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Breaking news: Drones prohibited from flying over Mono Lake’s State Park

May 5th, 2016 by Lisa, Eastern Sierra Policy Director
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California State Parks has issued a decisive and progressive special order just in time for summer: Unmanned aircraft—“drones”—are now prohibited from flying over land and water in the Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve. No longer will birds, wildlife, and visitors need to endure the buzzing disruption of drones along Mono Lake’s shore.

Specifically, Order Number 683-16-018 states, “Unmanned aircraft, also known as ‘drones,’ ‘quad-copters’ and similar are hereby restricted from non-permitted operation over the state lands and water under the operational control of California State Parks.”

The special order comes in response to last summer’s myriad drone disturbances—drones flying over nesting Osprey, flushing foraging shorebirds, and hovering over people on walking tours. Working hand-in-hand with the State, Mono Lake Committee staff documented incidents over the last year and based on these observations it became clear that recreational drone use was a problem at Mono Lake. With this new order Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve now joins the ranks of Yosemite National Park and designated wilderness areas as “no-fly zones” for drones.

Increasing recreational drone use at Mono Lake has been disrupting wildlife, like these nesting Osprey. Photo by Erv Nichols.

Increasing recreational drone use at Mono Lake has been disrupting wildlife, like these nesting Osprey. Photo by Erv Nichols.

19 Responses to “Breaking news: Drones prohibited from flying over Mono Lake’s State Park”

  1. avatar Dan Zimmermann Says:

    Your news made my day! This is a GREAT thing for Mono Lake and the whole Sierra area. These things (drones) are nothing but a blight on the landscape. Last week I heard that Curry Village, the Ahwahnee, and several other historic locations in Yosemite were undergoing name changes because SOMEONE had been asleep at the wheel. I had my faith in Californians severely shaken. Thank God you folks stay on top of things and nipped this idiocy in the bud. You have renewed my faith!

    Thanks for all that you do!

  2. avatar Wally Roberts Says:

    Good for the state parks. Now, how about outlawing them everywhere!?

    Anyone know whether the National Park Service has taken similar action?

    While they’re at it how about the national forests? There’s a couple of those in the Sierras.

  3. avatar Tony Says:

    In winter there almost no birds yet we are now banned from then also? Bad news. Control is better than bans.

  4. avatar Jeff Says:

    Another over reaction by the government. It’s so much easier to ban things outright than make regulations that permit responsible use of remote controlled camera platforms. I’m all for preserving Mono Lake which is why I’m a member, but this is wrong.

  5. avatar Don Henderson Says:

    I glad to see this regulation is now in place. I will carry a copy of it with me to inform any violators I happen upon in other State Park areas. Along the Central Coast, I have seen drone usage scare a large raft of sea otters, and have called in State Park law enforcement with I saw a person pulling a wagon loaded with a couple of drones who told me he was intending to fly them over the Morro Bay Estuary.

  6. avatar Sunandsage Says:

    Lets be careful about outlawing them because they can be used for good. I plan to get one and one of my main purposes is so I can help various conservation organizations with observations. I believe this can be done without harrassing wildlife or people.
    Maybe a better way is to require anyone who uses a drone in certain areas to register it with a land management agancy. Drones over a certain size are already required to be registered with the FAA.

  7. avatar Tony Says:

    From (it’s all bad) Wally.. “Now, how about outlawing them everywhere!?”

    Another ban before any good is proven. Did you know they are in proof of concept to run a drip torch? Or that 4 people have been found faster than ground and less expensive and faster than helicopters? I have done salmon, grassland, and illegal logging missions for free for my home NGO’s.

  8. avatar Carol Says:

    AWESOME NEWS!!! This made my day too.
    I was on a hike/tour with Nora in late April when a van full of fashionable young guys stopped, got out, and started down the trail towards the Osprey nests with their camera on a drone mount. They were kind enough to leave once Nora talked to them, but they were in no way concerned about the lake inhabitants. Their interest was in fashion and internet “likes.”

