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Final Programmatic Environmental Assessment for the Nationwide Operation of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems


When proposed actions are similar to each other or repetitive, federal agencies are encouraged to consider evaluating potential environmental impacts in a programmatic manner. Program-level analysis can establish the boundaries for the analyses, documentation, and decisions of subsequent project-level decisions, thus avoiding repetition and delay. Additionally, programmatic environmental analysis and documentation can also identify best management practices (BMPs) that may be applied for project-specific activities to ensure the avoidance of significant impacts on resources and alleviate the need for subsequent reviews. 

This Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA) evaluated the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) ongoing use of small unmanned aircraft system (sUAS; i.e., drone) activities nationwide to meet DHS mission requirements (Proposed Action). The assessment of environmental impacts is an important and integral part of DHS’s decision-making process. As such, DHS prepared this PEA to assess at a national scale the environmental impacts that may occur as a result of the Proposed Action and establish standard BMPs by which DHS can reduce such impacts.

This PEA complies with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA); 42 United States Code [USC] §§ 4321 et seq.); the White House Council on Environmental Quality Regulations Implementing the Procedural Provisions of NEPA (40 Code of Federal Regulations [CFR] Parts 1500-1508); and DHS Management Directive 023-01, rev. 01 Implementation of the NEPA.  This PEA analyzed sUAS as an asset to DHS mission and operations, such as, research and testing, training, marine mammal protection and monitoring, emergency response, security and surveillance, navigational aid, search and rescue missions, law enforcement, disaster assessment and recovery, and facility and site inspections.

The PEA has been coordinated with appropriate stakeholders, including federal agencies and Native American Tribes, having an interest in the Proposed Action during scoping activities initiated on April 14, 2022. Additionally, a Notice of Availability was sent to all interested stakeholders on August 11, 2022, including environmental planning, historic preservation, and civil rights and civil liberties contacts that DHS has maintained.  Public comments were accepted from August 11, 2022, until October 9, 2022, and are summarized in the PEA.

DHS has made a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), DHS and its Components, in consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) have identified best management practices in the PEA. The revised BMP checklist is included in the Final Biological Evaluation and would be applied, as applicable, for project-specific activities to ensure the continued avoidance of significant impacts on resources and alleviate the need for subsequent review. DHS and its Components would adopt these BMPs as standard procedure for its sUAS operations. Should these BMPs not be feasible for future related DHS and Component proposed actions, project-specific tiering of appropriate NEPA documentation would be required.

DHS in coordination with the USFWS has prepared an sUAS BMP Implementation Checklist to assist DHS and Component operators with ensuring that they comply with BMPs during sUAS activities. Elements of this checklist was revised in consultation with the USFWS as part of the informal Section 7 Endangered Species Act consultation process. On September 28, 2024, DHS received USFWS concurrence on the programmatic consultation for the PEA.

DHS and Component operators would utilize the BMP Implementation Checklist to comply with sUAS operations and to avoid or minimize adverse impacts on federally listed, proposed, and candidate species and proposed and designated critical habitats. Attached includes the Final PEA, FONSI, Final Biological Evaluation, Programmatic Section 7 consultation results, Final sUAS BMP Implementation Checklist, and errata (memo) addressing revisions to effects determinations discussed in the Final Biological Evaluation.

Attachment Ext. Size Date
FINAL FINDING OF NO SIGNIFICANT IMPACT Nationwide Operation of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems PDF 245.42 KB 12/22/2022
FINAL Programmatic Environmental Assessment for the Nationwide Operation of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems PDF 4.22 MB 12/22/2022
Notice of Availability Final Programmatic Environmental Assessment and Final Finding of No Significant Impact for the Nationwide Operation of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems United States Department of Homeland Security PDF 35.44 KB 12/29/2022
Memo Addressing ESA Determinations PDF 239.92 KB 04/16/2024
Informal Consultation, Final Programmatic Environmental Assessment PDF 3.95 MB 04/16/2024
Best Management Practices Implementation Checklist PDF 223.11 KB 04/16/2024
DHS sUAS Concurrence PDF 1.25 MB 04/16/2024
Last Updated: 04/17/2024
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