by Jim Nintzel
Unmanned aerial vehicles – more commonly known as drones — may be on lots of folks’ holiday wish lists, but Pima County Natural Resources, Parks & Recreation is asking you to leave them at home if you’re planning to visit one of the county’s urban or open space parks.
Under Pima County Park Rule 1.120, radio-controlled (RC) aircraft have been prohibited outside designated areas for many years, mostly due to safety and noise complaints. Those complaints have increased with the growing popularity of drones, Baldwin said. Drones are a type of RC aircraft, said Kerry Baldwin, Natural Resources division manager.
“We’ve heard that individuals have been flying drones at very low elevations over the heads of other park users and at park-based events,” Baldwin said. “One group was flying multiple drones over the overlook at Gates Pass when the afternoon sunset crowd had gathered, with little regard to any potential safety issues or the loud and shrill sound generated by the small aircraft engines.”
Baldwin said his office is getting numerous noise complaints from patrons of the quieter, natural resource parks such as Tucson Mountain Park and Agua Caliente Park.
“We also have reports of individuals using drones in ways that harasses wildlife, which is a violation of state and federal law,” Baldwin said.
Larger natural resource agencies like the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service and the National Park System have similar restrictions on recreational drone use. In fact, a federal law that went into effect Dec. 21 requires drones be registered with the Federal Aviation Administration Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) registry. Baldwin emphasized, though, that drones would still be banned at parks whether they are registered or not.
Drone users are responsible for keeping up with the many changing rules and regulations governing drone usage. Baldwin recommends new drone owners find locations to fly that are not in conflict with other people, are on private lands or at an established radio-controlled aircraft flying facility.