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Discussion: USFS Permitting Issues

in: Orienteering; General

Mar 3, 2021 4:49 PM # 
We (Grizzly Orienteering in Missoula, MT, USA) are running into massive issues obtaining permits for off-trail use in US Forest Service areas. Does anyone have any experience successfully negotiating such permit discussions and can share any tips they may have? Thanks in advance.
Mar 3, 2021 5:17 PM # 
AttackPoint has several threads on this topic. Use the search box and the terms "USFS permits".
Also browse to the OUSA site for additional resources:
Mar 3, 2021 5:23 PM # 
I am probably still in a mental fog from this piece of news, but i am having trouble finding the specifically relevant thread. If you could link to it directly, I'd appreciate it.
Mar 3, 2021 5:27 PM # 
O Joy:
ICO has a map in Hoosier National Forest that we use every couple of years. In the recent past, we haven't had problems getting a permit although there had been problems a few years ago. I deal with our local Forest Service office and make a big point about the bare bones nature of our event. There seems to be a participant # (75?) and/or revenue barrier to easily getting a permit. Don't indicate that you are supplying food or collecting day-of registration fees on the permit application. Pre-reg works better. USARA held the orienteering portion of their 2018 national championships on our map and seemed to easily get a permit, although they probably paid for it.
Mar 3, 2021 5:30 PM # 
Thanks Brenda. The 75 person limit definitely seems like it could help. Did you have any trouble with off-trail access? This seems to be a sticking point in our case.
Mar 3, 2021 5:47 PM # 
Here's a good one:
Mar 3, 2021 5:49 PM # 
It varies a lot based on the specific forest office and permitting ranger you are working with. If you're activity does not charge a fee then you can have up to 75 people without a permit. But recreational events that charge a fee require a permit regardless of size.

Also, right now the USFS tends to be very understaffed. At one of our venues, the rangers stopped worrying about our permit since we typically get under 75 people. It's too much work for them. Another place, the ranger in charge of permits is very by the book, but will often say she's not sure we can get a permit because she doesn't have time. We typically don't have our permit in hand until the day just before the event. And last time she never finished it and told us to just go ahead anyway.

Some places we have not been able to get any permit because there are endangered species and they can't give us a permit without a full on environmental impact report which no one has time or money to do -- even though everyone involved agrees that our activity would not be endangering. Except when it is an endangered species issue, we have generally not had trouble with off-trail access in National Forest Service land. We have more trouble with that at county and state parks.

We did hold a rogaine once in an area that we've never been back to. Shortly after the rogaine, the USFS was sued by an environmental group for not protecting species appropriately and they stopped all off-trail permits in that area. But that same office has given us permits for other areas under their jurisdiction.

Also, the law prohibits competitions in areas designated as Wilderness. One of our maps borders on a wilderness and we always have to provide the course to prove we're not crossing the boundary.
Mar 4, 2021 1:05 AM # 
O Joy:
We have no problem with off-trail access in HNF except for the wilderness area but we usually only have rogaines near the wilderness area and mark it out of bounds. Our state parks don't usually let us off trail because they are afraid someone will break a leg and they'll have to extract them. Our city park system won't let us off trail in a Nature Preserve area, which is old pasture grown over with Asian honeysuckle, primarily because of complaints from a bird watching group in response to a mud run.
Mar 4, 2021 1:34 AM # 
Land of the free and home of the brave.
Mar 4, 2021 2:36 AM # 
Backstreet Boy:
It definitely varies between regions and rangers. I found it easier if I could get a face to face meeting rather than a cold call or email. Like dropping by the ranger station and saying hello and asking about event permits.
Mar 5, 2021 11:56 PM # 
CNYO has done several rogaines and a few shorter orienteering events as well in Finger Lakes National Forest, the only national forest in NY. It has gotten a little more difficult dealing with them since the administration of the forest was merged with that of Green Mountains National Forest in Vermont, but they have been pretty good about allowing the sport. In recent years, however, much more advance preparation is needed than used to be the case. A proposal for the event has to be submitted somewhat over a year in advance, to allow time for an environmental impact assessment. Once issued, a repetition of the event can be continued annually without a new environmental assessment for a ten year period. This is less useful than it might be, since we generally like to use a gap of five or six years between re-use of an area for a rogaine, but it certainly helps some. It also doesn't help that nowadays, people tend to get moved around more in the administration, so that it is a new set of land managers that have to learn about our sport each time. But up to this point, it has always worked out OK for us. From a standpoint of our perceived impact on this natural resource, it probably doesn't hurt that much of the area has been used for cattle grazing under permit on pasture land covering a not insignificant fraction of the forest since long before the US Forest Service took it over from New York State, who in turn had bought it back from the area farmers during the Great Depression about 90 years ago, and maintained much of the pastureland that had existed at the time of the buyout. The last couple of uses we have been restricted to attendance of about 100 people because of perceived capacity of the group-camp area where we do the event start (but which is allowed to host trail runs with 150 participants each year). They have restricted us from putting control markers in some sections of the forest, categorized as "Future Old Growth Forest" in their long-term management plan. This has not been too much of a problem for us, since many of these areas are now in the form of old pastureland that hasn't been mowed for thirty years or so, and is now in the "Current thorn-apple, multi-flora rose and blackberry tangle" phase of the regrowth, and hasn't yet provided much temptation to put controls there.
Mar 6, 2021 2:45 AM # 
I found it easier if I could get a face to face meeting rather than a cold call or email.

This works. Emails are too easy to delete, ignore or just reply to with a 'No' because it's too hard. Set up a meeting and away you go. Much easier to discuss issues or concerns the ranger may have and persuade them of the minimal impact of the sport.
Mar 6, 2021 10:50 AM # 
Agreed, but nearly impossible during the pandemic...
Mar 6, 2021 11:47 PM # 
Ah yeah, on your side of the earth for sure.
Mar 7, 2021 2:20 AM # 
A foot in both camps here as I work in conservation management, though obviously can't make too many assumptions about the inner workings of the USFS, and don't have a lot to do with the permitting process over here anyway. But I'd suggest if anyone has a 'tame contact' within the Service who has seen for themselves how low impact orienteering generally is and as a result makes the process go smoothly as possible at any site they have responsibility, maybe it's worth asking them if they're happy to have colleagues at other sites who don't have that prior experience of what orienteering events 'look like' referred to them for an opinion on likely impacts, issues.

Also, I'm sure the majority don't need reminding, but there will be places that genuinely need to be permanently, temporarily, or seasonally off-limits dependent on the values that are being protected there. Clearly respecting that I'm sure would help negotiating access to the remainder.
Mar 9, 2021 10:16 PM # 
Don't know whether this is a part of the problem in your specific case, but I've come across a few events working around restrictions on "event fees."

There's the "membership only" approach where you make your event open to club members only, and then you have both a limit to the folks who show up and you simplify your administration. (If necessary, you can have "one-week membership" purchased online ahead of time to cover insurance levies.)

Then there was a race in London that a colleague tried to get me to run a few years ago. Turns out it's still going (but suspended because of covid). Paraphrasing...
"Because of park rules we cannot take payment on the day for this event. Please send a cheque for £2.00 to the organizers to buy a race number for the event."

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