone, and the use of drones can significantly impact the quality of the visitor experience.

Safety Concerns

Drones can pose significant safety risks to park visitors, staff, and emergency personnel, which is another crucial reason for their prohibition in America’s national parks.

Imagine you’re hiking on a peaceful trail, and suddenly, a drone whizzes by your head, startling you and potentially causing you to stumble or fall. It’s not just an annoyance; it’s a genuine safety hazard.

Moreover, drones can interfere with emergency operations, such as search and rescue missions or firefighting efforts. In critical situations, the last thing park rangers need is a drone getting in the way or distracting them from their duties.

Plus, if a drone were to crash, it could cause injuries to anyone nearby or even start a wildfire in dry, vulnerable areas.

Another concern is the potential for drones to harm wildlife. The buzzing noise and quick movements can frighten animals, causing them to flee their habitats or even abandon their young.

In some cases, birds of prey have been known to attack drones, mistaking them for rivals or prey, which can result in injury to the animals and damage to the drones.

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Enforcement and Penalties For National Park Drone Laws

If you’re caught flying a drone in a national park, you can face serious consequences. Penalties typically include fines, which can be hefty, but in some cases, you might even face jail time.

However, there are a few exceptions to the drone ban that you should know about.

Penalties

Breaking the drone ban in national parks carries stiff consequences – you could face up to six months behind bars and a hefty $5,000 fine if caught. Park rangers are the enforcers here, and they’ve got the power to assess violations on a case-by-case basis.

So, even if you think you’re being sneaky, there’s a good chance they’ll spot you and slap you with a penalty.

It’s not just the 63 designated national parks where you need to watch out, either.

The drone ban covers all areas managed by the National Park Service, including historic sites, trails, rivers, and more.

Basically, if it’s got the NPS stamp on it, keep your drone grounded unless you’ve got written permission from the big boss (aka the superintendent).

The bottom line? It’s just not worth the risk.

Stick to flying your drone in approved areas and save yourself the trouble of tangling with the law.

Trust me, you don’t want to be the cautionary tale that ends up in next year’s article on national park drone regulations!

Exceptions

Amidst the stringent regulations, a glimmer of hope exists for drone enthusiasts visiting national parks.

While the general public is prohibited from flying drones, the National Park Service (NPS) itself can use them for specific administrative purposes.

These include tasks like safety surveillance, search and rescue operations, monitoring fire safety, conducting scientific studies, and capturing aerial photography.

However, it’s not as simple as park rangers deciding to launch a drone on a whim.

To fly a drone for official purposes, the NPS must first obtain written approval from the regional director. This guarantees that drone usage is carefully considered and only permitted when it serves a legitimate and necessary function.

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Alternatives and Exceptions To Flying Your Drone In A National Park

While you can’t fly your drone within national park boundaries, you’ve got some great alternatives nearby. Check out the surrounding national forests and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands, which often allow drone use.

Just be sure to follow their specific regulations and guidelines.

Outside Park Boundaries

Launching your drone outside national park boundaries offers an alternative to the ban, but you’ll need to do your homework first. While you can legally take off and land outside the park, you’ll still need permission from the landowner of the spot you choose.

So, how do you go about getting that approval?

Start by identifying who owns the land, whether it’s a private individual, a business, or another government agency.

Once you know who to ask, reach out politely and explain your plans. Be ready to address any concerns they may have about safety, noise, or privacy.

Of course, even with the landowner’s blessing, you’ll still need to follow all applicable FAA regulations.

That means staying below 400 feet, keeping your drone within visual line of sight, and steering clear of airports, stadiums, and other restricted areas.

As long as you do your due diligence and fly responsibly, launching from outside the park can be a great way to capture stunning aerial footage without running afoul of NPS rules.

Just remember, a little planning goes a long way!

National Forests and BLM Lands

If you’re itching to fly your drone but don’t want to break the law in a national park, consider exploring national forests and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands instead.

