Park Service Delivers a Blow to Future Ansel Adamses, Bans Drones in Yosemite

Wednesday, May 07, 2014
Drone in Yosemite

Is the War on Drones about to join the War on Drugs, the War on Terror and the War on Christmas among dubious invocations of wartime conditions in support of equally dubious policy positions?

Fans of the pilotless, remote-controlled aircraft—who can envision a world of drone home-delivery, eye-in-the-sky security and long-distance assassination—were not happy when the National Park Service announced last week that it was banning the noisy vehicles from Yosemite.    

The drones can be seen and heard daily in the national park, soaring over pristine and otherwise quiet wilderness, snapping photographs, shooting videos, buzzing sensitive wildlife and otherwise entertaining their operators. With summer approaching and complaints mounting, the park service said it was invoking a regulation that makes the use of drones “illegal under all circumstances” within park boundaries.

Federal regulation 36 CFR 2.17(a)(3) states, “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” is illegal.

The park service says, “This applies to drones of all shapes and sizes.”

Critics say it doesn’t apply to drones at all. Contributor Greg McNeal argues at Forbes that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulation being adopted by reference by the parks service applies to things that deliver other things. Drones are only delivering themselves (unless they are delivering beer or pizza), McNeal wrote, and are more akin to model aircraft than actual aircraft.

Model aircraft or not, the park service warned that “noisy” drones can interfere with emergency rescue operations, impact wildlife (“especially sensitive nesting peregrine falcons on cliff walls”) and ruin the natural soundscape.       

PetaPixel says the tradeoff will be the loss of photographs from vantage points that would have made Ansel Adams envious. A number of websites bemoaning the ban drop Adams’ name as if he would have welcomed a noisy drone for company during his long, famous sojourns there. If alive today, he no doubt would be attaching his GoPro to a DJI Phantom 2 and posting online straight from Yosemite.

Instead, David Kravets at ars technica says, “If the park service has its way, there will be no Ansel Adams in this Digital Age.”

Until the courts or some other governing body overrules the park service, anyone caught trying to be a modern-day Ansel Adams will face a $5,000 fine and six months in jail.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Drones a Daily Sight in Yosemite (by Channing Joseph, Associated Press)

Drone Ban at Yosemite Appears Legally Questionable (by David Kravets, ars technica)

Yosemite Looks to Ban Drones by Relying on an Absurd Legal Argument (by Greg McNeal, Forbes)

No Drone for You! National Park Service Bans Camera Drone Usage in Yosemite (DL Cade, PetaPixel)

Use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (Drones) Prohibited in Yosemite National Park (National Park Service)

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