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USFS considers drone technology

Sedona Red Rock News of Sedona, Arizona

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According to the United States Forest Service, the agency has been exploring the potential to use drones — officially known as unmanned aircraft systems — for several years, and it has test flown different drones during wildfires, prescribed fires and in other "natural resource management" settings.

"The USFS is highly interested in new technologies and believes there is potential to use unmanned aircraft systems to support a host of natural resource management activities, including forest health protection, wildfire suppression, research, recreational impacts and law enforcement," stated the organization's press release.

For all the organization's optimism concerning the technology's usefulness, the USFS does not have a formal drone program in place, which "is needed to ensure appropriate, safe and cost-effective use" of the aircraft. Currently, drone flight is restricted solely by the Federal Aviation Administration. The USFS lacks the authority to establish any additional regulations regarding where drones can or cannot be flown.

As a result of this lack of regulatory power, the USFS has "chartered an interdisciplinary UAS advisory group to develop guidance for the use of UAS and associated technologies to support operational needs throughout the agency.

"The UAS advisory group has been tasked with several items, including conducting a thorough review of agency policy, making policy recommendations, completing a risk assessment and developing a strategic plan. After the UAS advisory group has completed these tasks, USFS leadership will determine the future of a UAS program for the agency."

In the meantime, the USFS continues to stress the importance of responsible drone flight over its managed lands.

"Individuals and organizations that fly UAS on National Forests System lands must follow FAA guidance. FAA guidance stipulates that UAS not interfere with manned aircraft, be flown within sight of the operator and be operated only for hobby or recreational purposes. The FAA also requires model aircraft operators flying UAS within five miles of an airport to notify the airport operator and air traffic control tower.

"Individuals and organizations that fly UAS for hobby or recreational purposes may not operate them in areas of National Forest lands that have temporary flight restrictions in place, such as wildfires, without prior approval from the USFS."

In addition, the USFS stated that federal laws prohibit "certain types of flight activity and/or provide altitude restrictions over 'designated Forest Service areas.'"

Droning On

The federal government offers these tips for responsible hobby or recreational use of unmanned aircraft systems, or drones:

Individuals and organizations may fly UAS for hobby or recreational purposes in compliance with Section 336 of Public Law 112-95:

Be sure to fly your UAS below 400 feet and remain clear of obstacles.

UAS are considered to be both "motorized equipment" and '"mechanical transport" 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 in place, such as wildfires. You can search the FAA website for current TFRs by checking

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.

Do not fly over or near wildlife as this can create stress that may cause significant harm and even death.

Pursuit, harassment or an 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 from wildlife. Do not approach animals or birds vertically with the UAS.

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 five miles from an airport or back-country airstrip.

Keep your UAS away from populated and noise-sensitive areas, such as campgrounds, trail heads and visitor centers.

Obey all privacy laws.

Do not fly any aircraft weighing more than 55 pounds, including payload and fuel source.

Copyright 2015 Sedona Red Rock News, Sedona, Arizona. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: August 12, 2015

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