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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Forest Service Motorized Vehicle Restrictions: An end to forest service boondocking as we know it?

Order No. 11-10-12 of the USDA Forest Service, Plumas (California) National Forest, entitled MOTORIZED VEHICLE RESTRICTIONS, includes this restriction: “Possessing or using a motorized wheeled vehicle off National forest System roads, except for the routes, open areas, and National Forest System trails shown on Exhibit A.

“The effective dates are January 1, 2011 through December 31, 2011. But this is the scary part: “A violation of this prohibition is punishable by a fine of not more than $5,000 for an individual or $10,000 for an organization, or imprisonment for not more than 6 months, or both.” Read that line again. 

It exempts “Persons with a permit from the Forest Service specifically authorizing the otherwise prohibited act or omission.” Does that mean we now have to get a permit to boondock--and designate the exact spot in which we are going to boondock?

This, if enforced, could be used as a tool for an individual forest service official to control and even prohibit boondocking in the national forests where it is now legal. The critical wording is: “except for the routes, open areas, and National Forest System trails shown on Exhibit A.”

The rule formerly permitted boondocking anywhere on public lands unless expressly prohibited by signs or fences. Now it appears that an official can define specific spots as "open areas . . . shown on Exhibit A"  (i.e. boondocking campsites) thus eliminating all those NOT on Exhibit A.

This would subject all unsuspecting boondockers, who for years have had favorite spots or who knew that they could drive forest service roads until finding a legal and suitable boondocking site, to a huge fine and possible imprisonment if they didn't pick the right route or right campsite. What!

Who defines these open areas, routes, and trails that are placed on Exhibit A? Can you really be fined $5,000 or thrown in jail because you camped--or drove--somewhere that was not on Exhibit A?

This raises a lot of questions and calls for more research. Stay tuned and I'll see what I can dig up.

Check out Bob Difley's Boondocking on Public Lands and Snowbird Guide eBooks at


  1. Bob,

    I'm not sure exactly what it means either, but it may not be quite as dire as it sounds. A lot depends on whether they are still recognizing the 300 ft. (sometimes 150 foot) from the road camping exemption. They also mention "open areas", but without more elaboration, who knows what they mean?

    This looks like pretty standard bureaucratic "boilerplate" to address illegal driving, and regulations for most National forests probably contain a similar passage. This may be intended to apply more to ATVs completely off the road, not on any kind of track at all, way off in the middle of the woods. Let's hope that's what they mean.

    As I've noted elsewhere, some National Forests are more friendly to boondocking than others. The Plumas NF is somewhat isolated, but still located in California, with all its associated regulation.

  2. So, where do we get a copy of Exhibit A?

  3. I am following up and hope to find a copy of Exhibit A as soon as the forest service replies to my request.

  4. Every so often, an extreme 'tree-hugger' manages to have a regulation written that they can use! Until there are many large pristine areas totally insulated from absolutely ANY human contact, this bunch won't be mollified!

    The misfortune of this, if they have their way, is that NO one would be actually able to see and enjoy it, more's the pity! And yet, the taxpayer is still expected to pay for all, despite this!

    The one way they are ever willing to compromise, is to allow only the hale and hearty, free air breathing, tree-huggers (read: HIKERS) who must (and therefore, only they are able to), pack in AND OUT all their gear and evidence of trash; certainly NO (SHUDDER!!) vehicles EVER allowed !

    And, of course, as man-prepared paths are NEVER, NEVER, EVER, to be allowed, solely faint wild game trails, this preclusion effectively denies wheelchair, crutch and cane traffic.

    Sadly, uses of these can not proceed without their aid. Ergo, tree-huggers are against the handicapped!

  5. Thats it more goverment control we all loose a little more freedom,

  6. If everyone would contact their elected members of congress and specifically state to them that their continued membership in which ever part of congress they have been voted in to is at jeopardy unless they Take appropriate action to stop the BS that some are attempting to get started. then follow through whit actions at the polling places it is just possible that things could be rectified.

  7. Apparently, this new regulation to keep us off all but designated roads in the forests has been the works for about 5 years now. Supposedly, public meetings have been held for comments. Don't think most folks heard about it until it's time to enforce it. And what we have read is that you can still "camp" in the forest BUT have to pack your camp in with you on foot. So, yes, the tree huggers are still attempting to make all forest areas the same as wilderness areas.