Drones Banned (for Now) in Washington's National Parks
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.”
- Read the statement issued by the National Park Service
- Read The Washington Post article
- Read the Associated Press story
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?