A Dutch man who was visiting Yellowstone National Park was fined $3,000 (£1,847) for crashing his done into the Grand Prismatic hot spring when he pled guilty to the charge of illegally flying a drone last week. He is not the first person who was levied a fine for drone flight this year either. A German man was also fined $1600 for losing his drone in Yellowstone Lake.
This may be a serious trend of fines and even jail time, seeing that the National Park Service has banned all use of unmanned aircraft this June, with exception of emergency usage. Their official statement can be found on their website. If this policy stands, you could face a fine up to $5000 and/or jail time of up to 6 months. Different parks have released inconsistant park alerts in an attempt to curb the use of drones. This has left park visitors confused as to what the actual rules are. This is the alert from Yosemite National Park:
Yosemite National Park advises visitors that the use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (Drones) are prohibited within park boundaries due to regulations outlined in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). Specifically, the use of drones within the park boundaries is illegal under all circumstances. Thirty Six 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. This applies to drones of all shapes and sizes.
The park has experienced an increase in visitors using drones within park boundaries over the last few years. Drones have been witnessed filming climbers ascending climbing routes, filming views above tree-tops, and filming aerial footage of the park. Drones can be extremely noisy, and can impact the natural sounds cape. Drones can also impact the wilderness experience for other visitors creating an environment that is not conducive to wilderness travel. The use of drones also interferes with emergency rescue operations and can cause confusion and distraction for rescue personnel and other parties involved in the rescue operation. Additionally, drones can have negative impacts on wildlife nearby the area of use, especially sensitive nesting peregrine falcons on cliff walls.
Visitors traveling to the park should be aware that the use of drones is prohibited while visiting the park and should not be utilized at any time.
This is a bit of a stretch to use CFR 2.17(a)(3) to ban flight in a national park especially when the CFR is titled "Aircraft and delivery". You can find this CFR sandwiched between "2.16 - Horses and pack animals" and "2.18 - Snowmobiles". I'm not sure the intended frame of reference was to ban consumer drones with a 6.7 oz GoPro payload.
The opportunity to capture footage like this may have, sadly, passed. All previous unmanned vehicle permits have been suspended until they can be reviewed by the associate director and the Visitor and Resource Protection directorate. With the rate things move in the government, you're likely to be waiting a while.