USFS Proposes Public Lands Give-Away

The United States Forest Service (USFS) has proposed massive countrywide rulemaking changes to benefit out

  • By: Ted Williams

The United States Forest Service (USFS) has proposed massive countrywide rulemaking changes to benefit outfitter and guiding access to all USFS lands. Your favorite campsite, hunting blind, fishing hole or boat ramp, and your access to it, are at risk!

Our longtime readers know that we at River Runners for Wilderness have followed and mounted opposition to various attempts to pass an Outfitters Policy Act that grants rights and privileges to public lands outfitters over the self-guided public.

Past long-term efforts by the outfitters lobby have failed, due in part to your vigilance. This most recent attempt is more sinister. The outfitters and guides have joined forces with non-profit groups that lead guided outdoor trips, and are now attempting to re-write the rules that govern the policies of the US Forest Service to win special access privileges.

Once again, you can counter these efforts through your comments, due no later than January 17, 2008. Now is the time to stand up and protect your right to use Forest Service lands equally with outfitters and their clients.

If you do nothing, these sweeping changes will impact all do-it-yourself (self-guided) recreationists, including hunters, fishermen, off-road enthusiasts, hikers, backpackers, canoeists, jet-boaters, paddlers, mountain-bikers and river runners. Once the rights to your favorite picnic area, boat ramp, or wilderness trailhead are sold, the change is permanent; the self-guided public enthusiast loses, and also loses the right to comment in the future.

The proposed rulemaking changes include but are not limited to:

* Outfitters and guides would be able to pay a small fee for sole and exclusive access to prime camping, hunting, fishing and picnic areas, including boat launch ramps.

* Outfitters, guides and non-profit organizations would be awarded an allocation of public use for ten-year periods. Commonly referred to as a taking, of public land the rule would give preferred access to the outfitters at the expense of the do-it-yourself public on all Forest Service-managed lands.

* This rulemaking would force allocating access in management areas where access is presently allocation-free, as it now is at Boundary Waters Canoe Area and the Deschutes River.

* Outfitters, Guides and non-profits become Priority Users. The public, who does not use outfitters, guides or non-profits for access would no longer have priority use.

* The general public would no longer be able to comment on USFS giving away blocks of access to Forest Service land. Outfitting and guiding in designated wilderness would not require public comment and review through an Environmental Assessment or Environmental Impact Statement. Additionally, there is no provision to prevent outfitting services from selling their preferred access rights to their successor companies.

* The new proposed rules do not protect wilderness areas from commercialization.

To see the document in its entirety log onto:

http://a257.g.akamaitech.net/7/257/2422/01jan20071800/edocket.access.gpo.gov/2007/E7-20659.htm

Comments on this proposed rulemaking will be accepted until January 17, 2008.

Do you care about your and your childrens access to Federal Land? Or their childrens access?

If so, please take the time to comment on this one, and urge your friends, no matter what outdoor activities they enjoy, to comment too.

Comments may be submitted by mail to:

U.S. Forest Service, Attn:

Carolyn Holbrook, Recreation and Heritage Resources Staff (2720)

1400 Independence Avenue, SW., Stop 1125,

Washington, DC 20250-1125.

You can submit electronic comments, but it is not easy (imagine that!) Start by clicking here:

www.regulations.gov

Under Advanced Search, in the Document ID type in FS-2007-0008-0001. Under Date Posted type in 10/19/2007. This should take you to a page with a comment bubble on the far right of the page. Click the bubble to get to the comment page.

Heres what you might want to say in your own words:

* Tell the USFS that ALL outfitters, guides and non-profit organizations using public lands should compete on an equal footing with the public for permits in a first-come first-serve or common pool type of permit system.

* Tell the USFS that allocating access is contentious and already being fought over in the courts. This rulemaking will lead to more litigation over who gets to access Federal lands.

* Tell the USFS that you demand that allocation-free areas, like the Boundary Waters and the Deschutes River, must remain allocation free.

* Tell the USFS there should be no locations, including campsites, launch ramps, prime hunting and fishing locations specifically set aside for outfitter, guide or non-profit use.

* Tell the USFS this rulemaking is a taking from the public who recreates on USFS land without guided, outfitted or non-profit assistance, and that the do-it-yourself American must be the only priority user.

* Tell the USFS that outfitting, guiding and non-profit access permits must be reviewed in a public process using the National Environmental Protection Act.

* Tell the USFS that this rulemaking must not commercialize wilderness areas.

Remember, comments must be received in writing by January 17, 2008.

Please send a copy of your letter to your Senator or Congressman as well, since the outfitting industry has, throughout the years, tried and failed to get special considerations like these proposed changes through special interest legislation, and may try again in the future.

--River Runners for Wilderness