The Wilderness Act of 1964 says that in wilderness areas there…
“shall be no use of motor vehicles, motorized equipment…no landing of aircraft, no other form of mechanical transport…”.
As Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), or drones, have increased in popularity and affordability, government agencies and the FAA have begun regulating their use on public lands.
NPS policy prohibits launching, landing, and operation of unmanned aircraft on lands and waters administered by NPS, including National Parks, National Monuments, National Recreation Areas, National Historic Sites, National Seashores, National Memorials, and others.
These sites are clearly identified in the Kittyhawk app and B4UFLY app as prohibited locations:
We doubt that Howard Zahniser, author of the Wilderness Act, could have imagined the invention of remote-controlled flying robots. But we believe the intention of the Act was, in part, to ensure that wilderness areas remain free from increasing mechanization.
A 2019 Cambridge University Press study found that “26% of the species that were disturbed [ by drones ] are included in one of the International Union for Conservation of Nature categories of threat. We found that wildlife that use aerial and terrestrial habitats are more likely to show a behavioural response than those occupying aquatic habitats.”
Some drone operators have attempted to skirt regulations by taking off from private property and flying over NPS lands and waters.
Even if you do not launch, land, or operate from NPS-administered lands and waters, the NPS could apply regulations about wildlife disturbance, nuisance or disorderly conduct, or operating a motor vehicle to your drone flight regardless of where you launch and land.
The National Park Service has a page dedicated to “Unmanned Aircraft in the National Parks”, where it discusses details and penalties for noncompliance.
In addition to any posted regulations, drone operators still must follow all FAA regulations, such as keeping a drone within visual line of sight.
We’re often contacted by visitors who have witnessed damage to the island’s ecosystem, or blatant disregard of policy protections. We encourage you to report these to the National Park Service and also complete this form.
Thank you for your respectful stewardship of Cumberland Island.