Forest Service Closing Only Small Private Campground Operators, Not Closing Large Ski Corporations or State Parks that Operate on Forest Service Land
As readers will know, the US Forest Service has issued and unprecedented and unnecessary order to close over a thousand privately-funded campgrounds that don't take one dime of Federal money (example here). All the 100+ parks we operate in the US Forest Service have been ordered closed.
But there appears to be more to this story. There are several groups that operate parks on National Forest lands under agreements nearly identical to ours who appear to have been exempted from the closure order.
- Large corporations that run ski resorts and certain other large resort properties on National Forest lands have been exempted. It should be noted that ski resorts operators, unlike campground operators, have full-time lobbyists stationed in Washington and can afford in-house staff lawyers to fight these kinds of orders. My guess is that knowing they would immediately get sued if they ordered larger private firms to close, the USFS focused only on smaller and more helpless private firms.
- Many state parks, including at least 3 in Arizona and many in California, are actually on US Forest Service land and operate through special use permits almost identical to those we have with the USFS, yet none of these parks have been asked to close (Slide Rock and Fool Hollow State Park in Arizona and Burney Falls SP in California are just a few examples of state parks that operate on US Forest Service land).
In other words, the US Forest Service seems to be issuing closure orders inconsistently, targeting only private operators who are too small to fight back. The USFS has not been especially clear how they are justifying this order (perhaps since it can't be justified) but they have hinted that it is either because a) they can no longer "administer" these contracts, whatever that means since they have no day-to-day administration responsibilities or b) they are removing everyone from Federal lands. Note, though, that both explanation "a" or "b" would apply equally to ski resorts and state parks operating on Federal land leases which are not being closed.
I will also add that the USFS is continuing to allow individuals to hike and camp in non-developed areas of the forests. I have no problem with this -- there is no reason for the USFS to halt public access to public land just because their employees are getting a paid vacation. But this just highlights how crazy and inconsistent their policies are. People can camp in the National Forest everywhere except in developed campgrounds where private companies who take no Federal money normally have employees on site to clean up trash and provide security and prevent fires. Many campers take good care of the land but some do not, and driving these campers out of privately-operated developed sites into dispersed areas where their impact cannot be mitigated is just another way these actions increase rather than decrease costs.