Forest Service Reimagine Recreation “A Call to Action”

We haven’t posted much about recreation lately, and always welcome news and opinion from those with a recreation interest.

The Forest Service Retirees organization, (NAFSR) has a Recreation Committee and they organized a panel presentation at the Lake Tahoe Retirees’ Reunion.

Powerpoints are posted here. Particularly of interest is that there is a new effort called “Reimagining Recreation” within the Forest Service. My understanding (which could be wrong) is that they are working on it, and it will be developed with stakeholders via some sort of public process.

Taking a step back, I was not a fan of Sustainable Recreation.  It had an aura (granted, my opinion only) of “we’ll never have enough money, so we need to figure out what to shut down” with an undertone of “it would be better for the environment if people just stayed home anyway.”  The energy seemed kind of negative from where I sat.  It’s ironic that due to the winds of Fate, just when you think you know what’s going to happen, (no money forever) huge infusions come along.  It must be an enormous cultural/philosophical shift for current employees.

So I am enthused about this new process.  Anyone who knows more about it, please post in the comments.

Here are a few slides from the Reimagining Recreation powerpoint but the whole deck of slides are here.




24 thoughts on “Forest Service Reimagine Recreation “A Call to Action””

  1. “Dispersed Recreation” doesn’t seem to be important to them, right now. Personally, I see that as a huge problem. Many areas see overuse, with concentrated damages from all the human ‘toys’. And, since those sites don’t have bathroom facilities, you know what that means.

  2. Not a fan; I interacted with them early on and never heard a peep until a couple weeks ago. The “link” they shared to find out more didn’t work! I railed pretty heavily against their proposals from local offices. Seems closing sites and access is about all anyone cares about now. With all our travels and use of the Colorado NF’s the past three years, the White River is the only one we actually saw a FS vehicle! Recreation tech? Who knows, NO engagement with the public, the obvious actions are closing dispersed sites and developed sites are concessioned to death.

    I am singed up, I will participate but they may ask me to leave early. 🤠

  3. I believe recreation evaluation and planning has been getting a raw deal for years, always taking a back seat to wilderness planning in the Forest Planning process. I feel Recreation deserves equal consideration, deserves its own set of evaluation metrics equal to the wilderness attribute scoring system. I’m thinking the bill, Recreation not Red Tape, had a provision for this.

      • I submitted a link to Recreation not Red Tape but it seems to have not gone through. I tried sending once again but my reply was censored as spam. I sure don’t know what that is about.


            Introduced in House (05/25/2021)

            Recreation Not Red-Tape Act

            This bill revises and sets forth provisions related to recreation areas and special recreation permits issued by the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) for individual or group use of federal recreational lands and waters.

            The bill makes permanent certain authorizations, including regarding such permits and the fees charged for them and for related administration, overhead, and indirect costs.

            Interior and USDA shall

            evaluate the special recreation permitting process and identify opportunities for eliminating duplicative processes, reducing costs, and decreasing processing times;
            establish categorical exclusions from environmental review requirements for special recreation permits if it would reduce processing times or costs without significantly affecting the human environment;
            authorize the issuance of temporary permits for new or additional recreational uses of federal lands and waters managed by the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management;
            allow online payment of certain federal passes and fees;
            develop initiatives to promote private-sector volunteer opportunities; and
            establish an interagency trail management plan.

            Permittees issued a special recreation permit may voluntarily and temporarily return one or more of their service days.

            The bill sets forth requirements for review by USDA of the renewal or adjustment of the allocations for the use of a special recreation permit.

            Interior and USDA may enter into agreements with states to allow the purchase of federal and state recreation passes in the same transaction.

            The bill establishes a National Recreation Area System.

    • Interesting to note, one of the main wilderness characteristics is related to recreation. Which is pretty sad, since it forces land management agencies to adopt the legal position that only hikers deserve “outstanding opportunities for either solitude or primitive and unconfined recreation”, and ignores the fact that other types of recreationists also seek opportunities for solitude and primitive recreation in largely natural areas.

      A true re-thinking of recreation management would move away from the traditional view that all the best recreation opportunities should be reserved exclusively for hikers while everyone else just gets the leftover areas. It would also require land managers to reckon with their traditional ableist biases and beliefs that hikers are morally superior to all other recreationists and that those who can’t hike long distances don’t deserve to experience nature. But of course that’s not going to happen anytime soon, fancy PowerPoints full of meaningless buzzwords notwithstanding.

      • It always made sense to me that those who practice primitive recreation and solitude should generally have priority in the places that still provide that, instead of reducing those areas by non-primitive recreation and/or its noise. It did not make as much sense to think that mechanical users who have that effect are seeking a primitive experience of solitude. But maybe we are trying to redefine “primitive” to include mechanized recreation, which I think would not be consistent with the Wilderness Act. (Though that’s apparently open to some debate:

        • Interesting article. That’s probably the best analysis I’ve seen of what the different wilderness characteristics mean. It makes a particularly important point that the legal term “solitude” in the wilderness context is defined more narrowly than a typical dictionary definition of that word. A dictionary definition of solitude focuses on being alone, while wilderness solitude requires both aloneness and silence.

