National Park Service (NPS) Director Jonathan B. Jarvis has signed a policy memorandum that directs superintendents nationwide to prohibit launching, landing or operating unmanned aerial systems (UAS) on lands and waters administered by the NPS.
“We embrace many activities in national parks because they enhance visitor experiences with the iconic natural, historic and cultural landscapes in our care,” Jarvis says in a 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.”
UAS have already been prohibited at several national parks, which initiated bans after noise and nuisance complaints from park visitors, an incident in which park wildlife were harassed, and park visitor safety concerns.
The policy memorandum directs park superintendents to take a number of steps to exclude UAS from national parks. The steps include drafting a written justification for the action, ensuring compliance with applicable laws and providing public notice of the action.
The memorandum does not affect the primary jurisdiction of the Federal Aviation Administration over the National Airspace System.
The policy memorandum is a temporary measure. Jarvis says the next step will be to propose a service-wide regulation regarding unmanned aircraft – a process that can take considerable time, depending on the complexity of the rule, and includes public notice of the proposed regulation and an opportunity for public comment.
The policy memo directs superintendents to use their existing authority within the Code of Federal Regulations to prohibit the use of UAS and to include that prohibition in the park’s compendium, a set of park-specific regulations.
All permits previously issued for unmanned aircraft will be suspended until reviewed and approved by the associate director of the NPS’ Visitor and Resource Protection directorate. The associate director must approve any new special-use permits authorizing the use of unmanned aircraft. Superintendents who have previously authorized the use of model aircraft for hobbyist or recreational use may allow such use to continue.
The NPS may use unmanned aircraft for administrative purposes such as search and rescue, fire operations and scientific study. These uses must also be approved by the associate director for visitor and resource protection.