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Drones Banned (for Now) in Washington's National Parks

Posted by Loren D at Jul 02, 2014 08:15 PM |
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The National Park Service has banned drones on National Park lands, including Mount Rainier National Park, Olympic National Park and North Cascades National Park. Do you think drones have a place on Washington's hiking trails?

Late last month, the National Park Service issued a nationwide ban on launching, landing or operating unmanned aircraft, or drones, on National Park lands, including Mount Rainier National Park, Olympic National Park and North Cascades National Park.

Concerns that drones will disturb wildlife, park visitors prompt policy

“We embrace many activities in national parks because they enhance visitor experiences with the iconic natural, historic and cultural landscapes in our care," said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis in the statement. “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.”

Digging in to the thorny questions around technology on (and off) trails

From cameras to GPS, emergency beacons to wildflower identification apps, new technologies have provided some great (though not always reliable) tools to explore, document and share outdoor experiences. On the flip side, the popularity and growing ubiquity of technology like Google Glass or camera-equipped flying robots raises real questions about privacy, the backcountry experience and added responsibilities of technology users around wildlife and their fellow hikers on public lands.

Earlier this year, Outside Magazine contributing editor Eric Hansen went searching for answers to some of these questions in a feature (A Boy and His Drone) about both the allure and drawbacks of commercially-available drones in the outdoors:

"The thought of all these little buggers flying around our favorite outdoor places is perturbing, as is the potential for harassment—of both humans and wildlife—and privacy violations. (Imagine how you'd feel if a drone whizzed by your head as you savored a successful climb of Mount Rainier.) But their appeal is just as apparent. When I first saw a popular YouTube video of surfing footage shot via drone at Santa Cruz's Steamer Lane, I swooned. It was so cool to have no idea where the camera would go next—right beside a rock with sea lions one moment, high above crashing waves the next."

Hansen ultimately comes down on the side of banning drones in federal wilderness areas, but if the topic of drones interests you, the full article is worth a read.

In a Wired article last year, writer Mat Honan suggested that in a connected world, we have to do more management of our relationships to technology in order to preserve the special experiences gleaned from stepping out into the wild:

"The phone isn’t the problem. The problem is us—our inability to step away from email and games and inessential data, our inability to look up, be it at an alpine lake or at family members. We won’t be able to get away from it all for very much longer. So it’s vitally important that each of us learns how to live with a persistent connection, everywhere we go, whether it’s in the wilderness or at a dinner party."

It's possible that's true, but what that means for the future of drones in the skies above Washington's public lands ranging from Mount Rainier (a National Park) to the Salmo-Priest Wilderness (a wilderness area on National Forest land) to Cougar Mountain (a King County Park) remains to be seen.

What do you think about drones on trail?

We'd love to hear what you think. Do drones have a place on Washington's hiking trails? Does their potential for scientific study, photography or documenting the outdoor experience outweigh the potential negative impacts? Will they intrude on the wilderness experience?




    I admit I was thinking about buying one to use up on top of the mountain to get aerial shots of myself and the top of a mountain with my go pro camera but I do understand peoples concern with wildlife and disturbing the wilderness so I guess the idea of purchasing one has for this has been answered for me at this time so I guess I wont buy one but I doubt this will stop people who really want to do what I was thinking..

    Posted by:

    fox15rider on Jul 03, 2014 11:29 AM

    Ruined by the reckless

    Though I don't personally own one, I'm familiar with the quadcopter community and the obsessive safety measures they encourage to ensure that their hobby will never cause harm or worry. Unfortunately, one particular model (the one in the stock photo) is mass produced and cheap enough that many people are getting involved without learning any basic etiquette. These people are ruining all the potential that these machines have. They fly them where they shouldn't and annoy others, which has effectively turned society's view on these from interest and wonder to fear. Meanwhile, those that would have fun in a way that would never bother you are being punished.

    Posted by:

    sloof70 on Jul 07, 2014 04:49 PM

    Babyshark on Drones Banned (for Now) in Washington's National Parks

    I agree with the Ban for now,last thing many people want is drones buzzing around while your enjoying a nice hike away from civilization. I could see allowing them with a permit and only using it around you to take some cool picture but thats about it. I know if a drone starts following me its gonna get destroyed.

    Posted by:

    "Babyshark" on Jul 10, 2014 09:30 AM


    I understand both sides of the argument. I want to go to the wilderness to enjoy the beauty of nature but I defiently love the videos and pictures that you can capture with drones. I believe a process of getting a permit that would limit the number of drones in area during a period of time would help eleveate this process. People have to get a specual use permit to do commercial photography in the National Parks.

    Posted by:

    stoneyk on Jul 11, 2014 10:47 AM

    Ummm... privacy... not...

    Not that I care strongly one way or another, however the law and precedence is long established and very clear that when one is in a public place, one has no expectation of privacy. Period. The great out of doors being about as public as it gets, the law applies. The law even goes further, in presenting oneself (being present in) a public place, one is agreeing to an "implied consent" to have their likeness recorded. It is involuntary and irrevocable, meaning it simply *is* and there is nothing one can do to revoke it. Same thing applies to the skinny dippers and sunbathers who sometimes get persnickity when others happen by, lollygag, or start snapping pictures.

