Hiker Pleads Guilty To Operating Drone In Wilderness

DEC is working on regulations for drones in the Forest Preserve. Mike Lynch photo.

A Canadian resident has pleaded guilty to operating a drone in the High Peaks Wilderness in violation of environmental conservation regulations.

Keven Descheneaux of Trois Rivieres, Quebec, was ticketed by a forest ranger on June 17 for flying a drone near the ranger’s outpost in the Johns Brook valley.

Evidently, he is the first to be convicted of operating a drone in the Forest Preserve.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation is preparing drone regulations for the Forest Preserve, but Descheneaux was charged under an existing regulation that forbids unauthorized persons to possess or operate “motorized equipment” on Preserve lands classified as Wilderness, Primitive, or Canoe in the Adirondack Park.

Keene Town Justice Constance Hickey told the Explorer that Descheneaux pleaded guilty by mail on August 8 and was fined $75 in addition to a $75 court fee.

Neil Woodworth, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club, said many people do not realize that operating a drone in a Wilderness Area is illegal.

Indeed, the Explorer’s Mike Lynch saw someone operating a drone atop Cascade Mountain in the High Peaks Wilderness a month ago. “The guy was sitting on the summit with a bunch of friends and flew the drone about ten feet over them,” he said.

Brian Mann of North Country Public Radio saw a man operating a drone on the summit of Mount Marcy in September.

In both cases, a summit steward asked the operator to cease flying the drone.

DEC does not have jurisdiction over airspace. Technically, it’s illegal only to launch a drone from a Wilderness Area. It’s legal to launch a drone from elsewhere, such as a road, and fly it over Wilderness.

Woodworth said specific drone regulations for the Forest Preserve would help clarify the legal situation.

Woodworth said ADK has yet to take a position on how drones should be regulated in the Forest Preserve. Under current policy, they are allowed in Wild Forest Areas. Most of the Preserve is classified as either Wilderness or Wild Forest.

Click here to read an Explorer story about the use of drones.



About Phil Brown

Phil Brown edited the Adirondack Explorer from 1999 until his retirement in 2018. He continues to explore the park and to write for the publication and website.

Reader Interactions


  1. Brandon says

    This is not a reasonable expectation of law. All courts rule on reasonable standard. Is it reasonable to expect someone to know it’s illegal to fly or is that an unreasonable expectation? If course it’s unreasonable. It’s not posted, it’s the middle of the woods and it isn’t posted. It’s such a joke people care about things that have no bearing on their life. I understand if he was already told but if he wasn’t then the ticket would be unreasonable. If you have a problem with this guy flying a drone in the woods then email Cuomo and tell him to stop making propaganda over the Tapan see bridge and collecting aerial footage for his commercial because that’s a reasonable expectation to think he could hurt someone in Public place… but not in the woods. Worry about stuff that matters like the chlorine rail cares that keep getting stored…. Maybe use a drone and get some hard evidence.

  2. Michael Armstrong says

    Keith, safety I am sure a part of it but people go to the mountains and wilderness to get away from technology and for the peace and serenity of being there. Put them in areas like snow mobile trails where it is allowed (motorized) and I think it would work.

  3. Curt Austin says

    This mostly illustrates that rule-making takes too long. This prosecution required stretching the concept of “motorized”, with a rule that certainly did not anticipate anything smaller than a motorcycle or chainsaw. What about cordless drills, electric shavers, cameras? There’s a motor inside every cellphone (the vibrator).

    My point is NOT that drones should be allowed, it is the absurdity that there are no specific rules about them, or other ten-year-old “new” technologies. C’mon – get some people in a room and give them a deadline. Don’t let the same problem – bureaucracy – lead to non-sensical and inflexible rules (allow permits for legitimate uses – for example, to find hidden tanker cars).

    • Scott says

      I had a discussion with a ranger this summer about “motorized” boats on a motorless lake and DEC apparently considers something like the Hobie pedal & fin system of propulsion as a “motor” despite it being human powered. The ranger was also unaware of any tickets issued for one of those propulsion systems. Kind of like the way DEC defines a BB gun or pellet gun as a “firearm”. Some of the definitions are a stretch of the imagination.

  4. tom prevost says

    First let me state I am not a droner, nor do I advocate their use. But under FAA law, drones are registered airplanes. Thus this judge rules airplanes as motorized vehicles are unlawful in state lands. This means helicopters and tourist planes are also outlawed! I think this needs to be revisited by the legal beagles and appropriate legislation written before other cases involving emergency, tourist and private aircraft ware ticketed.

    • Phil Brown says

      As story says, the state does not have jurisdiction over airspace. So the regulations do not allow you to possess or launch a drone from Wilderness. If you launch from a road, say, or a Wild Forest Area, it is legal to fly a drone over Wilderness. The regulations do not affect aircraft.

  5. Doug Gates says

    People go to the woods for all sorts of reasons and I think it’s a reasonable expectation that your reason to visit not unduly impact my or anyone else’s reason to visit. Tossing a drone up in a peaceful place enjoyed by thousands pushes that in my opinion. Expecting that your aerial photography is ok while the rest of the thousands in attendance is not is also unreasonable. Anyone see an issue with everyone who visits Cascade’s summit enjoying unfettered aerial photography? I also find the tourist flyovers in real planes a little annoying and fortunately they seem limited to the popular peaks but they would not be tolerated either if these aircraft were 10′ above the heads of the people on top. Drones are an annoyance. Sell permits and limit the availability of them before this gets out of hand, please.


    Two points. #1: The $75.00 “Court Fee” is in fact a Mandatory State Surcharge established by the State Legislature for most violations of the NYS Environmental Conservation Law.

    #2: It is is a long established principle of law that: Ignorance of the law is no excuse. To say that violators who don’t know that riding a bicycle or flying a drone in Adirondack Wilderness is prohibited should not be ticketed is to create a lawless park.

  7. Jim says

    Drones are battery powered and thus a limited fly time.
    You can be on the top of Cascade and hear the trucks on the highway. A drone up 400′ can’t be heard. A lot of fuss over nothing.

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