Crater Lake plans to more strictly enforce no-drone rule

Crater Lake National Park - Photo by Tristan Fortsch on January 16, 2018.

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — The videos are nothing short of spectacular.

In one film posted to YouTube, two skiers are captured shredding down the rim of Crater Lake, filmed from an eye in the sky that takes in the full sweep of the United States' deepest lake.

In another, the footage showcases the cliff-walled circle of the lake from directly overhead, providing a bird's eye view into the belly of the exploded volcano.

Both videos are unique, have been watched thousands of times and, of course, were filmed illegally.

The use of drones is outlawed at national parks nationwide — and has been since 2014. But the dropping price and improving technology of what are officially known as unmanned aircraft have meant an increase in the number buzzing Oregon's only national park.

"It's becoming quite a problem," Crater Lake superintendent Craig Ackerman said. "People are using them without concern for the impacts, and we intend to start stepping up enforcement of the rule."

Park officials say they see drones flying over the lake on a regular basis, especially in the summer. Ackerman said they've even buzzed boat tours on the lake.

Marsha McCabe, chief of interpretation and cultural resources at the park, said she comes across people getting ready to launch drones on a regular basis.

"I would say it's a growing problem," she said. "There might be some folks who just don't know, but we make it pretty clear in the park newspaper you get upon entering the park, on our website and in signs around the lake."

Violation of the ban is a misdemeanor with the maximum penalty of six months in jail and a $5,000 fine.

When park officials spot a drone in flight, they call law enforcement rangers, who try to figure out who's controlling them.

Whether they allow people to get off with a warning depends on the situation, McCabe said.

"People come here for quiet and solitude, and if there's a drone buzzing overhead all of a sudden, that's pretty intrusive," McCabe said. "We're also home to several endangered species and drone noise has been shown to disrupt wildlife.

"There are plenty of public lands where they are allowed, but at national parks, our mission is different."

Where people are allowed to fly drones varies. They're allowed in most national forests, but are prohibited in federally-designated wilderness areas and some wildlife refuges.

It's also a mixed bag at Oregon's state parks. Park managers make a case-by-case determination of where they're allowed, but they tend to be outlawed at extremely popular sites, such as Smith Rock and parts of Silver Falls.

The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department formed a policy group to address the issue last year.

But, at Crater Lake, the issue is settled: no drone use allowed by the public. Even when a film company does a commercial shoot at Crater Lake, and pays for a permit, they're not allowed to use drones, McCabe said.

The National Park Service is allowed to use drones for search and rescue operations, fire operations, scientific study, and aerial photography.

And, if you produce one of those videos and post it to YouTube, you could be getting a call. Crater Lake officials said their law enforcement would "look into" some of the videos posted.

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Information from: Statesman Journal, http://www.statesmanjournal.com

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