Use of Drones (UAS) on National Forests in North Carolina

Members of the public may fly drones (unmanned aircraft systems) for hobby or recreation in many places on NFS lands with some exceptions listed below. NFS lands are for the enjoyment of all visitors so please respect others and wildlife when flying drones. Avoid areas where people gather such as parking lots and busy overlooks and do not disturb or harass wildlife. Always maintain Line of sight with your drone and follow all FAA guidelines and polices. The operator assumes all responsibilities for injuries and damages resulting from their drone use which can include fire suppression costs if an incident occurs.

By Federal law and in accordance with FAA guidelines, drones can’t be operated in wilderness areas and areas with temporary flight restrictions (TFRs) in place, such as wildfires. In 2018 a law was passed to levy fines and jail time to an individual who operates a drone near wildfire suppression and personnel.

In accordance with FAA safety and Forest Service guidelines drones may not be flown in the following areas:  

  • Developed recreation sites including 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 a forest closure order (36 CFR 261.53 – Special Closures)

Commercial Use:

Any drone flying for work, business purposes, or for compensation or hire is considered commercial use. The operator of a drone for business on NFS lands will need to have a permit for the activity that requires the use of a drone.

Commercial Examples:

  • A ski resort uses UAS to provide a video service to skiers
  • A power company uses UAS to inspect power lines that run through the forest
  • A marina uses UAS to capture imagery of new dock and building construction
  • An outfitter uses UAS to capture their client’s “experience”
  • A commercial film crew uses UAS to gather imagery on NFS lands for a movie.

Read more about permits for commercial activities and get contact information for permit questions.

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