Drones are now forbidden from liftoffs and landings in Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area parks, according to a new order placed on Nov. 4 directed by the National Forest Service.

The updated order, signed by Lynn Burditt, forest supervisor for the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area, prohibits the “landing of aircraft, or dropping or picking up any material, supplies, or person by means of an aircraft” in developed recreation sites within Hood River, Klickitat, Skamania, and Multnomah counties.

Listed below are trails that come under the directive:

  • Multnomah Falls
  • Wahkeena Falls
  • Horsetail Falls
  • Eagle Creek Recreation Area
  • Cape Horn Area
  • Coyote Wall, Catherine Creek Day Use Area

“The takeoff and landing of drones and other aircraft have been prohibited on National Forest Service lands at Multnomah Falls, Wahkeena Falls, Horsetail Falls and Eagle Creek Recreation Area since last year. The new Forest Order 06-22-01-20-04, which was executed on Nov. 4, expanded the rules to the new trail areas,” a press release noted.

The order will be temporarily active until Nov. 4, 2021. The order does not differentiate between commercial and hobbyist drone operators, public affairs officer Rachel Pawlitz said.

“However, if there are valid reasons for requesting a permit, we do in some cases issue special use permits that will allow drone use for a specified set of dates for specific purposes,” Pawlitz said.

“These have to be arranged more than 10 business days in advance. Folks can call the CRGNSA office at 541-308-1700 to inquire about the process and learn more about whether they would meet the criteria for a permit and how much it would cost,” noted Pawlitz.

The order makes a special exemption for any “federal, state or local official or member of an organized rescue or firefighting force in the performance of an official duty.”

Pawlitz cited public safety and the need to minimize disturbances to wildlife in areas where the agency had previously found there was a need to limit disturbances through NEPA decisions as reasons for the prohibition of drones in the wilderness areas.

Furthermore, the press release noted that “parts of the following open trails traverse the wilderness: Herman Creek Trail, Larch Mountain Trail, Mount Defiance Trail, Nick Eaton Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, Starvation Ridge Trail and Wahclella Falls Trail.”

Pawlitz said increased drone use was a factor that prompted the response by the agency. As the popularity of drones grows and ownership of the unmanned flight systems become more commonplace, Pawlitz noted, the agency has received complaints and requests by the public to address the nuisance that drone use can pose to other visitors.

“At most of these sites, there’s a high number of people recreating and under (Federal Aviation Administration) regulations, flying over crowds is already prohibited; the benefit of having a ban in place is that we’re able to ensure consistent rules and avoid confusion about what exactly constitutes ‘a crowd,’” Pawlitz wrote in an email.

As household drone usage increases across the country, federal agencies have been playing catchup by enforcing tighter restrictions on drone pilots. A federal law that went into effect last year reinstated the registration requirement for drone owners, including hobbyists, mandating them to register serial numbers and identifying information with the Federal Aviation Administration and spend $5 for the registry.

Pawlitz noted that compliance remains steady, although the agency typically sees offenses occurring at Multnomah Falls due to the high volume of visitors to the park. While the agency could issue a citation in these instances where an offense is reported, Pawlitz said, the agency typically begins the interaction by simply requesting the drone pilot to stop flying in the prohibited areas.