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California could see new rules on flying drones in state parks

A drone hovers over seals and sea lions at Children's Pool Beach in La Jolla. (Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)
A drone hovers over seals and sea lions at Children's Pool Beach in La Jolla. (Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

California soon could have new rules on flying drones in state parks, where regulations on the use of unmanned aircrafts have been vague and vary widely

This bill, authored by Assemblyman Chris Holden (D-Pasadena), makes it unlawful to launch, land or operate a drone without a permit on lands managed by the California Department of Parks and Recreation and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. It also prohibits the use of drones in the taking of fish or animals.

AB 2148 moved out of the state Assembly with a 45-15 vote.

Under federal law, unmanned aircraft are prohibited in national parks without a permit, a ban that covers 59 locations and about 350 national monuments, seashores and other sites — about 84 million acres in all.

But there are no blanket rules for California's state parks, and the state park system has no systemwide drone policy in place.

With such few regulations for drones, Holden said, "it's like the wild, wild West out there." He said his bill would create a safer environment at state parks, while allowing some exemptions for drone use, such as for conservation or scientific research and for legitimate newsgathering purposes.

The National Park Service reported at least 10 drone incidents in areas of Washington, D.C., in 2015, including a Dec. 16 citation of a man operating a drone near the Washington Monument. 

A drone also was said to be the cause of a big horn sheep stampede in Utah's Zion National Park, and studies suggest that such aircraft can distress bears, sea lions and gulls. 

But critics have called the bill one of several piecemeal solutions that remained after major drone lobbying efforts killed wider statewide drone regulations this legislative session.

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