CDFW Wildlife Areas and Ecological Reserves Added to FAA’s Drone Mobile App
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently allowed public land managers such as the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) the opportunity to include properties in their mobile app, which is used by many drone operators. The B4UFly app and website is the FAA’s tool for communicating airspace restrictions, but it’s been expanded to show ground-based restrictions on drone operations on public lands. The app now makes it clear that drone operations are not allowed at about 400 properties managed by CDFW.
Many of those lands are designated as wildlife areas or ecological reserves, in which the primary purpose is the preservation of biodiversity, particularly sensitive plant, fish, and wildlife species and their habitat. Though drone use can be fun and educational, flight operations can also have a negative impact on wildlife. In May of 2021, a drone was seen flying over a least tern nesting area at the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve (Orange County). The drone subsequently crashed which disturbed hundreds of terns causing them to temporarily leave their eggs. The California least tern is both federally and state listed as endangered. The recreational operation of drones on CDFW properties has never been allowed, and this incident, among others, has made it a priority for CDFW to better communicate this restriction to the public. While signs prohibiting drone use are in place at many CDFW facilities, there are numerous access points where a sign may not be seen or the advisory is ignored.
“Easy to access information on land-based drone restrictions has long been the missing piece of data needed to help drone pilots operate legally and responsibly, said CDFW Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Manager and Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Coordinator Steve Goldman. “It puts this much-needed information into a widely used drone mobile app for all to see.”
As soon as public land manager access was allowed by B4UFly in June of 2022, CDFW began the process of adding about 400 department properties to the system. As of the start of 2023, all CDFW properties show up in B4UFly as areas that are restricted from drone operations. This has resulted in a decrease in the number of drone operation interventions across our properties and has allowed CDFW to continue providing safe lands for animals to flourish.
CDFW understands there are many effective uses for drones, especially in the field of natural resource management. However, without appropriate operational assessments and risk mitigations for wildlife concerns, drone operations can have significant negative impacts. CDFW’s website has flight tips, regulatory guidance and contact information that can help prepare drone operators to be wildlife-friendly wildlife.ca.gov/Drones. The B4UFly app is available at www.faa.gov/uas/getting_started/b4ufly.
Steve Goldman, Biogeographic Data Branch, (916) 838-7719
Tim Daly, CDFW Communications, (916) 201-2958