Drones Restricted on Superior National Forest

The Forest Service recognizes that unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), also known as drones, are a tool that can provide exciting new options for the public to explore the National Forests and are a tool for the agency to accomplish its mission.

However, the Forest Service wants to ensure the public understands there are restrictions on the use of drones on the National Forest, including the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW), and that there are federal penalties for illegal use.

The purpose of these restrictions is to provide for the safety of air operations, protect natural resources, and protect the rights of other citizens.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has primary authority over drones and other UAS. The following are some key FAA regulations for the use of drones, but drone operators should check for additional guidelines on the FAA website or at an FAA office.

· Individuals and organizations may fly UAS for hobby or recreational purposes in compliance with the Special Rule for Model Aircraft (Section 336 of Public Law 112-95).
· UAS must be flown below 400 feet and remain clear of surrounding obstacles.
· UAS are considered to be both “motorized equipment” and “mechanical transport”; as such they cannot take off from, land in, or be operated from congressionally designated Wilderness Areas.
· UAS are not permitted to fly in areas that have Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFR) in place. The FAA website has information regarding current TFRs.
· Operators may never fly a UAS over or in close proximity to any fire operation (wildfire or prescribed). UAS flights over fire operations disrupt aerial firefighting operations and create hazardous situations.

In addition, Executive order 10092 prohibits the use of UAS as well as manned aircraft, within 4,000 feet above the BWCAW unless otherwise permitted by the Forest Service for specific purposes authorized by law, such as search and rescue. Operators using drones for commercial purposes over national forest system lands are required to request and obtain a permit from the Forest Service through the local Forest office.

The Forest Service regularly flies aircraft at low altitudes to perform natural resource management. The operator of an UAS has a responsibility to be aware of these flights and to take the steps necessary to avoid any interference with them. Unauthorized aircraft create an extreme risk for these agency operations. A bill has been introduced in Congress (HR 1138) which would make it a felony for UAS operators to interfere with fire management.

The FAA restrictions regarding UAS and the Executive Order protecting BWCAW air space apply to everyone, including private individuals, news media, and commercial operations.