A DJI Phantom II drone flies recreationally in a rural area near Calgary on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2015. Lyle Aspinall/Postmedia
By Colette Derworiz, Postmedia
Dozens of warnings have been doled out this year to people illegally using drones in the provincial and national mountain parks, as officials work to educate people rather than hand out fines.
In Banff National Park, more than two dozen warnings have been given to visitors flying the unmanned aerial vehicles in the park.
“We issued 26 warnings in Banff National Park for drone operators,” said Judy Glowinski, external relations manager for Banff National Park. “All of them were unaware of the rules and regulations regarding drone use in the national parks.”
Similar warnings have been issued in neighbouring Kananaskis Country and in Calgary’s Fish Creek Provincial Park, where officials have been trying to teach people the rules rather than immediately lay charges.
“We’ve been advising people anywhere in provincial parks and provincial recreation areas that they are not allowed to use them,” said Murray Ingstrup, regional conservation officer for Alberta Environment and Parks.
All drones are regulated as aircraft under Transport Canada regulations.
In both provincial and national parks, there are also rules prohibiting aircraft — including drones — from taking off or landing.
“It’s a complex, complicated matter,” said Glowinski. “It’s a growing, expanding technology and we’re trying to keep on top of it just like most other folks across Canada.
“There’s definitely a growing interest, and education and awareness of what it means to use or not use a drone in the national park is key for us.”
Officials said drones can cause several issues in the national and provincial parks.
“Some of it’s safety, some of it’s if there’s wildlife around,” explained Ingstrup. “It’s related to noise, related to privacy if there’s cameras — there’s lots of reasons.”
He said the aircraft can have a serious effect on wildlife.
“They end up spending more energy trying to find a place to eat because they are having to move away from where they naturally eat,” he said. “It’s something different, so they see it as a threat.”
He said some people have even hauled their drones into the backcountry.
“They were causing noise disturbance to the other guests in the campsite,” said Ingstrup. “Some of our backcountry areas, that’s the primary reason why people go back there is to get away from the technology and the noise that we deal with every day.”
In the national parks, the superintendent has the authority to issue restricted activity permits to people who can prove it supports the park’s management purposes, such as natural or cultural resource management and protection, public safety, law enforcement or overall park maintenance.
“We’ve issued four restricted activity permits,” said Glowinski.
Two were given to the Royal Ontario Museum to capture aerial footage and site maps for 3-D modelling, one was given to Brewster to shoot video for educational purposes for a display at the top of the gondola and one was given to Banff Lake Louise Tourism for promotional purposes.
“It’s important that we issue very minimal restricted activity,” she said, noting recreational use doesn’t apply.
Glowinski said they get one or two requests to use drones every week.
“It’s very exceptional circumstances to be approved,” she said.
Similarly, only five requests for drone use in large-scale film projects have been approved in Kananaskis. Several others have been approved for research purposes.
Drone operators could face a fine in the provincial parks and a mandatory court appearance, with a maximum fine of $25,000 in the national parks.