Olympic National Park adopts federal policy banning unmanned aircraft

OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK — Unmanned aircraft are banned from within the boundaries of Olympic National Park unless there is written approval from Superintendent Sarah Creachbaum, park officials announced Thursday.

“It’s national policy,” park spokeswoman Rainey McKenna said.

“There hasn’t been a particular incident that prompted [the announcement], but there has been a change in Park Service policy.”

National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis signed a policy memorandum in June that directed superintendents nationwide to prohibit launching, landing or operating unmanned aircraft on lands and waters administered by the Park Service.

Federal park officials said the policy directive was prompted by concerns about visitor safety and park resources.

“The use of unmanned aircraft would create unacceptable safety risks to park visitors, as well as impacts to visitor experience and enjoyment of the natural sights and sounds of Olympic National Park,” Creachbaum said in a Thursday news release.

“Additionally, the Wilderness Act of 1964 prohibits the use of motorized equipment within designated wilderness, which comprises 95 percent of the park.”

Unmanned aircraft includes model airplanes, quadcopters and drones.

In 2012, researchers from the National Park Service, U.S. Geological Survey and U.S. Bureau of Land Management deployed remote-controlled, 4½-foot-wide electronic aircraft to study dam removal on the Elwha River.

“There hasn’t been extensive use of unmanned aircraft in the park because it’s relatively new technology,” McKenna said.

Rangers at the Mount Rushmore National Memorial Amphitheater confiscated an unmanned aircraft that flew over a group of visitors last September, Park Service officials said.

In April, a quiet sunset was interrupted for Grand Canyon National Park visitors by a loud unmanned aircraft flying back and forth. The aircraft eventually crashed in the canyon.

Also in April, volunteers at Zion National Park witnessed an unmanned aircraft disturb a herd of bighorn sheep, reportedly separating adults from young animals, Park Service officials said.

“We embrace many activities in national parks because they enhance visitor experiences with the iconic natural, historic and cultural landscapes in our care,” Jarvis said in a Park Service 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.”

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at [email protected]

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