“It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No wait…it’s a drone?”
That was basically my thought process while walking across the bridge to Pyramid Island in Jasper National Park when my head shot up after hearing a buzzing sound overhead. It had been a long day of hiking and driving and I had finally made it the whole way along the Icefields Parkway into the town of Jasper. Pyramid Island had been a place I’ve wanted to visit for years: basically ever since I saw photos of it from back in my college days. Anyone who has traveled to Alberta’s national parks can attest to this, but the beauty you see cannot be captured in a photo. It’s the experience and sense of place that matters the most. Sadly, this experience, which for some people is a “once in a lifetime” trip, is being ruined by illegal drones being flown in and around these visually stunning national parks. This is my attempt at trying to convince you to leave your drone at home when visiting Canada’s parks.
I have mixed feelings about the use of recreational drones in public spaces, but it is undeniable that drones produce noise pollution which can be extremely annoying, if not absolutely maddening at times. Aside from the noise pollution aspects of these drones, it’s unequivocally illegal to fly a drone in Canada’s national parks without explicit permission from Parks Canada to do so. Unless you are filming a high-budget film or using it for research purposes, I highly doubt you’ll get the green light. The Calgary Herald published an article late last year explaining who gets these permits stating, “it’s very exceptional circumstances to be approved.” If you do choose to fly a drone without Parks Canada’s permission, you could face a $25,000 fine, which honestly makes a drone’s price tag look like pocket change.
Personally, I don’t believe that people are deliberately trying to break the law in Canada. Conversely, I think that most people, especially tourists, just have no idea that drone flying is actually illegal in Canada’s national parks. In fact, out of the over two-dozen citations that were given to illegal drone-flyers, all of them appealed saying that they didn’t know illegality of their actions. Whether you believe these people or not is a different story, but for me personally, I had no idea it was illegal until I got there and someone told me. Presently, most parks officials are desperately trying to educate people instead of handing out fines, but it’s becoming a growing issue and the cheaper the technology gets, the more prevalent this problem will become. I suspect that for the next year or two, drone education will be the main thrust of Parks Canada until one day, an incident occurs large enough for them to start really cracking down on amateur drone pilots. Already there have been multiple near-misses between airlines and drones in Alberta and I can only assume that number will grow exponentially as time goes on…but it doesn’t have to: you can leave your drone at home and explore the parks without it.
So I’m urging you to do exactly that. Believe me, I know it’s hard…I know you spent a lot of money on that drone and I know you aren’t trying to intentionally cause harm: I get it and I’m with you, I’m a drone owner, too. But Canada has decided it doesn’t want drones in its parks, and visitors foreign and domestic should respect that. That being said, the debate on the use of drones in parks should continue as the technology progresses. Personally, I think drones can do a lot of good (see my article entitled Drones: Changing Perspectives), but I also believe they have the ability to do great harm and the regulations imposed on them should be a delicate balancing act. So for now, if you visit Canada’s parks, please leave the drone at home and pick up your hiking boots instead. Honestly, most anywhere in Alberta can be viewed from the sky if you’re just willing to hike a little. Be safe, be respectful and we all can benefit.