The Forest Service works to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands, which includes sustainable stewardship of more than 600 million acres of forestland, 193 million acres of public lands, and more than 400 million acres of private land across the United States.
Getting a recreation special use permit
The Special Use program is a complex program that is critical to the customer experience, provides multiple public benefits, and supports effective mission delivery. Attaining a special use permit allows the public to enjoy additional benefits of public land visitation beyond normal recreational use. Applying for these permits can be a confusing process, especially for historically undeserved communities that lack familiarity with the permit process and pre-existing relationships with their local Ranger District or a Forest Supervisor Office location. Our strategic vision has been to make it easier for the American people to use and enjoy their national forests and grasslands by reducing the regulatory burden for applicants and providing online access to popular permit types. While we have gained efficiencies over the past several years through our modernization efforts, the work continues. Recreation special use permits enable private sector professionals, nonprofits, and educational institutions to lead a range of activities on National Forest System lands, from whitewater rafting, downhill skiing, horseback riding, weddings, family reunions, and big game hunting to youth education trips in the wilderness and scenic jeep tours. For many, these activities represent their first introduction to the outdoors, and the outfitters and guides they employ are often small businesses that generate jobs and income for local communities. Forest Service permit holders help connect Americans to their natural world and help restore mental health and maintain healthy lifestyles.
Why this service was designated
Barriers to obtaining recreation special use permits (e.g., outfitting and guiding, Campground concession, and recreation event permits) are one challenge that can limit valuable economic stimulus in communities of color and socially vulnerable communities. Based on recent workshops and data assessments conducted in support of EO 13985, the Forest Service does not always solicit applicants or advertise when recreation special use permits become available. As a result, existing permit holders are more likely to retain and obtain special use permits, and other groups and individuals may never know when new special use permits become available. When these groups and individuals become aware of permit availability, navigating the application process requires knowledge that socially vulnerable communities have difficulty accessing, putting them at a further disadvantage.
Recreation on National Forest System lands is an important economic driver that contributes more than $13.5 billion to America’s gross domestic product and supports more than 161,000 full and part-time jobs. The Forest Service administers over 30,000 recreation special use authorizations, including 122 ski area permits and over 8,000 outfitter and guide permits. These activities generate nearly $2 billion to the permit holders. This would not be possible without the recreation assets managed by the Forest Service, including over 150,000 miles of trails, the largest trail network in the nation, and ski areas that host over 60% of the country’s ski area visits.