ZION NATIONAL PARK – Volunteers at Zion National Park recently witnessed a remote controlled drone flying close to a herd of bighorn sheep on the eastern side of the park.
They observed the herd scattering at the approach of the drone with several young sheep separated from the adults. Harassment of wildlife within the park is illegal, as is the use of drones.
A drone is an unmanned aerial vehicle. Its flight is controlled either autonomously by on-board computers or by remote control.
The penalty for using a drone in Zion National Park can be up to 6 months imprisonment and/or a $5,000 fine.
“I am sure most people who fly drones have no desire to harm wildlife or endanger our other visitors,” park Superintendent Jim Milestone said. “Many may not even know that it is illegal to fly a drone here at Zion.”
Educating the public on the reasons of the drone restrictions is hoped to bring understanding and compliance to help protect the interests of the park.
Rangers have seen a large increase in the use of drones within the park. Some visitors have complained about drones interrupting the usual peace of Zion’s soundscape and wilderness, while others have reported feeling unsafe as drones buzz through slot canyons and along exposed trails such as Angels Landing and Canyon Overlook.
The recent observation of the bighorn sheep encounter with a drone also demonstrates the negative impact they can have on the wildlife within Zion National Park, particularly in the spring when many animals are caring for their young.
In addition to impacting ground-based wildlife, drones may prevent birds from successfully nesting or may cause nests to be abandoned if the birds feel harassed.
“Drones are a new challenge for Zion National Park and our mission of resource protection,” Cassie Waters, wildlife biologist said, “Animals can be injured when attempting to escape or avoid drone activity.”
Drones can change the natural behavior of wildlife along with the possibility of unnecessary energy exposure, Waters said.
“This has the potential to affect survival and reproductive success in many species,” she said, “We are therefore really concerned with drones, their effect on wildlife, and our ability to preserve the natural environment.”
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