While the National Park Service has a strict ban on drones across all their managed areas, national forests and BLM lands offer some alternatives.

In these areas, you might be able to launch, land, and operate your drone, as long as you follow their specific guidelines and restrictions. It’s always wise to check with the local management first to understand what’s allowed and what’s not.

Keep in mind that even in national forests and BLM lands, there may be designated wilderness areas where drones are a no-go.

It’s important to respect these boundaries and any other rules they’ve in place.

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How To Legally Fly A Drone In A USA National Park

If you’re excited to fly your drone in a national park, you’ll need to follow some important steps.

First, familiarize yourself with the specific regulations of the park you plan to visit.

Next, clearly identify the purpose of your drone flight and reach out to the park’s management to discuss your intentions.

Identify the Purpose

While getting permission to fly your drone in a national park for recreational purposes is unlikely, you may be able to secure a permit for specific activities that benefit the public interest or park management.

If you’re a researcher, you might be granted a permit to use your drone for scientific studies, like monitoring wildlife populations or evaluating the health of ecosystems.

Search and rescue teams could also get the green light to deploy drones to help locate missing persons or access hard-to-reach areas during emergencies.

In some cases, the park service itself may use drones for administrative purposes, such as surveying land, inspecting infrastructure, or managing fires.

Filmmakers and photographers might also be able to snag a permit if their project serves a significant public interest, like documenting a historic event or raising awareness about conservation efforts.

The key is to have a clear, well-defined purpose that aligns with the park’s mission and benefits the public.

Contact the National Park

Before you pack your drone for a national park adventure, reach out to the specific park where you plan to fly. Each park has its own permitting process and requirements, so it’s important to get in touch with them directly.

You can usually find their contact information on the park’s official website under sections like ‘Permits‘ or ‘Commercial Use Authorizations‘.

When you reach out, be prepared to provide details about your planned drone activity. This might include the specific dates, times, and locations where you intend to fly, as well as the purpose of your flight (recreational, commercial, scientific, etc.).

The park staff will guide you through their specific requirements, which may involve submitting an application, providing proof of insurance, or agreeing to certain restrictions.

Keep in mind that the permitting process can take some time, so don’t wait until the last minute to make contact.

By reaching out well in advance and following the park’s guidelines, you’ll be setting yourself up for a smooth and legal drone flying experience in some of America’s most breathtaking natural settings.

Submit a Special Use Permit (SUP) Application

Once you’ve contacted the national park and confirmed their specific requirements, you’ll need to submit a Special Use Permit (SUP) application to legally fly your drone within park boundaries.

The application process can be a bit challenging, but don’t worry, we’ve got your back.

You’ll need to provide detailed information about your planned drone use, including the purpose, dates, locations, and safety measures.

It’s important to have a well-thought-out plan that addresses potential impacts on wildlife, visitors, and park resources.

The more thorough and thoughtful your proposal, the better your chances of getting approved.

Keep in mind that the review process may take some time, so it’s best to submit your application well in advance of your intended flight dates.

Be patient and responsive to any additional requests or clarifications from the park officials.

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Provide Supporting Documentation

To strengthen your SUP application and increase the likelihood of approval, you’ll need to provide several key supporting documents.

First and foremost, you’ll want to include proof of insurance for your drone.

This shows the NPS that you’re prepared to take responsibility for any potential mishaps.

Next, make sure to attach your FAA drone registration and pilot certification. These demonstrate that you’re legally allowed to fly and have the necessary knowledge and skills.

Don’t forget to craft a detailed flight plan that outlines your intended route, altitude, and purpose. This gives the NPS a clear picture of what you’re aiming to achieve.

In some cases, you might also need to supply an environmental impact assessment. This is especially important if you’re planning to fly in sensitive ecological areas.

By thoroughly addressing any potential concerns, you’ll show that you’re a responsible pilot who respects the park’s natural wonders.

Pay the Application Fee

After compiling your supporting documents, you’ll need to submit a non-refundable application fee along with your SUP application.

