The National Parks Service just announced a sweeping ban on drones. The new policy prohibits "launching, landing, or operating unmanned aircraft on lands and waters administered by the National Park Service." Why? Because they're disruptive, that's why.
Drones are already banned in a few national parks, including Yosemite, for the simple fact that they're a noisy nuisance. These flying robots bother park-goers. They bother park rangers. And perhaps most importantly, they bother the wildlife. The Parks Service release even lists infractions:
In April, visitors at Grand Canyon National Park gathered for a quiet sunset, which was interrupted by a loud unmanned aircraft flying back and forth and eventually crashing in the canyon. Later in the month, volunteers at Zion National Park witnessed an unmanned aircraft disturb a herd of bighorn sheep, reportedly separating adults from young animals.
Disturbing the sheep!
Not all hope is lost for hobbyists who want a beautiful backdrop for their aerial drone-o-graphs, though. The Parks Service itself will also continue using drones "for administrative purposes such as search and rescue, fire operations and scientific study." The new policy is described as a "temporary measure" pending a more permanent regulation which "can take considerable time" to get approved.
This, of course, falls into the larger effort of figuring out exactly how to make the best use of UAV technology without causing too many problems. The FAA is currently writing rules for the use of commercial drones, which are currently illegal (unless you're BP in Alaska). The process is expected to take several more years. So you may one day get to fly your quadcopter around El Capitan. Just not any day very soon. [NPS]