General Comments


Adverse Impacts of Group Uses.

Approximately 64 respondents argued that other activities, such as off-road motorcycling, clear-cutting, mining, and grazing, have a greater impact on forest resources than noncommercial group uses. Specifically, these respondents stated:

--That the agency's resource impacts rationale seems inadequate, given that the disposal of timber and minerals and the grazing of livestock are exempted from regulation;

--That noncommercial uses and activities are regulated more stringently than other uses that have greater impacts;

--That noncommercial uses and activities should not be included in the same regulatory framework as other special uses, such as the disposal of timber and minerals and the grazing of livestock, that have greater impacts;

--That under the proposed rule, exploitation of the forest for monetary gain would take precedence over the right to assemble;

--That the Forest Service has done more damage to public lands than noncommercial group uses;

--That commercial uses of the national forests should be banned; and

--That clear-cutting authorized by the agency was responsible for the listing as an endangered species of a fresh water mussel in a creek at the site of the 1993 Alabama Rainbow Family Gathering.


The Department disagrees with these comments.

The disposal of timber and minerals and the grazing of livestock are not exempted from regulation. As noted in the preamble to the proposed and final rules, the disposal of timber is regulated in 36 CFR part 223; the disposal of minerals is regulated in 36 CFR part 228; and the grazing of livestock is regulated in 36 CFR part 222. The disposal of timber and minerals and the grazing of livestock are thus subject to separate regulations from noncommercial uses and activities. The regulation of timber and mineral disposal and livestock grazing has no bearing on the regulation of noncommercial uses and activities, including activities involving the expression of views. All other commercial uses and activities of National Forest System land require a special use authorization under 36 CFR part 251, subpart B. All commercial uses of National Forest System lands undergo environmental and other reviews prior to approval of any on-the-ground activities.

Commercial use of the National Forest System is appropriate. MUSY authorizes the Forest Service to manage National Forest System lands for both commercial and noncommercial uses (16 U.S.C. 528-531). The agency's regulation of the disposal of timber and minerals and the grazing of livestock is beyond the scope of this rulemaking. The relative impacts of commercial uses and noncommercial group uses are not relevant to this rulemaking. What is relevant are the impacts of noncommercial group uses and whether controlling and preventing those impacts warrant regulation of noncommercial group uses. This Department believes that mitigation and prevention of the impacts associated with noncommercial group uses are significant interests that justify the special use authorization requirement.

Noncommercial group uses will not be regulated more stringently under the final rule than other uses and activities that have greater impacts. The final rule restricts the content of an application to information concerning time, place, and manner for noncommercial group uses and establishes very limited circumstances under which an authorized officer can deny or revoke a special use authorization for noncommercial group uses. In contrast, commercial uses and activities subject to 36 CFR parts 222, 223, 228, and 251 are governed by complex regulations that give the authorized officer broad discretion administering the applicable authorization.

Significant Governmental Interests

Listing of Comments

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