Use of Drones in the National Forest

Drones and Wildfire Safety

Poster indicates how many drone incidents over the years

Drones, or unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) as the Federal Aviation Administration calls them, are becoming more and more popular. These little aircraft are fun to fly and allow hobbyists the ability to see incredible sites. They also can pose a flight hazard, so hobbyists need to know and follow FAA rules when operating these little flying machines.

Tread Lightly! recently launched a public awareness campaign with the U.S. Forest Service to promote responsible use of unmanned aircrafts systems, also called drones. This campaign, Respected Access is Open Access, addresses outdoor recreation issues and helps to educate people about responsible use to protect and enhance public land access. For more information, visit


The following tips are for responsible, hobby or recreational use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS)or “Drones” on National Forest System Lands:

Know Where to Fly:

  • Individuals and organizations may fly UAS for hobby or recreational purposes in compliance with the FAA  (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” and, 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, such as wildfires. Search the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Web site for current TFRs at
  • Never fly your 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. 
  • The Forest Service regularly flies aircraft at low altitudes to perform natural resource management. It is the UAS Operator’s responsibility to be aware of these flights and take the steps necessary to avoid them. Contact the local Ranger District Office or the FAA for scheduled flights in the area.
  • Download the FAA’s B4UFLY mobile app to help show where UAS can and cannot fly with interactive maps at

Follow FAA Guidelines:

•  Ensure that you comply with all FAA regulations and guidance for flying your UAS. The FAA has authority over all airspace. Information on FAA regulations is available
•  Do not fly any aircraft weighing more than 55 pounds (total weight, including payload and fuel source).

Protect Wildlife & the Environment

•  Do not fly over congressionally designated wilderness areas or primitive areas as many people seek these places for the opportunities for solitude and quiet that they provide.  Wilderness areas within the Ouachita National Forest include: Flatside, Dry Creek, Poteau Mountain, Caney Creek, Black Fork Mountain, and Upper Kiamichi River.
•  Do not fly over or near wildlife as this can create stress that may cause significant harm and even death. Intentional disturbance of animals during breeding, nesting, rearing of young, or other critical life history functions is not allowed unless approved as research or management.
•  Intentional disturbance of animals during breeding, nesting, rearing of young, or other critical life history functions is not allowed unless approved as research or management.
•  Follow State wildlife and fish agency regulations on the use of UAS to search for or detect wildlife and fish.
•  Launch the UAS more than 100 meters (328 feet) from wildlife. Do not approach animals or birds vertically with the UAS.

Fly Safely, Stay in Control

•  Keep your UAS within your visual line of sight at all times.
•  Take lessons and learn to operate your UAS safely.
•  Remain well clear of and do not interfere with manned aircraft operations.
•  Fly your UAS at least 5 miles from an airport or backcountry airstrip.
•  Keep your UAS away from populated and noise-sensitive areas, such as campgrounds, trail heads, and visitor centers.
•  Obey all privacy laws.

Additional Information:

AirMap Partners with Tread Lightly! and U.S. Forest Service to Address Safe and Compliant Wilderness Drone Use

Printable version of poster