Scientific Research Permits

Red-necked Phalarope bar

Attention Drone Users: The use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS/drones) is no longer allowed for any US Fish and Wildlife Service supported or permitted use. This prohibition applies to the use of drones for commercial filming and scientific research, even if the use of drones was previously authorized via special use permit. Secretarial Order 3379, issued by Interior Secretary Bernhardt on January 29, 2020, mandates that all non-emergency UAS flights cease until further notice. UAS flights in support of emergencies, such as wildfires and search and rescue missions, will continue.

A Special Use Permit is required for all scientific studies or research activities occurring on National Wildlife Refuges where the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is not an active participant in the activity. The permit application and a proposal or operational plan should give Refuge staff the information needed to determine whether or not to allow the activity and to decide what special conditions may be needed to safeguard Refuge resources and the experiences of visitors. Because of this, an early teleconference or a meeting between Refuge staff and the project leader is recommended.

Remember to include the following in as much detail as possible when filling out your permit application:

  • The study site location (lat, long) 
  • Dates you'll be in the field 
  • Type of transportation 
  • All instrumentation and equipment you will be taking into the field 
  • Number in party 

If applicable: 

  • Type of ground disturbance 
  • Size and amount of collected specimen 
  • Installations 

The Refuge staff that determine whether or not to allow the activity will access the study on considerations such as:

  • Environmental Impacts - through the National Environmental Policy Act 
  • Impacts to Cultural Resources - through the National Historic Preservation Act, Section 106 
  • Impacts to Subsistence Activities - through the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, Section 810 

When the research is requested to occur in wilderness, there is a need to complete a Minimum Requirements Analysis to assess impacts.

In Section 4(c) of the Wilderness Act, prohibitions listed except as necessary to meet minimum requirements for administration are:

  • Temporary road 
  • Use of motor vehicles 
  • Motorized equipment or motorboats 
  • Landing of aircraft (besides fixed-wing aircraft as identified in ANILCA) 
  • Other forms of mechanical transport 
  • Structures or installations 

Researchers seeking to study in the refuge should apply in the October 1 to November 30 application period in the year prior to start of activity. If sending by mail, permit applications postmarked by the end-date of the application period will be accepted.

Download the Research Application. (270 kb PDF file) 

Email the application to arctic_permits@fws.gov or mail to 101 12th Avenue Room 236, Fairbanks, AK 99701. If you have any questions call 907-456-0512.