- Associated Press - Monday, May 5, 2014

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Officials at Zion National Park say they are investigating reports that someone using a drone harassed the park’s bighorn sheep.

Park volunteers saw a herd of sheep scatter after being buzzed by an unmanned aerial vehicle on April 20-21, separating adult animals from their young.

Park Superintendent Jim Milestone said in a statement Monday it’s illegal to fly a drone in the popular southern Utah park about 20 miles north of Arizona. Violators could be subject to up to six months in prison and a $5,000 fine.

“I am sure most people who fly drones have no desire to harm wildlife or endanger our other visitors,” Milestone said. “Many may not even know that it is illegal to fly a drone here at Zion.”

Drones are controlled by embedded computers or by remote control. Rangers have reported a climb in their use within the park in recent months.

Drones can disrupt birds, and some visitors have complained the devices interrupt their wilderness experience. Some also have reported they feel unsafe as drones buzz through slot canyons and along exposed trails such as Angles Landing and Canyon Overlook.

“Drones are a new challenge for Zion National Park and our mission of resource protection,” said Cassie Waters, a wildlife biologist at the park. “Animals can be injured when attempting to escape or avoid drone activity. Drones can also change the natural behavior of wildlife and lead to unnecessary energy expenditures.”

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