          As mentioned in my first comment, I object to the co-opting of the word “solitude” to mean only Wilderness-type solitude in all recreation contexts. Different recreational user groups have very different ideas of what solitude means. Obviously to wilderness advocates the concept of solitude includes silence and the absence of motorized or mechanical sounds as that article discusses. But motorized and mechanized users also value and seek solitude. They just conceptualize it differently, more along the lines of the standard dictionary definition of being alone.

          When I’m exploring a remote jeep trail that receives very little use and is miles away from any kind of popular area and I’m the only vehicle on trail, I absolutely feel like I’m experiencing solitude. And that is an experience I enjoy and seek out. Same with many other motorized or mechanized users who love exploring off the beaten path on obscure and remote trails.

          Interestingly, many of the places where I’ve found the greatest sense of solitude while exploring in my Jeep (particularly in Utah) are places that the BLM has classified as “lands with wilderness characteristics” despite the presence of roads. It seems the BLM agrees these lands provide “outstanding opportunities for solitude”, keying more off low use and the likelihood of being alone than the absence of motorized sounds, since they are open to motorized use. And therein lies the rub.

          The traditional wilderness-centric paradigm would require that any roaded landscapes where there are outstanding opportunities for solitude should be closed to vehicles and dedicated exclusively to hikers, thereby depriving motorized users of any chance of finding solitude as we define it. Yet a strict application of the definition of wilderness solitude presented in that article as necessarily entailing the absence of motorized sound would preclude any currently roaded lands from being categorized as possessing wilderness characteristics in the first place.

          It seems land managers are constantly equivocating on the definition of solitude depending on the circumstances. As I’ve particularly seen with travel management planning in Utah, mere remoteness and low levels of use are enough to qualify an area as possessing the wilderness characteristic of “outstanding opportunities for solitude”, even if that area has existing roads and is open to motorized use. But as soon as the area is classified as possessing wilderness characteristics, then motorized use is seen as an impingement upon wilderness character, and roads have to be closed in order to “enhance” wilderness characteristics by creating the second prong of wilderness solitude (silence) where it is not currently present. This is the core of most conflicts about “lands with wilderness characteristics”.

          Jon says it makes sense to prioritize people who practice primitive recreation in places that still provide that. I’d agree, if we were actually talking about places that genuinely provide full wilderness-grade solitude. But that’s not usually where current wilderness discussions currently are. Rather they’re in areas like I described above that are classified as possessing wilderness characteristics despite meeting only half the definition of wilderness solitude, and it is necessary to kick motorized and mechanized users out in order to achieve the second half. Perhaps if land managers would properly distinguish between general, colloquial solitude and “wilderness solitude” rather than always conflating the two and constantly trying to upgrade normal solitude to wilderness solitude, a lot of the current controversies over wilderness expansion could be avoided.

          • Patrick, that’s a very interesting take on solitude. To give a Front Range Colorado example, I used to often experience more solitude at White Ranch Open Space than at (certain spots within) Indian Peaks Wilderness.

            If places with roads have wilderness characteristics, despite having roads, then conceivably roads are not barriers to wilderness characteristics?
            We had similar issues when developing the Colorado Roadless Rule, timber harvesting went against roadless characteristics, but areas that had been harvested were recommended to be included by wildlife folks.

            Perhaps consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds, or this is really about NGO targets for wilderness acres, or people kicking out uses they don’t like.

            Another tension is between the concept of “federal lands should be accessible to the public” and “we are narrowing the possibilities from what is currently available”, in any reasonable definition, it would seem to me, of reducing access.

            One thing about resource conflicts I’ve noticed is that it’s much harder to stop something people do than not start it in the first place. Because if that use “irretrievably damages” something, then..everywhere that use occurs should be irretrievably damaged.
            It’s all very puzzling.

          • Maybe a more honest approach to areas with motorized use or past logging would be to identify such areas as having wilderness restoration potential based on the influence of such relatively transient things on solitude or trammeling.

            • Hmm. Wilderness Restoration Potential, as a category, doesn’t exist. Or am I incorrect? Anyway I think you are right about influence during planning. That is the proper avenue to be heard. Right now, people interested in maintaining recreation access lack an agency audience and lack a method of measuring the value of that access during planning. So the way I see it, Planning has to evolve. Back to the Power Point presentation again and back to Recreation not Red Tape. Recognizing recreation is an overdue paradigm.

