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October 24, 2014

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Drone buzzes bighorn sheep at Zion, prompts statement by park officials

Image

The Salt Lake Tribune, Trent Nelson / AP

Visitors to Zion National Park take in the sights after the park opened on a limited basis Friday, Oct. 11, 2013, near Springdale, Utah.

Big Horn Sheep

A bighorn sheep is seen along the Railroad Trail at Lake Mead Thursday, June 6, 2013. Launch slideshow »

Zion National Park

Zion National Park officials have a message for drone pilots thinking about flying their craft in the park:

Resist the urge.

Officials with Zion National Park, which is near Springdale, Utah, about 150 miles northeast of Las Vegas, issued a news release today in which they said drone use in the park has been on the rise, despite it being illegal.

“Many may not even know that it is illegal to fly a drone here at Zion,” said Jim Milestone, park superintendent. “We hope that by educating the public about the reasons behind the restrictions, we will increase their understanding and compliance and help to protect the park.”

Those reasons include drones’ adverse effects on the park’s wildlife and visitors.

According to Zion officials, volunteers recently witnessed a drone flying close to a herd of bighorn sheep on the eastern side of the park. The approaching drone caused the herd to scatter, which caused several young sheep to separated from the adults by the drone.

Park officials also say they’re fielding more complaints from visitors upset by drones interrupting the peacefulness of the park. Other visitors, they say, have complained they felt unsafe as drones buzzed through slot canyons and along exposed trails.

“I am sure most people who fly drones have no desire to harm wildlife or endanger our other visitors,” Milestone said.

Cassie Waters, a National Park Service wildlife biologist, said drones presented a new challenge for Zion’s mission to protect the area’s natural resources.

“Animals can be injured when attempting to escape or avoid drone activity,” Walters said. “Drones can also change the natural behavior of wildlife and lead to unnecessary energy expenditures. This has the potential to affect survival and reproductive success in many species.”

The penalty for using a drone in Zion can be up to six months imprisonment and/or a $5,000 fine.

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