    Posted by:

    creakyKnees on Jul 14, 2014 02:56 PM

    Be like Smoky the Bear

    Sling shot? Shotgun w/ rock salt load? Flame thrower? what will we have to pack into the woods to take out all the drones? Banning them simply helps prevent forest fires, so I'm on board :-)

    Posted by:

    lw on Jul 15, 2014 12:59 PM

    saw one today MRNP

    Paradise parking lot, i don't get the draw.

    Posted by:

    Hikingqueen on Jul 15, 2014 07:53 PM

    Drones and wilderness don't mix

    It doesn't matter how responsible an individual drone owner might be - the presence of a buzzing piece of machinery in the sky destroys the experience we all come to the wilderness to enjoy, and the more drones there are, the more violence done to the place. The collective interest in enjoying wilderness totally outstrips the individual good of getting cool footage. I'd support banning them permanently (except perhaps by permit - there might be legitimate reasons to allow it in certain cases).

    I assume they're already banned in wilderness, since they're motorized equipment?

    Posted by:

    Paul Kriloff on Jul 16, 2014 12:39 PM

    If you ban drones, ban talking on cell phones!

    I own a drone, the kind pictured with this article. It isn't very loud and once it's 20 feet off the ground you can barely hear it. Above that height it is silent. I find people talking on cell phones much more irritating. And, almost everyone has a cell phone these days versus those who own a drone and would have the potential to fly it in the back country much less carry it there.

    A study of noise between cell phone talkers on a peak versus the sound of a drone would really put this argument into perspective.

    Posted by:

    Stephen on Jul 17, 2014 08:19 AM

    Agree with the Ban

    I see no reason why we can't have ONE place that we can be free from the hum and whir of modern day life so I agree with the ban.

    Hrmmm someone talking on their cellphone isn't all that annoying to me. I hear no difference when someone is talking to the person next to them on a peak versus talking into their phone. Maybe they should do a study of noise between people talking into their phone versus them talking to the person next to them.

    Ridiculous comparisons aside, they will be used to fly right into animals faces. They will be used for voyeurism which goes well beyond any kind of right to privacy argument. They will be used to annoy people (think back to the days of the 'funny' guy with the laser pointer in the crowd) because it's human nature. People will crash them into things. I don't care if one can get a better angle with a drone. No ones going to watch your videos anyways.

    I had a R/C helicopter when I was kid but I was weird I guess because I enjoyed flying it more than taking footage with it.

    Posted by:

    Jacob on Jul 18, 2014 08:34 AM

    Be responsible and use common sense

    Life already requires both responsibility and common sense. However, many people lack these characteristics, which is why rules and laws have to be made. Of course just because rules and laws are made; doesn't mean they will be followed and sometimes enforcement is all but impossible. Being able to use a drone shouldn't be restricted because of the potential misuse by some but how to do we hold a drone user accountable if they're not able to be caught?

    Posted by:

    "smileysnwbrdr" on Aug 27, 2014 10:31 AM

    My thoughts on Drones

    As someone who has a drone and packs it into the allowed backcountry I hope people will keep the reality clear. They are allowed in some wilderness areas first of all, so know the law before you say anything. They are not loud, say like the old jetskis that were banned in the San Juan Islands. Today the new jet skis are very quiet, more quiet than the big luxury yachts. There are also laws that effect all to keep everyone from harassing wildlife. I think this is the same effect. The actual working time of today's drones are about 12 minutes, maybe 20, but you have to pack in at least 15-20 pounds of equipment. I just don't see a lot of people doing that or have the capability to do it. As far as looking at people like spying. Once the unit is up about 50 feet you really can't see the distinction between a man or a woman. Again if the camera is telephoto maybe, but that is again a weight problem that I don't see a backpacker succumbing to. I make YouTube videos and have plenty of followers that are immobile and love to experience the outdoors through the video process. There is also the ability to see the fantastic outdoors in a truly magical way.

    I would have no problem getting a permit. I would also adhere to any laws pertaining to wildlife harassment or personal privacy, and visual contact with equipment. These are not the voodoo items that the knee-jerk reactionaries are portraying them to be. I would be happy to engage with any government agency to discuss this in a realistic way.

    Posted by:

    Backwoods Bruce on Sep 18, 2015 11:02 AM

    Voyeurism? Violence?

    Uhh,again I have no dog in this hunt, however, using terms like violence to describe the presence off a drone is over the to polemic and contributes nothing to a rational conversation.

    And voyeurism? By definition it can't exist in the great out doors. Again, when one conducts oneself in public there is consent granted to having oneself observed, photographed, recorded. There is NO expectation of privacy and ergo can be not be voyeurism.

    Personally, I'd rather not have drones in the backcountry, but specious claims and polemic do not contribute to the conversation.

    Posted by:

    creakyKnees on Sep 18, 2015 11:17 AM