Drone harasses bighorn sheep at Zion National Park

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.

Unmanned aerial vehicle, also known as a drone | Photo courtesy of Mike Saemisch
Unmanned aerial vehicle, also known as a drone | Photo courtesy of Mike Saemisch

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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  • pete 123 May 5, 2014 at 1:27 pm

    Zions has an over abundance of Human visitors as it is. extra stress on the creatures cannot be tolerated. I wish for all to see this great Park way into the future for its well managed, but well used by all who wish to see it. people need to restrain themselves and think before doing. those that are incapable of doing this need to be banned from the park.

  • quadlifter May 5, 2014 at 1:48 pm

    i imagine it shall be not too long before park rangers patrol the parks with drones looking for base jumpers, atv riders, people who piddle off the trails, and other such transgressions.
    the drones will be weaponized, and say NPS SWAT on the sides.
    brave new world.

  • marylou May 5, 2014 at 2:40 pm

    What are the drones doing there anyway? are they a filmakers attenpt to video the canyons? are they the BLM spying on lands What is this? it goes beyond scaring wildlife .People be afraid be very afraid.

    • Molly May 5, 2014 at 3:29 pm

      The drones are probably owned by locals or visitors to the park who want to fly their drone in a larger area than just the backyard of their house and thought it would be funny to mess with the sheep in this case.

      Drones can be purchased by most people with some extra cash and I see them around town sometimes. Kids usually.

      • Photos May 5, 2014 at 5:28 pm

        Remote cameras can be rigged to drones. The drones and cameras are remotely operated. Someone may have been trying to get a picture of the bighorn sheep.

      • San May 5, 2014 at 5:45 pm

        Molly, that was my though too.

        Ignorance should not be a defense though, especially where the safety of these animals is at stake.

  • VJ May 5, 2014 at 4:49 pm

    what a bunch of boneheads, probably related to the folks who broke off that hoodoo. common sense is an endangered species.

  • David Dalley May 6, 2014 at 5:16 am

    Drones are better than illegal aliens.

    David Dalley Jr.

  • Dave May 6, 2014 at 9:56 am

    Drones are a way of getting a better video or picture, Will the park. Restrict photographers when someone gets too close to wildlife and stresses them ? Or should the park remove all predators of the sheep. How much stress is caused by a mountain lion eating a sheep, compared to a drone taking pictures? Perhaps the government should close the park to all visitors because of the few careless ones, NO THAT WOULD STOP THE $$$.

    • JJ May 6, 2014 at 10:47 am

      “If I want to selfishly do whatever I want, such as getting MY better video or picture, then who is anyone to say I shouldn’t?” -Dave

  • I BAPTIZE TERRORISTS May 6, 2014 at 10:12 am

    Let legalize drone hunting. I already use RC model planes/helicopters for target practice. But they’re not cost effective. But using other peoples drones for target practice would not put a dent in my budget. Since the feds approved concealed carry in national parks….there should be an open season on drones.

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