News from the Secretary

News from the Secretary by Larry Gabriel S.D. Secretary of Agriculture Should a taxpayer need a permit to use federal lands?

The rules governing use of National Forests are about to change. Some people will like the changes. Others will object loudly.

This is no small issue. Federal land ownership in this country has increased from about 400 million acres in 1956 to more than 630 million acres, 96 percent of which are controlled by the Departments of Interior and Agriculture. "Forest and wildlife" are the dominant land use on 347 million acres.

Public lands are not cheap. Federal lands, buildings and infrastructure in the United States have an estimated cost of $232 billion dollars. User fees help cover some of that cost.

Next month the thousands of groups and individuals who flock to the national forests for hunting, fishing, camping or any of the hundreds of popular uses will be under new rules. The rules determine which users must buy a special use permit.

The rules start with this premise: All uses of National Forest System lands are special uses requiring a permit unless excluded in regulation.

The traditional regulatory exceptions were timber, minerals and grazing. That list is now expanded by adding two very significant uses: sharing use of roads and disposal of forest products.

The full impact of this change will not be clear until we have new directives issued by the Chief of the Forest Service (telling his officers how to apply the new rules) followed by several years of court cases

testing whether he was right.

However, some things are clear. Harvesting greens, mushrooms and medicinal plants is expressly listed as "special forest products" which do not require a special use permit. Those activities now have equal status with sales of timber, extraction of minerals and cattle grazing.

An interesting question is going to be whether cutting a Christmas tree will still require a special use permit in the Black Hills. Is a personal Christmas tree a "special forest product" like a bag of mushrooms? We shall see.

Sharing of roads is a big issue. By the definition in these rules, there is not one mile of Forest System Road in the Black Hills. A road is defined as one that has been found to be necessary and is included in the forest's "transportation atlas" and our forest does not have one.

For two years the state has consistently objected to road and fire access closures in the Black Hills because the forest does not have a transportation atlas.

It appears to me that states are going to have a greater say in use of our forests. We will do our best to keep you informed and seek your input on such matters. Meet me at the State Fair and we will talk more about it.

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