Unmanned aircraft systems, 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 in the Nebraska National Forests.

The Federal Aviation Administration 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 must not interfere with manned aircraft, must be flown within sight of the operator and must 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 in place, such as during wildfires, without prior approval from the U.S. Forest Service. The “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.

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 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 and Grasslands. For commercial operations over NFS lands, contact Merrill, 605-673-9270.

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

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