It was exactly twenty years ago that I was in Germany staying with family members. During the visit my German family had planned a camping trip. As an American, camping and the great outdoors was nothing new. Back home we always went camping, and yet there was some odd excitement with my German family members about this trip. I didn't quite understand it, but this was was clearly something special. Eventually, curiosity got the best of me and I had to ask what all the hub-bub was about. Then as if it were some great secret, I was told in a whisper, "we're going Wild Camping."|
Hmmm... Wild Camping? I had no idea what wild camping was, but clearly it was something special to behold. Soon enough I would be let into the inner circle.
A few hours later, and with great secrecy, we arrived at our somewhat secluded location. Carefully, everyone visually searched the surrounding area making sure we were alone. I have to admit, whatever was going on was pretty exciting.
At last, the all clear was given. We piled out of the vehicles, loaded up our gear, and quickly disappeared into the woods. We hiked quite some distance before everyone felt as though we had achieved whatever objective needed to be met for this "wild camping" experience. At this point of the adventure I'm starting to feel like I'm on a Snipe hunt. If you don't know what a Snipe hunt is, ask some of your buddies to take you; they'll know.
Somewhere around the 1 a.m. hour, sitting very close to this ridiculously small fire, I could take it no longer and asked for someone to please explain just what "wild camping" is because I am not bright enough to figure it out on my own.
Jorge explained this was it. This is wild camping.
Huh? What is it? We're here camping, we have our tents, marshmallows, did I mention a ridiculously small fire, and I do this all the time back home. Where does "wild" come in to camping? They explained how in Germany you are only allowed to camp in campgrounds. It was "verboten" to camp in the woods or go "wild camping" as they referred to it.
You might be wondering what this story has to do with our BLM? Recent events here in the American west reminded me of this story I have just shared.
That night around the pocket sized campfire I was quite proud of my American homeland so far away. All countries are not created equal and I explained that back home we were free to camp on our public lands. America and her public lands belong to us, the citizens of America.
How things have changed here in America since that night of wild camping in the woods of Germany. Federal policy; Title 43: Public Lands: Interior, PART 2930?PERMITS FOR RECREATION ON PUBLIC LANDS, put some serious limitations on our use of public lands and essentially put us in the "campground."
I first heard about this sleeper federal policy about a month ago when a few Jeepers were flagged down on the trail and issued citations for not having a permit to be on public lands managed by the BLM. This story seemed really fishy, and I was hearing it second hand at a four wheel drive club meeting. However, only six days later I stumbled upon this issue again in an article published in a local Utah paper, The Standard Examiner, written by Lynn Blamires.
**note: As you read on you will find numbers within brackets,  through . These are tied to the links at the bottom of the article to which information was extracted.
Mr. Blamires explained in his article, "BLM toughens permit regulations" that his ATV group, Northern Utah ATV Trail Riders, were asked for their "recreational permit." Fortunately they were not cited for their infraction of Trespassing on Public Lands Without a Permit, and he was told to contact the local BLM field office.
Now that we had a first-hand report, we decided MOABJEEPER Magazine needed to look into this. We started by trying to contact the same BLM field office. While the person that answered the phone was very courteous, we could never get a hold of the person we needed and ended up in voicemail. None of our voicemails were returned regarding this issue of land use.
Since the proverbial horse's mouth was not speaking, we contacted others in the media to see what they knew. Speaking with the associate producer of an outdoors recreational television program broadcast here in the West, he shared that they too were kind of caught off-guard by this sleeper policy that had reared its head. He said two different ATV groups (one of them being Lynn Blamires group) had encounters with the BLM for being on public lands without permits.
We now had enough factual evidence to know something was amiss, but where did these rules come from; and what are the rules? The offending policy, PART 2930?PERMITS FOR RECREATION ON PUBLIC LANDS, was drafted in 2002 and finally signed off on in 2007. If you're not familiar with who this affects, the BLM manages 62% of the federally controlled western public lands: Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Oregon, California, Colorado, Arizona, Wyoming, New Mexico, Montana, Alaska and Washington. If you live in the East, don't think you're immune to the BLM's policy. The BLM doesn't control much land there, but the policy still applies to you (if they choose to enforce it).
So we've told you who is affected, but what are the effects? Well that is hard to define. It's kind of like former President Clinton during his grand jury testimony of, "it depends on what the meaning of the words 'is' is."
If you find yourself on the trail with other people, whether you think you're a group or not doesn't really matter. The definition of a "group" is up to the governing BLM office and the determination of the officer on location. If they decide that you're a group, then you better have the Special Recreational Permit which runs $90 or $4 per head, whichever is HIGHER.
Before we move any further, lets play what 'is' is, and what a Special Recreational Permit covers. From the federal policy:
(a) Special Recreation Permits for commercial use, organized group activities or events, competitive use, and for use of special areas; and
(b) Recreation use permits for use of fee areas such as campgrounds and day use areas.
If you think your particular group, such as those into Geocaching or mountain biking, may not be affected, think again. As defined in the federal policy:
Organized group activity means a structured, ordered, consolidated, or scheduled event on, or occupation of, public lands for the purpose of recreational use that is not commercial or competitive.
