Edmonton

To protect wildlife, Elk Island National Park is no-drone zone

As many bird species begin their annual migrations out of Elk Island National Park for the winter, Parks Canada wants to remind people that drones are not allowed there.

Parks Canada says unmanned aerial vehicles can bug the birds and bison

The Swainson's hawk is one of about 250 bird species recorded at Elk Island National Park (Elk Island National Park/Parks Canada)

As many bird species begin their annual migrations out of Elk Island National Park for the winter, Parks Canada wants to remind people that drones are not allowed there.

The remote-controlled flying vehicles are exploding in popularity, and while on-board cameras can capture incredible footage, drones can also cause problems with wildlife.

"I don't think a lot of people realize that it does in fact intrude on both wildlife and park operations," said Janelle Lane, a spokesperson for Elk Island National Park, about 50 km east of Edmonton.

Lane said one of the big concerns at this time of year is the impact on migratory birds flying south.

"Throughout the year, we can see up to 250 species of birds," Lane said. "So from nesting to migration, that airspace really is crucial to remain natural for those birds to feel safe."

The buzzing noise made by flying drones can also be disruptive to the park's larger animals, including about 800 bison.

Staff say the buzzing noise from drones can be 'disruptive' to the approximately 800 bison at Elk Island National Park. (Elk Island National Park/Parks Canada)

"If you're at the bison loop, which is a popular place for vehicles to drive by, and you start having constant drone operations, the bison won't return to that spot," Lane said. "And that's an important place for them to feed, because it's a large meadow in the park."

While one person was charged last month with the unauthorized takeoff and landing of an aircraft, so far Parks Canada staff are concentrating on educating people about the issue.

That includes giving people who try to fly drones in the park what staff call "friendly reminders" that unmanned aerial vehicles have been banned there since 2014.

Janelle Lane with the 'no-drone' warning signs at Elk Island park. (Gareth Hampshire CBC News)

Signs in the park warn people that those who fly drones could face fines. Drone flyers charged under the National Parks Act could face fines of up $25,000 for a first offence.

In the winter months, Parks Canada staff count bison, moose and elk from helicopters and don't want drones in the air.

The park is also keen to keep airspace clear for any possible RCMP helicopter searches or STARS air ambulance emergency flights.

Elk Island National Park attracted more than 300,000 visitors in 2015. (Gareth Hampshire CBC News)

On occasion, drone permits may be granted for film crews or for researchers, but not for recreational use.

Staff feel strongly the park should remain as natural as possible for visitors, Lane said.

"You want to have that sense of natural awe. If a robotic device flies overhead, not only is that moment interrupted but your privacy is also at risk."