Drones in National Parks: What Should You Know?

This article will help you better understand existing drones regulations and learn in which National parks and under which circumstances you can fly your drone.
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Last updatedLast updated: August 29, 2021

As the weather gradually warms and the day unfolds in bits, growing longer and brighter, the urge to capture nature at its very finest becomes almost uncontrollable. As a drone pilot who uses drones for different purposes, it is easier to grab some incredible footage of the amazing landscape from high up in the sky. Fascinating, yeah! But ensure you don’t go near the National Parks. Flying your drones in National Parks might land you in trouble, one that attracts stiff penalties. That’s because drones in National Parks have been prohibited.

Well, not entirely. You could still fly your unmanned aerial vehicles in a National Park if you have the Special Use Permit. Not to worry, we will go over the rules and regulations for flying your drones in national parks and reserves. At the end of this article, you will know everything you need to do or have before you can fly your drones in national parks.

Flying Drones in National Parks

The U.S. National Park Service (NPS), in 2014, placed a ban on the use of drones Trusted Source National Park Service bans drone use in all national parks - The Washington Post Unmanned aircraft are no longer welcome in the national park system. www.washingtonpost.com in National Parks. Unmanned aircraft are no longer welcome in the national park system.[/trusted_link] This ban covers the 417 national parks, 23 trails, and 60 rivers that the NPS manages.

According to the Policy Memorandum 14-05, starting from June 16, 2014, the ban prohibits launching, landing, or operating an unmanned aircraft from or on lands and waters administered by the National Park Service, except as approved in writing by the superintendent of NPS.

Why Were Drones Banned in National Parks?

Drones in National Parks: What Should You Know?
So, why were drones banned in Parks? To put it simply, because it’s disturbing to both humans and animals. The noise and visual distraction of a drone would negatively impact the experience of visitors who have come to enjoy and commune with nature.

Considering the recorded pieces of evidence of people who had flown the unmanned aerial vehicles in an irresponsible and interfering manner, it’s only ideal that the NPS decided to adopt a policy to ban all drones going forward.

Apparently, this prohibition seeks to curtail the increasing risk of wildlife harassment, drones accidents, and interruption of the quiet that brings people to the national parks initially.

The ban covers every area of National Parks, including Historic sites, Walking trails, Biking trails, Seashore Monuments, Battlefield Rivers, and most other areas managed by the NPS.

In case you’re wondering why the National Park Service still uses drones, that’s because the NPS is permitted to use drones under specific situations, such as for search and rescue, wildfire monitoring, academic studies, and aerial documentation. However, to fly your drone in the Park, even for any of these things, you must obtain the Special Use Permit.

Unfortunately, experience has shown that a special permit is almost impossible to procure. Nonetheless, the violation of this ban is a misdemeanor with a maximum of six months in jail and a $5,000 fine. And, of course, your gear will be confiscated. That’s a whole lot to risk!

While there are some National Parks where you can apply for permits Trusted Source Commercial drone use: Apply for permits You must have a concession from DOC to fly a drone on public conservation land for any reason. www.doc.govt.nz to use drones, some don’t generally allow it. Even for Parks that offer permits, the process of getting one can be very demanding and requires a lot of patience.

Hence, to avoid getting your drone confiscated or facing the harsh penalty for defying this law, ensure you check your airspace regulations before you set out. You would be surprised that even piloted aircraft like helicopters and airplanes have the minimum height restrictions when flying over any National Parks. Low flying aircraft can severely disrupt resting and breeding animals.

Can You Fly a Drone in a National Forest?

Drones in National Parks: What Should You Know?
Unlike National Parks, you can fly your drones in a National Forest without fear of violating any laws. The National Parks are controlled by the Department of Interior, while the National Forests are under the domains of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

However, there are some rules guiding drone flight, and you might need to get a permit to fly your drones in some specific parts of a National Forest.

According to the USDA, you must fly your drones below 400 feet and clear any surrounding obstacles. This rule applies to all types of drone use, including recreational, commercial, and journalistic use in a National Forest. More importantly, there are some areas with Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFR). Drones are not permitted to fly in such locations within the specified time. 

Also, your drone must not weigh more than 55 pounds, about 25,000 grams (total weight, including payload and fuel source). Not to worry, there are even quality drones even below 25 grams

If you’re flying a drone purposely to inform the public (journalism use), no permit is required, and no fee is charged. But if you have a sophisticated drone, like the sturdy and versatile Holy Stone HS120D or DJI Mini 2, and you want to use it for commercial photography, you will need a permit only if you’re flying at locations where members of the public are not allowed to use sets or props. And you may have to pay landing fees. Consider that as land use fees.

Also, you cannot fly your drone over primitive areas, as tourists visit these places to enjoy the peace, solitude, and quiet they provide. Flying your drone over designated wilderness areas is not permitted. In addition, you cannot fly your drone near or over wildlife. Not only can this create stress and disturbance, but it can also lead to major harm and sometimes death. But if your intent of flying a drone is for fishing and detecting wildlife, ensure you follow the agency regulations. And, absolutely, you cannot fly over a wildfire.

Final Thoughts

Finally, while flying drones in a National Forest is permitted, don’t forget drones in National Parks are prohibited. More importantly, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has authority over all airspace, and as such, they have rules and regulations for flying drones and other Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS). Ensure you know the rules and fly responsibly.

References

1.
National Park Service bans drone use in all national parks - The Washington Post
Unmanned aircraft are no longer welcome in the national park system.
2.
Commercial drone use: Apply for permits
You must have a concession from DOC to fly a drone on public conservation land for any reason.
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