  4. Although Patrick’s reply is cynical, it rings all too true based on my own experience. Much of the problems we face regarding recreation access has stemmed from the unequal weighting that stems from the Wilderness scoring system and how recreation interests lack a comparative scoring system. Recreation not Red Tape would take a first step toward rectifying this situation by establishment of a National Recreation Area System. Meanwhile the Forest Service needs to update its internal culture, separate recreation management from the purview of Wilderness managers, and amend the Forest Planning Rule of 2012. On a lot of Forests the damage to recreation is done as Planning and Travel Planning is complete, with resulting access carnage.

      • It’s 219.10(iv) Protection of congressionally
        designated wilderness areas as well as
        management of areas recommended for
        wilderness designation to protect and
        maintain the ecological and social
        characteristics that provide the basis for
        their suitability for wilderness

        The problem is that recommended wilderness lands are being evaluated without equal measurement of how they are used by other recreational types such as mechanized. The Planning Rule allows for wholesale bans of mechanized and sometimes motorized activity from these areas. The Forest Planning process is structured in a way that not only doesn’t measure or value the non-conforming uses, but often dismisses those uses and people. This action I’ve seen time and again in Montana, Region One, and is a catalyst for defunding the agency. There needs to be a recreation grading system just like there is a wilderness grading system. These two systems need to work side by side to coordinate, rather than the current system always trumping mechanized recreation.

        The result is always displacement of recreation from treasured landscapes. We’re deemed unworthy of viewing the same views as hikers or horseback riders, yet we got along for 30 years prior.

        I lack a comprehensive number for trail miles closed to mechanized in Region One, but its around 1,500 miles right now. The damage has been done. I don’t know how the power point presentation can walk any of this back, but recognition of mistakes would be a good start.

        • I completely agree. As long as land managers accept unquestioningly the idea (which is found nowhere in the law) that Wilderness is the highest and best use of all federal lands and that all federal lands should be gradually “upgraded” to Wilderness status, there can never be fair treatment of all recreation user groups.

          It’s also worth noting that non-management land management categories like “recommended wilderness” (Forest Service) or “lands with wilderness characteristics” (BLM) directly contravene the Wilderness Act itself. The express intent of the Wilderness Act was to make Wilderness something that could only be designated by Congress and take away agencies’ authority to create de facto wilderness areas administratively. However it took all of like five minutes for agencies to invent a whole host of new names for it and go back to administratively creating de facto wilderness like nothing had changed. So far the courts have let them get away with it, making the Wilderness Act’s prohibition on administratively created wilderness pretty much a dead letter.

          So I would add to Greg’s comment that the Planning Rule’s provision on recommended wilderness blatantly violates the Wilderness Act and is illegal, though the courts have so far refused to recognize that.

          • I’ve been at this long enough I had forgotten about the “de facto” issue. This originated in Region One in 2003. Blatantly illegal. Beaverhead Deerlodge National Forest was where it first went down. Bicyclists were simply blown off by Regional Supervisor, Tom Tidwell, who took over the final phases of planning from staff and rammed the plan through. Yep, it started as illegal, but the policy now thrives in the 2012 Planning Rule.

          • The courts refusing to recognize something usually means it doesn’t legally exist. I recall courts saying pretty clearly that the Wilderness Act does not prohibit the land management agencies from designating areas that are managed similar to Wilderness or to “protect wilderness values.” The cited Planning Rule language is consistent with that. The opportunity for influence lies in the planning process that determines which lands will be in such categories.

            • Legally you’re right, but lawyers can always argue previous cases were wrongly decided and should be overturned. In this case the courts blatantly ignored the plain language and intent of the Wilderness Act.

              And unfortunately the ability of anyone except the Big Wilderness groups to influence planning processes is pretty minimal. Usually agencies have already made up their minds what is going to be recommended wilderness before a planning process even starts, and they don’t care how many existing non-conforming uses they have to shut down in the process. Just as Greg described with R1, all other interests are considered irrelevant where wilderness expansion is concerned. More recently I’ve seen that with the GMUG National Forest, which simply incorporated the wilderness areas from Senator Bennet’s CORE Act as recommended wilderness in their preferred alternative (and I think maybe all alternatives) from the beginning. Anyone who thinks major decisions like recommended wilderness aren’t predetermined before a planning process even starts is kidding themselves.

              • There is a requirement for a wilderness assessment/evaluation prior to proposing a plan and a requirement to include the public in that process. I think a plan EIS that did not have alternatives for recommended wilderness areas might have a problem if it was raised as an environmental issue.

            • The problem isn’t with administrative designation of Recommended Wilderness Areas, its with the evaluation of those areas during planning and subsequent management closures. Ongoing recreation presently lacks value when compared with the wilderness character scoring system. This is the point where agency process throws motorized and mechanized recreation under the bus. It doesn’t matter If a favorite destination for you and your friends has great personal value. Your own wilderness appreciation is comparatively worthless. Just go somewhere else. To be very frank, this is why the Forest Service public image suffers in rural western counties.


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