This fee isn’t just a formality – it helps cover the costs of processing and reviewing your request to fly a drone in a national park.

Now, don’t expect a one-size-fits-all fee.

The amount you’ll need to pay can vary quite a bit depending on which park you’re applying to and how complex your proposed drone operation is. It’s a bit like ordering off a menu – the more elaborate your request, the higher the price tag.

But hey, think of it as an investment in your epic aerial adventure! Plus, it’s a small price to pay for the chance to capture some truly breathtaking footage in America’s most stunning natural treasures.

Review and Approval Process

You’ve submitted your SUP application and paid the fee, but now comes the real test – the review and approval process.

Don’t expect an instant green light; park officials will carefully scrutinize your request, which can take several weeks or even months.

The complexity of your plans and the park’s current workload will determine how long you’ll be waiting for a response.

During this time, be prepared for the possibility of follow-up questions or requests for additional information from the park.

They may need more details to fully grasp your intended drone use and make sure it aligns with their policies and priorities.

Patience is key during this phase. Resist the urge to bombard them with status updates, as that won’t speed things along. Trust that they’re working diligently behind the scenes to evaluate your application thoroughly.

If all goes well, you’ll receive the coveted approval letter, officially granting you permission to fly your drone in the specified national park.

But if not, don’t be too discouraged – use any feedback they provide to refine your plans and consider reapplying in the future.

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Compliance with Permit Conditions

Your permit is approved, granting you the green light to fly your drone in the national park – but don’t take off just yet.

It’s vital to thoroughly review and understand the conditions outlined in your permit. These conditions are put in place to guarantee the safety of visitors, wildlife, and the park’s natural and cultural resources.

You’ll need to stick to the designated areas and times specified in your permit. Keep your drone within visual line of sight and maintain a safe distance from people, animals, and structures.

Remember, the maximum allowed altitude is usually 400 feet above ground level.

It’s also important to respect wildlife and not disturb their natural behaviors. Avoid flying near nests, dens, or other sensitive habitats.

And of course, always prioritize the safety of others.

Be prepared to land your drone immediately if it poses any risk to visitors or park resources.

Post-Operation Reporting

Once you’ve completed your permitted drone flight in the national park, don’t forget the essential step of post-operation reporting. Some parks may require you to submit a detailed report outlining your drone activities and any incidents that occurred during your flight.

This isn’t just an important step – it’s a vital part of the process that helps the park assess the impact of drone use and improve future permitting procedures.

So, what should you include in your report? Be sure to cover the basics like the date, time, and location of your flight. Describe your drone model and any specific equipment you used.

If you encountered any issues or had to make any unplanned landings, include those details as well.

The park staff isn’t looking to criticize your flying skills – they just want to gather data to help manage drone use effectively.

By providing a thorough and honest report, you’re contributing to the responsible use of drones in our national parks.

Plus, it shows that you’re a conscientious pilot who takes the privilege of flying in these protected areas seriously. So, don’t skip this important step!

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Examples Of People Who Broke The Law Flying A Drone In National Parks

While the drone ban in national parks is clear, some people have still broken the law and faced consequences.

Let’s take a look at a few examples of incidents where individuals flew drones illegally in national parks.

From the Grand Prismatic Spring incident in Yellowstone to the enforcement efforts in Hawai’i Volcanoes, these cases highlight the importance of following the rules.

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Grand Prismatic Spring Incident (Yellowstone National Park, 2014)

In a troubling incident that underscores the significance of flying drones in national parks, a Dutch tourist named Theodorus Van Vliet crashed his drone into Yellowstone’s iconic Grand Prismatic Spring in August 2014.

The drone, which remains submerged in the spring, raises serious concerns about potential environmental damage. Its plastic body and battery components could alter the spring’s delicate thermal waters and chemical balance.

Despite efforts to locate and retrieve the drone, its exact position remains a mystery, making removal a challenging task. Van Vliet faced the consequences of his actions, receiving a $3,200 fine and potentially facing up to six months in jail for violating the National Park Service’s strict ban on drones.

