Members of the public who want to fly UAS on National Forest System lands for fun or recreation must meet Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requirements.
Members of the public may fly UAS for hobby or recreation in many places on National Forest System lands. However, there are areas on National Forest System lands where UAS can’t be flown as mandated by Federal law and in accordance with FAA guidelines.
By law, the areas where UAS can’t be operated from include Wilderness Areas and areas with Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) in place, such as wildfires. The areas where they shouldn’t be flown in accordance with FAA safety and Forest Service applicable Federal agency guidelines include:
- Developed sites, to include campgrounds, trailheads, marinas, resorts, and ski areas.
- Forest Service helibases, airtanker bases, and other aircraft facilities including backcountry airstrips
- Areas where aircraft are performing wildfire suppression or other natural resource management missions, such as aerial surveys for forest health protection
- Flights over or near wildlife including sensitive, threatened and endangered species. This can create stress that may cause significant harm and even death.
- Areas closed to any and all entry under 36 CFR 261.53 – Special Closures
The U.S. Forest Service strongly encourages members of the public who want to fly UAS on National Forest System lands for hobby or recreational purposes to follow FAA safety guidelines which include:
- Fly at or below 400 feet
- Keep your UAS within sight
- Never fly near other aircraft, especially near airports
- Never fly over groups of people
- Never fly over stadiums or sports events
- Never fly near emergency response efforts such as fires
- Never fly under the influence
- Be aware of airspace requirements
The U.S. Forest Service has developed “Tips for Responsible Use” that provide additional guidance on where to fly, and where not to fly, UAS on National Forest System lands.
The U.S. Forest Service strongly encourages members of the public to contact the Ranger District office, or the local FAA office, in the area of the National Forest System lands where they want to fly a UAS for fun or recreation ahead of time to see if any agency flights are scheduled.
The U.S. Forest Service flies aircraft for thousands of hours over millions of acres of National Forest System and other lands each year to perform a variety of natural resource management missions, such as forest insect and disease surveys, aerial image and data acquisition, and aerial spraying to control or eradicate major forest pests. Some flights occur less than 150 feet above ground level, which creates a high potential for a mid-air collision with an UAS flown by a member of the public.