3D Robotics

Yosemite National Park has a drone problem

3689591422?profile=originalFrom AP/ABC News:

The bald eagle, the yellow warbler and the peregrine falcon have been joined in the skies above Yosemite National Park by a noisy newcomer: the drone.

The National Park Service issued a statement Friday reminding visitors that federal regulations actually ban the use of unmanned aircraft within the park's boundaries.

Yet that hasn't stopped drone sightings from becoming a nearly daily occurrence in one of the nation's most venerated national parks in recent years, said Scott Gediman, a park ranger for nearly two decades.

"There has been an increasing use of the drones just because they are more prevalent on the market," he said, adding, "It's a new toy."

The drones can often be seen buzzing loudly near waterfalls, above meadows or over treetops as guests use them to capture otherwise impossible-to-get photographs of the breathtaking landscape.

"Most if not all of the people using these are simply unaware that they're illegal," Gediman told The Associated Press.

One problem with the devices is that they can be distracting for personnel during emergency rescue operations, according to the Park Service.

Another issue is that they make lots of noise, putting a potential damper on the park experience for visitors.

"It takes away from the soundscape and the beauty of the park," Gediman said.

The remote-operated aircraft can also interfere with sensitive wildlife, such as peregrine falcons, which nest on cliff walls.

As rangers gear up for an increase in visitors during the summer, Gediman said he hopes Friday's announcement — along with similar advisories on Facebook and Twitter — will encourage people to leave their drones at home.

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  • We see things much different than people in law enforcement. We think about what is right and wrong and they think about what is legal and illegal. This is a bit of an overgeneralization but to get convictions, they have to work within very specific rules whether they agree with them or not. I suspect that the weak arguments come from the starting point that its illegal and this is why. Why not isn't even him their frame of reference.

  • I somewhat understand the park's point - in sensitive wilderness areas it can be hard to overstate the impact that non-native things have on the area. We really don't know how something like a nesting site for falcons is impacted by RC craft operating in the area - we just recently brought the peregrines back from near-extinction, they are still extremely fragile.

    I'm comfortable with a slow and steady approach when it comes to wilderness areas (especially ones like Yosemite which are already mobbed with human activity), but I wish it was more nuanced than just "not allowed!"

    Maybe they could consider "no fly zones" around nesting sites, or perhaps issue a limited number of flight permits per day, the same way they limit some hiking areas or camping sites to reduce impact. Or heck, even just some outreach to educate people on the possible impact of flying machines on parts of the park and ask people to voluntarily restrict their flights to certain areas.

  • After doing a bit more poking around, I found the basis upon which Yosemite National Park is claiming "drones" are prohibited. They are quoting 36 CFR 2.17 of the Federal Code, which applies to all national parks and specifically covers "Aircraft and air delivery". Per that section, the following is prohibited:

    (3)  Delivering or retrieving a person or object by parachute, helicopter, or other airborne means, except in emergencies involving public safety or serious property loss, or pursuant to the terms and conditions of a permit.

    For Yosemite NP to claim this section, which clearly applies to full size aircraft operation, includes model hobbyist aircraft is breathtakingly nonsensical. Perhaps the National Park Service has decided to challenge the FAA for the "Stupidest Federal Agency in Dealing With Drones" award?

    If this blanket section were really applicable, the other national parks that have implemented model aircraft restrictions via their Superintendent's Compendium wouldn't have had to do that.

  • Those are some really weak arguments against drones. I live in a national park and hav had some issues with one warden.  He argues that my rc planes are real planes under the law and real planes were banned about 10 years ago from taking off or landing in the park.

    The definition of aircraft is so broad that another warder pointed out that it would include kites and frisbees. I pretty much just slope soar these days but I did see a warden hiding in the bush watching me.

    The point on interfering with visitor experience is the point that really gets me.  Whenever I fly, people seem more interested in my plane than anything else.

  • I'm curious where in the Yosemite regulations "drone" flying is prohibited. I've looked into this before and failed to come across any regulation against it. Some parks, such as Grand Canyon and Joshua Tree, do have specific prohibitions for those parks contained in their park's  "Superintendent's Compendium". 

    These compendiums seem to be rule sets adopted specifically for certain national parks and where the prohibition on the flying of model airplanes and missiles (as they are usually identified) are set forth. As an aside,I suppose it could be argued a quadcopter is neither an airplane nor a missile.

    Anyway, here is the Superintendent's Compendium for Yosemite National Park. They prohibit a lot of fun things, but I can't seem to a model aircraft restriction included in the list.

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