This incident serves as a stark reminder of the importance of respecting the rules and regulations set forth by the NPS. By disregarding the drone ban, visitors not only risk legal repercussions but also jeopardize the pristine beauty and ecological balance of these protected areas.

It’s vital for everyone to understand and adhere to these guidelines to preserve our national parks for generations to come.

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Zion National Park Incident (2014)

The essential beauty of Zion National Park was shattered in May 2014 when an illegal drone harassed a herd of bighorn sheep, causing distress and separation among the animals. If you’re considering flying a drone in Zion or any other national park, think again.

The incident, witnessed by volunteers, saw a drone flying close to the herd, causing it to scatter and leaving several young sheep separated from the adults. This seemingly vital act could’ve easily led to the deaths of the vulnerable young sheep.

Park officials take such violations seriously, emphasizing that drone use is strictly prohibited in Zion due to its potential to harass wildlife, disturb the peace, and endanger visitors. The consequences are severe, with offenders facing up to six months in prison and/or a hefty $5,000 fine.

It’s important to understand that the drone ban applies to all areas managed by the National Park Service, not just the 63 designated national parks.

So, if you’re tempted to capture some aerial footage during your park visit, remember that it’s not worth risking the well-being of the wildlife and your own freedom.

General Enforcement (Yellowstone National Park, 2017)

Park rangers at Yellowstone National Park filed an alarming 27 criminal cases related to illegal drone use between April and December 2017, highlighting the ongoing problem of rogue operators violating the park’s strict no-fly policy.

You might think it’s no big deal to snap a quick aerial shot of Old Faithful, but unauthorized drones can seriously disrupt wildlife and ruin other visitors’ experiences.

Take the incident at Grand Teton National Park, where a drone illegally hovered over grizzly bears, stressing out the animals and potentially putting both bears and nearby visitors at risk.

The NPS takes these violations seriously, and if you’re caught flying a drone where you shouldn’t, you could face hefty fines or even jail time. It’s just not worth it.

The rules are there for a reason – to safeguard the natural environment and ensure everyone can safely enjoy these incredible places.

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Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park Incident

When a drone pilot brazenly ignored rangers’ warnings at Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, he got a shocking reminder of the serious consequences for breaking the law. In April 2015, Travis Sanders made the ill-advised decision to fly his drone near the Halema’uma’u Crater, a sensitive area known for its volcanic activity and cultural significance.

Despite repeated warnings from park rangers, Sanders stubbornly continued his illegal drone flight. Fed up with his defiance, a ranger resorted to using a taser to subdue the uncooperative pilot.

This incident serves as a stark example of how seriously the National Park Service takes drone violations. They won’t hesitate to use force to protect the park’s natural wonders and visitors’ experiences. It’s not just about following rules; it’s about respecting the environment and others.

Flying a drone in a national park isn’t just illegal, it’s reckless and selfish.

So, if you’re tempted to bring your drone on your next park visit, remember Sanders’ story and leave it at home. The risks simply aren’t worth the momentary thrill of capturing that aerial footage.

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what is the fine for flying a drone in a national park

 The penalties for violating this ban can be severe, including fines up to $5,000 and a maximum of six months in jail

While some exceptions exist for activities such as search and rescue, scientific research, and fire safety, obtaining the necessary special use permits is challenging and requires compliance with both NPS and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations

Additionally, even if a drone is launched from outside park boundaries, operators can still face penalties if their drone disturbs wildlife or creates a nuisance.

Conclusion

You’re now equipped with the knowledge to safely and legally enjoy America’s national parks with your drone in 2024. Remember, the drone ban is in place to protect these treasured landscapes and their inhabitants.

By respecting the rules and exploring alternative options, you can still capture stunning aerial footage without risking fines or damaging the environment.

So, pack your bags, charge your batteries, and get ready for an unforgettable, law-abiding adventure!

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