    Flying drones over sensitive areas is clearly not healthy for the natural environment, and is often downright harassing to people as well as animals.
    If drone operators had any care for these sensitive natural environments, **they would not bring drones into the area in the first place.**
    YES, we do need controls, and limits on silly human behaviours.
    Thank you Nora for being such a well-spoken representative for the Lake that day, and thank you to the California State Parks for being willing to act as the boundary setting “adult” in this situation.

  9. avatar Tonia Liss Says:

    Wonderful news about banning drones in California State Parks. We can hope that enforcement will be effective.

  10. avatar Tony Says:

    The most awesome video of almost anyplace is shot these days from UAV. Those of us who do practice safe and careful flights are most disappointed by these knee jerks. The SP will, within 3 years use these valuable devices in many ways. It is just a better to cover land and get GIS information by UAV than almost any other.

  11. avatar Susan Barry Says:

    I have found drones in the woods several times. When they go down they can cause problems. Mono is such a sensitive area that needs to be handled with care and respect. I support the decision to eliminate drones from this incredible place.

  12. avatar Lisa, Eastern Sierra Policy Director Says:

    Hi all—

    To clarify, the new regulation prohibits recreational drone use. Using drones for scientific research or commercial use is still allowed if a permit is approved by the State Park agency in advance. We absolutely recognize that drones are useful tools for some purposes, which is why their use is allowed with a permit.

    The ban is year-round because there are still birds (and other wildlife) here at Mono Lake in the winter, but also because drones have not only been a problem for wildlife but for visitors as well.

    Yosemite National Park issued their park-wide prohibition last May.

  13. avatar Tony Says:

    Yes visitors just walking around for 1/2 a day have precedence over people who come and fly for 20 min. All our taxes go to the State Parks. Not just the walkers. But there a million BLM acres to fly over.

  14. avatar Jean Says:

    Last summer, I watched a drone try to land at south shore and nick a tufa.
    That was it for me.

  15. avatar Ron Cooper Says:

    Mono Lake is a beautiful and unique place, but , succumbing to paranoia about drones won’t make it more beautiful. or safe for wildlife, The photo used in this posting is very likely taken from a drone, used to provide a very unique and striking point of view, one that can’t be gotten any other way.
    Before bringing pitchforks and torches to the drone debate, do some real research instead of relying entirely on hysterical anecdotal accounts of harm.

  16. avatar Sandra Noll Says:

    Being familiar with photo and photographer I can verify that the photo accompanying this article was taken last summer from the Mono Lake shoreline (Old Marina area) respecting the State Park’s 200 meter no-disturbance zone (on land or water) for nesting osprey. Long lens, positioning and lots of patience helped create this great shot.

  17. avatar Ron Cooper Says:

    Sorry for the confusion.I was looking at another photo on the WEB site which was clearly taken with some elevation. My point is that the drone is a powerful photographic tool, and to ban it outright, with little or no thought, aborts the great potential of drone photography. Some people will misuse the technology, and they should be penalized. A blanket ban is always easier than a thoughtful and rational policy.

  18. avatar Sam Kelly Says:

    I consider myself both a conservationist and a storyteller. For me, UAS/UAVs have a use to inspire people to protect areas like Mono Lake as dictated by public consensus, encourage visitation and exploration within the context of conservation, and to allow those who can’t visit at all or during a certain season an opportunity to virtually experience an area. But I’m completely a law abiding citizen and follow all rules and regs set for for UAVs/UAS too.

    That said, please realize that not all agencies that manage land/water around Mono Lake have issued restrictions on UAS/UAV flight. You can do some online searching to realize where around/over Mono Lake you may ,as of this date, legally fly UAS/UAV.

    If you are a noob UAS/UAV operator, know that you’ll get your best shots by flying slowly, not fast, and that seagulls in particular and other birds can be aggressive towards UAVs/UAS. This will limit where you can safely operate.

  19. avatar Sam Kelly Says:

    I should add, that maintaining 100 AGLs (or any structure or tree which the birds could inhabit or fly over) has allowed me to safely avoid disturbing birds based on observed behavior. This will mean with wide angle lenses and small sensors on most UAVs that you won’t get hi-res shots of wildlife, but rather can get expansive landscape shots. And as one of the commenters above point out, you can safely get much better shots of wildlife with long focal length lenses and full frame sensor cameras from points on land (or from air via heli if authorized).