June 24, 2018
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Drones banned in Acadia, other national parks

Robert F. Bukaty | BDN
Robert F. Bukaty | BDN
Like a frozen waterfall, a four-story high wall of ice clings to the rocks near Otter Point in Acadia National Park at dawn.
By Bill Trotter, BDN Staff

ACADIA NATIONAL PARK, Maine — If you’re planning a trip to Maine’s only national park and think you might order drone deliveries of batteries or bug spray during your visit, you’ll have to reconsider.

Late last week, the director of the National Park Service sent out a memo instructing all park superintendents to prohibit the use of unmanned aircraft, or drones, in national parks. Requests for special permits to use drones in national parks can be submitted to park service officials in Washington for possible approval.

In a news release issued June 20, National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis listed several incidents in which the recent use of drones in national parks has not been well-received.

Last September, rangers concerned about visitor safety confiscated a drone flying over visitors seated in Mount Rushmore National Memorial Amphitheater, according to Jarvis. In April, visitors at Grand Canyon National Park gathered to watch the sunset as a loud drone flew back and forth above them and then crashed into the canyon. That same month, volunteers at Zion National Park witnessed a drone disturb a herd of bighorn sheep.

“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,” Jarvis said in the prepared statement.

Stuart West, head ranger for Acadia, said Tuesday that there has not been a high demand to use drones in the park. He said the only report park staff have ever received about a drone being used in Acadia was about a month ago, on the afternoon of May 25, when someone apparently was using one at the summit of Cadillac Mountain.

That was about the same time and day that rangers responded to the report of a hiker finding the body of a Bar Harbor man in Duck Brook, West said, so rangers never made it to the top of Cadillac to look into who was using the drone and why.

West said the recreational use of drones or any kind of remote-controlled flying aircraft is not allowed in Acadia.

This past spring, Acadia officials spoke with scientists at the University of Maine about the possibility of cooperating to test drones in the park to see if they might be effective for official applications, West said. Drones outfitted with specialized equipment such as infrared cameras might be effective for search and rescue missions, detecting tree mortality, looking for invasive species or counting wildlife, he said.

UMaine has submitted a request for a park permit to test drones in Acadia, West said.

In his memo to park superintendents, Jarvis indicated that all national park permits previously granted for the use of unmanned aircraft will be suspended and, along with any new requests, reviewed for possible approval by National Park Service officials in Washington. With the new policy, West said, the UMaine permit application will have to be forwarded to Washington for consideration.

According to Jarvis, individual parks may use drones for specific official responses or research applications with prior approval from the National Park Service.

Jarvis indicated that the new policy is meant to be a temporary step that eventually will be replaced with a uniform, agency-wide regulation restricting the use of drones in national parks. The process of drafting and adopting a new park service regulation can take time, he noted, but it will include public notice of the proposal and the opportunity for public comment.

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