Specific to the Special Recreation Permit Process Handbook, this sub-policy exert (below) covers ANY gathering of people and even specifies family gatherings in the BLM Special Recreation Permit Process Handbook as "recreational" use:
An Organized Group Activity permit is required for group outdoor recreation activities or
events which are neither commercial nor competitive....Examples: family reunions and organized four-wheel drive events.
Did you see that? Family reunions? If a family gathering of all things requires a Special Recreation Permit, it doesn't seem like a stretch at all to assume any kind of group on public lands would be subject to the same requirements. Each BLM office is a smaller kingdom of the federal government, also known as the "big kingdom". The policy handed down from the big kingdom gives a very broad guideline for the little kingdoms to interpret and enforce as they see fit for the peasantry that enter the lands of their particular little kingdom.
What does this all mean to you? Next time you're going to take a trip into the wilderness with a group of friends, make sure you contact the BLM field office in charge of that area to find out their own specific rules. The BLM is not by any means saying public lands are now off limits, but we wanted to make sure you know what to do and what to expect. Access to public lands for you and your friends, or your four wheel drive club, may now require additional planning or permit requests at a fee.
To this point we have only discussed how this affects Joe-average-citizen. For all of you in business related to outdoor recreation, the big kingdom's policies go even further.
§ 2932.11 When do I need a Special Recreation Permit?
(1)Commercial use, including vending associated with recreational use
So, commercial use automatically means you need a Special Recreation Permit. But what is "commercial use". Let's ask the BLM
Commercial use means recreational use of the public lands and related waters for business or financial gain.
That explanation is simple enough. Say for example, Acme Wheel Widgets heads to Moab during the week prior to Easter Sunday. They are not conducting business, but are simply checking things out on the trails. The week prior to Easter is a spectacle in and of itself, as you know. However, in the spirit of 'is', commercial use is not that simple as we later read.
Profit-making organizations and organizations seeking to make a profit are automatically classified as commercial, even if that part of their activity covered by the permit is not profit-making or the business as a whole is not profitable.
We understand this to mean that even though Acme Wheel Widgets are there alone (not in a group) on the trails watching the spectacle (not advertising or selling any products), they fall into the category of needing special commercial permits simply because they are an off-road related business. We hope someone at Acme Wheel Widgets (or any of you real vendors out there) has the long term foresight and planning to get all the necessary Special Recreation permits in time for their day of sightseeing.
You may be wondering, "how do I go about applying for this permit?" This is where the foresight comes in handy, as Acme Wheel Widgets will need to file all the necessary paperwork for the permit AT LEAST 180 days (that's SIX MONTHS!!) prior to when Acme wants to venture forth into the BLM kingdom. The BLM even suggests that you get in touch with them much earlier so that they can educate you on all that is involved to file for this permit.
But they're not done yet. The application paperwork must be done through the BLM office local to the area Acme wants to access and then again in the adjacent area if they will be crossing from one BLM kingdom's territory to the next.
But wait, there's more.
(a) Your application for a Special Recreation Permit for all uses, except individual and noncommercial group use of special areas, must include:
(1) A completed BLM Special Recreation Application and Permit form;
(2) Unless waived by BLM, a map or maps of sufficient scale and detail to allow identification of the proposed use area; and
(3) Other information that BLM requests, in sufficient detail to allow us to evaluate the nature and impact of the proposed activity, including measures you will use to mitigate adverse impacts.
We hope all you off-road product vendors planning trail runs in Moab are paying attention.
Commercial use. In addition to the fees set by the Director, BLM, if BLM needs more than 50 hours of staff time to process a Special Recreation Permit for commercial use in any one year, we may charge a fee for recovery of the processing costs.
(i) BLM needs more than 50 hours of staff time to process a Special Recreation Permit for competitive or organized group/event use in any one year
BLM may require you to submit a payment bond, a cash or surety deposit, or other financial guarantee in an amount sufficient to cover your fees or defray the costs of restoration and rehabilitation of the lands affected by the permitted use.
Then of course there is the insurance requirement for anyone or any company deemed commercial whether they are conducting business or not.
All commercial and competitive applicants for Special Recreation Permits, except vendors, must obtain a property damage, personal injury, and public liability insurance policy that BLM judges sufficient to protect the public and the United States. Your policy must name the U.S. Government as additionally insured or co-insured and stipulate that you or your insurer will notify BLM 30 days in advance of termination or modification of the policy.
The dollar coverage required and determined by the BLM can range from $300,000 to $1,000,000. Yes, there really are six zeros after that number one.
As with any policy there are the penalties.
(b) Penalties. (1) If you are convicted of any act prohibited by paragraphs (a)(2) through (a)(7) of this section, or of failing to obtain a Special Recreation Permit under paragraph
(a)(1) of this section, you may be subject to a sentence of a fine or imprisonment or both for a Class A misdemeanor in accordance with 18 U.S.C. 3571 and 3581 et seq. under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (43 U.S.C. 1733(a)).
(2) If you are convicted of failing to pay a fee required by paragraph (a)(1) of this section, you may be subject to a sentence of a fine not to exceed $100 for the first offense, or a sentence of a fine and or imprisonment for a Class A or B misdemeanor in accordance with 18 U.S.C. 3571 and 3581 et seq. for all subsequent offenses.
(3) You may also be subject to civil action for unauthorized use of the public lands or related waters and their resources, for violations of permit terms, conditions, or stipulations, or for uses beyond those allowed by permit.