General Comments


Significant Governmental Interests

Approximately 75 respondents commented that the Forest Service had not established a significant interest in promulgating the rule. Specifically, these respondents stated that there is no significant governmental interest in protecting the nation's public lands; that the Forest Service's mandate to protect the national forests under 16 U.S.C. 551 is not at issue; that there is no beneficial reason for the regulation; that the proposed rule fails the significant governmental interest test in Clark v. CCNV; that time, place, and manner restrictions are being imposed without an initial finding that they are required; and that restrictions on group uses should exist only when there is a clear environmental reason.

Respondents also stated that the agency's concerns about resource impacts are hypothetical or vague and insignificant; that the agency needs proof of resource damage in order to justify the proposed rule; that the agency has not cited evidence that 25 or more people have a greater impact on forest resources and facilities than fewer than 25 people; that 25 or even several hundreds of people gathered for peaceful purposes cannot be a threat to public safety or the environment; that the collective impact on forest resources by a group is equal to or less than the cumulative impact of an identical number of individuals; that it is easier to monitor large group gatherings than small bands of individuals; that individuals in aware groups can monitor each other; that the respondent takes care of the land; that the respondents are not harming the land; that unlike off-road motorcycle races, activities involving the expression of views do not harm forest resources; that group uses cannot cause irreparable damage; that the proposed regulation would take the national forests away from people who gather there at no one else's expense; that large group gatherings do not cost the government a lot of money; and that there have not been any public health problems associated with group uses.

Approximately 30 respondents recognized the Forest Service's significant interest in protection of forest resources. In particular, these respondents stated the following:

--That requiring a special use authorization is appropriate if the size of a group exceeds the capacity of a given area, including campgrounds and parking and staging areas;

--That to protect natural resources, it may be necessary for the Forest Service to regulate activity on National Forest System lands through issuance of special use authorizations;

--That to further the public interest, there is sometimes a need for the government to require a special use authorization for some First Amendment activities;

--That the concerns associated with large numbers of people gathering on unspoiled land are a challenge and that the people's right to assemble needs to be balanced against the custodial responsibility of the Forest Service;

--That any reasonable rules that would protect and preserve the integrity of the National Forest System are appropriate, that the National Forest is an invaluable asset that must be accessible to responsible public use, and that the Forest Service is charged with balancing these concerns;

--That the Forest Service has a mandate to manage National Forest System lands;

--That gatherings on public lands should be subject to guidelines established by the Forest Service;

--That some rules and regulations are essential;

--That regulations protecting natural resources are warranted, provided the rules do not infringe upon constitutional rights and provided they target only those who damage natural resources;

--That any rule that helps preserve the national forests is appropriate;

--That restricting access to National Forest System lands is permissible where human impact would harm native wildlife;

--That sanitation and site clean-up are important;

--That the agency's concern for the safety and integrity of the national forests is appropriate;

--That Forest Service employees are to be commended for dedicating their lives to protecting the national forests so that all can enjoy them;

--That the Forest Service gets paid to protect the national forests and the safety of forest visitors;

--That the agency should be concerned about the well-being of the national forests and those who use them;

--That more people have a greater impact on forests;

--That 25 or more people would definitely have a greater impact on resources and facilities than a smaller group of people.


As numerous respondents noted, the Forest Service has a mandate to protect the 155 national forests and regulate their occupancy and use for all members of the public (16 U.S.C. 472, 551).

Under that mandate, the Department has established three significant interests in promulgating this rule:

(1) Protection of forest resources and facilities;

(2) promotion of public health and safety; and

(3) allocation of space in the face of greater competition for the use of National Forest System lands.

While noncommercial group use is an appropriate use of National Forest System lands and exercise of First Amendment rights is extremely important, it is vital to address these significant interests. Numerous respondents have also recognized that these interests are significant. In addition, the Supreme Court has specifically held that protection of public lands for current and future generations is a significant governmental interest. See Clark v. CCNV, 468 U.S. at 296.

The Forest Service has encountered a variety of problems in connection with noncommercial group use of National Forest System lands. These problems, which are attributable to the size of groups, the concentration of people in a given area, and the physical intensity of the use, have arisen in connection with many different types of noncommercial group uses, both those involving and those not involving the expression of views. These problems have included the spread of disease, pollution from inadequate site clean-up, soil compaction from inadequate site restoration, resource damage in critical salmon habitat, resource damage in riparian zones and meadows, damage to archaeological sites, and traffic congestion.

Although one individual could cause much damage, for example, by setting a forest fire, and a series of individuals could perhaps over time have a significant impact on forest resources, in the Forest Service's experience large groups typically have more impact on a given area than individuals and, with limited exceptions, a special use authorization is not needed for individual uses. Regardless of whether the damage caused by these problems is irreparable, the Department believes that it would further the public interest to control or prevent the damage through a special use authorization system for noncommercial group uses. The authorization system also will allow the Forest Service to allocate space among noncommercial group uses and scheduled and existing uses and activities, including protection of habitat for endangered, threatened, or other plant and animal species.

Adverse Impacts of Group Uses

Listing of Comments

FS Regulation Page