If you look at the Forest Service NVUM numbers (granted that there are issues with these numbers, but perhaps they are the best available if we want to understand Forest Service recreation) we see that we can tell how far away visitors come from to visit National Forests. I did this extract for the Bitterroot National Forest in Region 1 (it’s easy to do for your own forest by following the screens and generating your own report).
I think the Coronavirus has encouraged (or forced) us to think about these distinctions, at least in Colorado. Here’s a piece by Jason Blevins in the Colorado Sun:
More resorts are banning uphill traffic as skiers flock. And as a second snowy weekend approaches with the entire state now under stay-at-home orders, more health departments and sheriffs are following that lead with both orders and requests to limit outdoor activity by visitors from afar.
San Juan County Sheriff Bruce Conrad on Saturday took the closures an extra step. He limited access to 220,000 acres of federal land to the roughly 700 residents of the one-town county. He joins the Southeast Utah Health Department as the only two jurisdictions to close public lands to everyone except locals.
But there’s a snag in those protective orders prodded by health officials and intended to stop the spread of COVID-19 in — and to — rural areas where local hospitals could easily be overwhelmed: Federal land policy prohibits limiting access to a select few.
In times of an emergency or public safety issue, like a wildfire, high avalanche danger or an accident, local authorities can and do temporarily suspend all access to public lands.
“I don’t think anyone would have a problem with that type of closure. But this seems to be an effort that quite explicitly discriminates against people who are not from the local area,” said Mark Squillace, a professor of natural resources law at the University of Colorado Law School in Boulder.
The March 16 order by the Southeast Utah Health Department closed restaurants, coffee shops and bars with prohibition of sit-down service in the tourist-reliant Carbon, Emery and Grand counties. It also closed theaters, venues and overnight lodging, noting that the three counties “are surrounded by virus activity.” In the section closing overnight and short-term lodging facilities, the order said only “primary residents” and “essential visitors” who were working in the counties “may utilize public lands for primitive camping purposes.”
If a county has shut down overnight lodging, and the only other lodging is on public land for primitive camping, does the county does not have the right to restrict that? Is that discrimination against outsiders or a necessary public health initiative? Do local public health concerns (life and death) ever trump the property rights of citizens from elsewhere to use their federal lands? It’s interesting that the ski areas, who presumably hold a federal permit, were told to shut down by the Governor. The many faces of federalism, at least as applied to federal lands, (and the federal government being a good neighbor) can be confusing.