Drone use on the National Forests and Grasslands

Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), also known as drones, are becoming more and more popular across National Forests. With the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally fast approaching and UAS use on the rise during this event, officials want to get the word out on proper usage on the Forest.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has regulatory authority over all airspace, including recreational use of airspace by UAS. Individuals and organizations that fly UAS on National Forest System lands must follow FAA guidance – FAA guidance stipulates that UAS not interfere with manned aircraft, be flown within sight of the operator and be operated only for hobby or recreational purposes. The FAA also requires operators flying UAS within five miles of an airport to notify the airport operator and air traffic control tower. There are specific rules and regulations that must be followed for UAS users who want to fly commercially.

Individuals and organizations that fly UAS for hobby or recreational purposes may not operate them in areas of National Forest System lands that have Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) in place, such as wildfires, without prior approval from the U.S. Forest Service. “If You Fly, We Can’t” campaign emphasizes the serious risks posed to firefighter and public safety from unauthorized drone flights during wildfire suppression operations

The FAA provides guidance on “Flights Over Charted U.S. Wildlife Refuges, Parks, and Forest Service Areas”. Per this guidance, federal laws prohibit certain types of flight activity and/or provide altitude restrictions over “designated Forest Service Areas.” UAS are considered to be “mechanized” equipment and cannot take off and land in designated Wilderness Areas on National Forest System (NFS) lands.

Important UAS Information

• Hobbyist

o Anything .5 – 55lbs must be registered with the FAA

o Cannot exceed 400 AGL (Above Ground Level)

o Cannot go beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS)

o Cannot operate within 5 nautical miles of an aviation facility without approval from airport authority or Air Traffic Control (ATC) depending on airport

• Commercial ( anything for “Business Purposes” or for revenue)

o Same Rules as above

o Must possess a FAA Part 107 (Remote Pilot Certificate)

o Must have authorization from Regional Aviation Officer to operate over NFS lands

“For all UAS activities, good airmanship dictates checking the “B4UFly App” for current airspace restrictions (TFRs, etc.) and the FAA/UAS website for current rules and regulations,” said Kevin Merrill, Aviation Officer, Nebraska National Forests & Grasslands. For commercial operations over NFS lands, contact Kevin Merrill, 605-673-9270.

For more information on the Nebraska National Forests & Grasslands, visit www.fs.usda.gov/nebraska