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Drone Use on DEC Lands

DEC is in the process of developing a drone [also referred to as "unmanned aircraft system" (UAS)] policy which will be available for public comment before completion. Current rules for drone use on lands managed by DEC are listed below by land classification.

The names of DEC properties typically include the land classification within them. For example, Giant Mountain Wilderness is a wilderness area, Nelson Swamp Unique Area is a unique area, Keeney Swamp Wildlife Management Area is a wildlife management area, and Stewart State Forest is a state forest. If you are unsure what type of land classification the area you want to visit falls under, contact the local DEC office for guidance.

Please note - While drone use may be acceptable on some state lands, some activities that use a drone ma require an approved temporary revocable permit (TRP). Examples of some of these activities include research, gatherings of more than 20 people, competitive events or tournaments, filmmaking.

On this page:

Adirondack and Catskill Forest Preserves

Both commercial and hobbyist use of drones on Forest Preserve lands is prohibited by 6 NYCRR 196.8 in areas classified as:

Hobbyist use is allowed on the following Forest Preserve lands, and commercial use may be allowed on the following lands with an approved temporary revocable permit (TRP) as per 6 NYCRR 190.8 and 196.8:

For the following winter recreation areas in the Forest Preserve, please contact the Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA) (leaves DEC website) for specific regulations regarding drone use on these lands. Each of the ski center links below leaves DEC's website:

State Forests

Both commercial and hobbyist use of drones is allowed in areas classified as:

Both hobbyist and commercial drone users should contact the DEC Wildlife office closest to the property prior to drone use at the following Unique and Multiple Use Areas:

  • Bog Brook Unique Area
  • Carlton Hill Multiple Use Area
  • Harwood Lake Multiple Use Area
  • Junius Ponds Unique Area
  • Seward's Island Unique Area

Conservation Easements

For information on both hobbyist and commercial drone use on conservation easement lands, contact the DEC Lands and Forests office nearest the easement property. Lands and Forests staff will, in consultation with the easement landowner, determine if such use is prohibited by the terms of the easement or whether the use of drones conflicts with the existing use(s) of the land.

Wildlife Management Area (WMA) System

Both hobbyist and commercial drone users should contact the DEC Wildlife office closest to the Wildlife Management Area prior to drone use at these properties.

View information about DEC's WMA system.

Campgrounds and Day Use Areas

Both hobbyist and commercial drone users should contact the Division of Operations, Bureau of Recreation in DEC's Albany office prior to drone use at DEC Campgrounds and Day Use Areas.

Phone: (518) 457-2500

Email: campinfo@dec.ny.gov

Environmental Education Centers

Pursuant to 6 NYCRR Part 623, both hobbyist and commercial use of drones is prohibited at DEC's four education centers except for research or training as permitted under an approved temporary revocable permit (TRP). Environmental education centers have their own TRP process. To inquire whether a TRP can be obtained, contact DEC's Bureau of Environmental Education at (518) 402-8043.

  • Stony Kill Farm (Dutchess County) - prohibited except for research/training with TRP
  • Five Rivers (Albany County) - prohibited except for research/training with TRP
  • Rogers (Chenango County) - prohibited except for research/training with TRP
  • Reinstein Woods (Erie County) - prohibited except for research/training with TRP

Summer Youth Camps

As per NYS Department of Health regulations (SubPart 7-2) (leaves DEC website), both hobbyist and commercial drone use is prohibited at DEC's four residential youth camps while children and staff are present in the camps.

  • Colby (Franklin County)
  • DeBruce (Sullivan County)
  • Pack Forest (Warren County)
  • Rushford (Allegany County)

Users should contact the Division of Operations, Bureau of Environmental Education in DEC's Albany office prior to drone use at DEC Summer Camps at other times of the year.

Phone: (518) 402-8043

Email: educationcamps@dec.ny.gov

Definition of Commercial Use

It is considered commercial use if the pilot conducting the flight is being compensated or if the flight being conducted is for the furtherance of a business.

How to Leave No Trace While Using Drones

Follow the etiquette tips below to safely and respectfully use your drone in the great outdoors.

Plan and Prepare Ahead

Know the regulations surrounding drone use prior to your trip. A location may not have a specific drone regulation; however, other regulations such as no motorized equipment may be in place. For example, all forest preserve land that is classified as Wilderness has a "no motorized equipment" regulation, which includes the use of drones. Launching, landing, or operating drones on Wilderness classified lands is prohibited in the Adirondacks and Catskills.

Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

When preparing to fly your drone, be aware of where you are standing and how you got there. Plan your location ahead of time and choose a location along a designated trail or roadway. Avoid traveling off roads and trails, as this damages vegetation and degrades the health of the surrounding ecosystem. Leave as little trace as possible when launching and landing drones. Choose calm days to fly because if your drone crashes, retrieving it may mean crushing fragile vegetation and disturbing wildlife. Always fly your drone within eyesight of where you are standing.

Dispose of Waste Properly

Be sure to pick up all trash and waste and carry it out with you when you're done. Do not throw food scraps into the woods or leave them where you stand. Food scraps are litter and can attract wildlife to popular areas, increasing human-wildlife conflict. Research the location of bathrooms and privies ahead of time and use those designated facilities. If a designated bathroom facility is not available where you are, know how to properly dig a cathole (leaves DEC website) and dispose of your waste.

Respect Wildlife

Drones can be very disturbing to wildlife. Never fly a drone directly at wildlife or hover in front of wildlife to get a close shot. Be especially mindful of giving wildlife space during breeding and nesting seasons. Keep your drone at the same safe distance as you would stand yourself if you were there in person. Do not bait wildlife to a specific area to capture footage. Leave all wildlife to their natural habitats.

Environmental Conservation Law (ECL) 11-0103(13): "Taking" and "take" include pursuing, shooting, hunting, killing, capturing, trapping, snaring and netting fish, wildlife, game, shellfish, crustacea and protected insects, and all lesser acts such as disturbing, harrying or worrying, or placing, setting, drawing or using any net or other device commonly used to take any such animal. Whenever any provision of the Fish and Wildlife Law permits "taking", the taking permitted is a taking by lawful means and in a lawful manner."

Be Considerate of Other Users

Just as the sound and sight of drones can be disruptive to wildlife, they can also disturb other users on the trail, summit, or wherever you are flying. Drones alter the natural wilderness experience that many seek in nature and can make users feel like their privacy has been invaded. Before flying your drone be sure the location is clear of people or speak to everyone around and receive permission and approval to fly your drone nearby. Keep in mind that flying drones around others could lead to potential penal law violations such as harassment or invasion of privacy.

Additional Resources

The links below leave DEC's website.