Drones are prohibited from launching, landing or being operated within designated Wilderness areas.
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.
Why Are Drones Prohibited in Wilderness Areas?
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.
When drones fly over or near wildlife, it can create stress that may cause significant harm — potentially resulting in death.
Some creatures have far greater sensitivity to noises and vibrations than humans do. The high-pitched frequency of a buzzing drone can frighten animals, or interfere with feeding or breeding.
Drones have been known to cause birds to dive bomb the “intruder”, ultimately wasting essential energy that they need for essential purposes.
Intentional disturbance of animals during breeding, nesting, rearing of young, or other critical life history functions is not allowed unless approved as a permitted form of research or management.
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.”
Know the Rules
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.
What To Do If You Spot A Drone
If you spot a drone operating at Cumberland Island National Seashore, please report it to law enforcement immediately. You can also document your experience here.