US Forest Service Clarifies Drone Use

No Drones Sign

From UAS Vision

In light of the increasing popularity of recreational drones, the U.S. Forest Service has released specific guidelines for recreational unmanned aircraft use over public lands:

– Avoid flying over federally-designated wilderness or primitive areas.

– As drones are considered both “motorized equipment” and “mechanical transport,” they cannot take off from, land in, or be operated from federally-designated wilderness areas.

– Avoid flying over noise-sensitive areas or populated sites, including rivers, campgrounds, trail heads and visitor centers.

– A drone may not be used to disturb or harass wildlife.

– No interference with official aerial activities over national forests, such as wildfire detection and suppression.

– Drone pilots must obey state privacy laws.

These guidelines only apply to hobby or recreation operations. Commercial operations include filming, still photography, survey, or any other endeavor for profit that involves use of a drone. These ventures may be allowable through a special use permit issued by the Forest Service.

Source:Ticker News

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  • Last time I checked US Forest Service didn't regulate airspace.  This would be enforceable if they had had FAA amend already existing regulations.  Other than that they can try to enforce the rules until the first lawsuit

  • I'm not sure where the original article got the USFS info from because they just source the main USFS webpage and not any specific press release. Anyway, the USFS has had that info out, and in even more detail for a while and can be viewed here.

    To answer Gary's questions in more specifics, this is only for national forests. National parks trump national forests and the tighter regulations apply.

    In short, if it's not a designated wilderness area you can land, launch or control your aircraft from it. That's the majority of USNF land. Designated wilderness areas have always had prohibitions on the use of "mechanized equipment" (no mountain bikes, for example) and the USFS is including UASs in that category. They want people to "avoid" overflying wilderness areas, but since they don't control that airspace they can't outright ban overflying wilderness. Hence their use of the word "avoid" instead of "cannot".

    It seems a fairly reasonable approach as opposed to the national park's blanket ban. The USFS is very relaxed in their land use policies, exceeded only by the Bureau of Land Management and their policies. With the BLM almost anything goes.

  • Admin

    Hi Gary,

    I suspect that this only applies to National Forests and National Parks are still off limits to drones.


    Tom C AVD

  • Hi Tom,

    A few questions for anybody who might know the answer.

    Does this extend to National parks or are they still under the outright ban issued by the National Park Service.

    I would also like to know what Forest Service types of land are legal to fly over rather than simply which ones are not (wilderness or primitive areas).

    I suppose the presumption is that any other federal land with public access is OK so long as you don't scare a squirrel.

    I'm not positive, but there actually could be some good news buried in this somewhere.



  • Admin

    Nothing like clarification of operating requirements.



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