It's true that nobody is allowed to fly their drone in a national or provincial park without a special exemption. But don't take it too personally — flying any aircraft in a national or provincial park is prohibited, and drones just happen to fall into that category.
There's no clear regulatory distinction between flying a drone and flying any other aircraft. That might not be intuitive to the many people who are using their drones in provincial and national parks, which is a consistent problem.
Postmedia reported that 26 warnings were issued to drone operators in Banff National Park. According to the park's External Relations Manager, Judy Glowinski, "all of them were unaware of the rules and regulations regarding drone use in the national parks."
Similar warnings were issued in nearby Kananaskis Country and in Calgary's Fish Creek Provincial Park.
They weren't so friendly at Elk Island Provincial Park, just east of Edmonton. While park officials told Edmonton Metro that most drone pilots are simply issued warnings, in August 2016 one person was charged with the unlawful take off and landing of an aircraft, which comes with a fine of up to $25,000.
Officials admitted that part of it is trying to keep regulations on pace with a technology that is hard to keep up with. "It's a growing, expanding technology and we're trying to keep on top of it just like most other folks across Canada," said Glowinski. "There's definitely a growing interest, and education and awareness of what it means to use or not use a drone in the national park is key for us."
But why are drones prohibited at all? They aren't aircraft, so what harm could they really cause? Glowinski cited issues, wildlife, noise and privacy concerns. He was particularly concerned with how they can negatively affect wildlife. "They end up spending more energy trying to find a place to eat because they are having to move away from where they naturally eat," he said. "It's something different, so they see it as a threat."
At Elk Island, it was drone users looking to get shots of the bison the populate the park. “[Bison] are really sensitive to noise,” said an official, “they will physically move out of the area, and like to kind of move in one line so they’ll start to file off into another area.” That stresses the animlas out, or pushes them into areas of the park that don't have adequate food.
Parks also get complaints from other visitors, who visit specifically to get away from technology.
That isn't to say it's impossible to fly your drone in a park, you just need a really good reason to do it. The superintendent for national parks can issue a restricted activity permit to people who are able to show how it supports the park's management purposes. Examples would be natural or cultural resource management and protection, public safety, law enforcement or park maintenance.
According to Glowinski, Banff has issued a total of four restricted activity permits. Two went to the Royal Ontario Museum, to capture aerial footage and map terrain. One was given to a tour company for an educational display at the top of the gondola and Banff Lake Louise Tourism got one so they could make promotional materials.
As you might imagine, the reqeusts that they deny are far greater than those that are approved. Glowinski said they get one or two requests per week.
It's important to note that anyone in contravention of regulations, a drone user's insurance is void. Always fly your drone within Transport Canada's guildelines. More questions? Here's a guide to four ways you can legally fly your UAV in Canada.
(Photo credit: Unsplash/gabrielssantiago)