Can I Fly Drone in a Wildlife Management Area? A Handy Guide


Are you planning on flying a drone in a wildlife management area?

Before you take off, it’s important to know whether or not it’s legal to do so. The rules and regulations regarding drone flight can vary depending on the location, so it’s important to do your research beforehand.

In this article, I’ll answer the question: can you fly a drone in a wildlife management area?

In short, the answer is NO! You cannot fly drones in a wildlife management area due to safety and security concerns.

The laws around drone flight can be complex. So, I’ll also let you know about FAA regulations, security concerns, permissions needed, and penalties (if any) so that you’re fully informed.

Can I Fly Drone in a Wildlife Management Area

FAA Regulations on Flying Drones in a Wildlife Management Area

Due to the following FAA regulations, you are not allowed to fly drones in a wildlife management area:

  1. Launching, landing, or disturbing wildlife by drones on national wildlife refuges is strictly prohibited, as stated by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and FAA regulations.
  2. Drone operators should not rely solely on applications such as AirMap, DJI Go, or B4UFly to determine if a location is legal for drone use, as they may not accurately capture the locations of prohibited public lands. Contact the refuge manager if in doubt.
  3. Commercial photography using drones on or from refuge-administered lands requires a permit in accordance with 43 CFR 5.1-12.
  4. Flying a drone in a Wildlife Management Area is prohibited under the Wilderness Act of 1964, which states that there should be no commercial enterprise, temporary road, use of motor vehicles, motorized equipment, motorboats, landing of aircraft, or any other form of mechanical transport within such areas.


Security Concerns

Flying a drone in a wildlife management area comes with its own set of unique security concerns, which are worth considering before launching your drone. Here are some potential security concerns to keep in mind.

Security Concerns for Flying Drones in a Wildlife Management Area

  1. Disturbance: Drones can cause significant disturbance to wildlife, disrupting their natural activities and potentially leading to harmful consequences.
  2. Privacy: In some cases, drones may unintentionally capture images or videos of individuals without their consent, violating their privacy rights.
  3. Collision: Drones may collide with birds, other drones, or objects, posing a risk to both wildlife and human safety.
  4. Poaching: Drones can be misused by poachers to identify and track down wildlife, making it easier for them to illegally hunt and kill animals.
  5. Interference: Flying drones can interfere with ongoing research or wildlife management activities, potentially jeopardizing important studies or conservation efforts.

Permissions and Permits

To fly a drone in a Wildlife Management Area (WMA), permissions and permits vary depending on jurisdiction and airspace.

If the area is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a Special Use Permit is required. For state-managed areas, adhere to specific state requirements and obtain necessary permits from the respective state wildlife agency. Additionally, if the WMA is in controlled airspace, secure authorization through the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) system. Finally, ensure compliance with FAA regulations, following either Part 107 rules for commercial pilots or the FAA safety guidelines for recreational pilots.

Penalties for Flying a Drone without Authorization

Penalties for flying drones without authorization in a Wildlife Management Area can vary, but it is indeed considered a crime. While specific punishments are not outlined in the Wilderness Act, violators may face fines and potential jail time. Fines can range from several hundred to several thousand dollars, potentially reaching up to $5,000 or more. Jail time may also be included in the penalty, with a minimum of six months. The actual duration of imprisonment could be shorter or longer, depending on the circumstances and the discretion of the Wildlife Management Area.

Also check:


1. Can I Fly Drones in a Wildlife Management Area if I am not a Licensed Drone Pilot?

No, flying a drone in a Wildlife Management Area without a proper license is not allowed. Wildlife Management Areas are designated to protect wildlife and their habitat, and unauthorized drone usage can disrupt the natural environment, potentially causing harm to animals and violating regulations. Always check with the local authorities and obtain necessary permissions and licenses before operating a drone in any protected area.

2. Who can Authorize the Use of Drones in a Wildlife Management Area?

The authorization for the use of drones in a Wildlife Management Area typically falls under the jurisdiction of the local or national wildlife management agency responsible for the management and conservation of these areas. Depending on the country or region, this may include organizations such as the Department of Fish and Wildlife, National Park Service, or similar governing bodies. To obtain permission, drone operators must submit a formal application or request to the appropriate agency, adhering to their specific regulations and guidelines to ensure the protection of wildlife and their habitat.

3. Can the Police Fly Drones in a Wildlife Management Area?

Yes, the police can fly a drone in a Wildlife Management Area, provided they have the necessary permissions and follow the regulations set by the governing bodies. Police usage of drones in such areas is typically for law enforcement, search and rescue operations, or wildlife monitoring and protection. However, they must adhere to the guidelines, such as maintaining a safe distance from wildlife, to minimize any potential disturbance or harm to the ecosystem.


In conclusion, before flying a drone in a wildlife management area, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the appropriate resources and tools. Download the B4UFLY mobile app to easily find safe and legal flying locations.

Drone laws are subject to change, and information in this blog may become outdated; always consult official sources for the latest regulations.

And if you have a related query, kindly feel free to let me know in the comments.

Photo of author
Peter Karanja is a licensed drone pilot from Kenya, freelance writer and drone enthusiast. He has been using drones for land survey, GIS, and photography for the past three years. Being a drone user, he loves writing about drone applications, safety tips for using drones, and the best ways to get the most out of a drone.

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