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Drone Ban Deadline In National Parks Nears

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Rocky Mountain National Park (credit: CBS)

Rocky Mountain National Park (credit: CBS)

DENVER (CBS4) - Wednesday is the deadline for all national parks and monuments to prohibit unmanned aircraft, or drones, so the National Park Service can study their use.

There are 13 national parks and monuments in Colorado. None of them had implemented the prohibition by Tuesday, but an official with the parks’ intermountain region — which covers Colorado and seven other states — said that will happen by the deadline.

“We’re expecting our parks will comply and announce tomorrow their plans,” communications director James Doyle said.

In June, National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis told all park superintendents to ban drones from operating in park space. On Monday, officials with Arches and Canyonlands national parks announced that drones are prohibited to protect public safety and prevent “unacceptable impacts” to the scenery and wildlife.

All 401 parks and monuments must comply within 60 days, spokesman Jeffrey Olson said.

“Most of the big parks did it immediately. Some of the smaller ones may have let it go for a time, but they all have to have it done shortly,” Olson said.

The prohibition is a temporary measure, he said, so the National Park Service can study how drones affect visitors and wildlife. The words “drone” and “unmanned aircraft” don’t appear in federal regulations related to the parks, and by policy the parks doesn’t allow new activities until they’re reviewed.

The policy examination will happen over the next 18 months and will involve public comment. Olson said he suspects some drone use will be permitted eventually.

“We look at everything we can and then determine where they could be used and write rules to make that happen,” he said, noting that some parks have relationships with model airplane clubs. “We think there are going to be places where unmanned aircraft are going to be appropriate for park visitors.”

LINK: Colorado’s national parks and monuments

The National Park Service received complaints recently about drones interfering with the tranquility of the parks and that they pestered wildlife. In April, it said a drone bothered a group of visitors that had gathered to watch a “quiet sunset” at Grand Canyon National Park. Later that month, volunteers at Zion National Park in Utah said a drone disturbed a bighorn sheep herd.

However, visitors who used drones in the last two months in parks may not have landed in trouble.

“We expect our rangers to use some discretion, depending on the situation. If they were harassing wildlife, they certainly could have been cited,” Doyle said. “We try to use every opportunity we can to help educate visitors about appropriate uses in parks.”

- Written by Tim Skillern for CBSDenver.com

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