For years, the National Forest Service has been dealing with a growing issue—careless dispersed camping squatters dropping off their RVs in the forest for an entire season with the intention of using them as “summer homes.” Outside of the Bighorn National Forest in Wyoming, Forest Service staff have turned to local communities to help combat the problem.
In a series of six public forums taking place in communities surrounding Bighorn, Wyoming, officials are asking for input and solutions on how to move forward. While the government body normally formulates a proposed plan prior to addressing residents, this time they’re taking a reversed approach.
Forest Service identifies two main problems
Recreation officer Andrea Maichak explained to the Buffalo Bulletin that the Forest Service is primarily concerned with two things: environmental and social impact.
Environmentally, many of these squatting RVers are destructive in their usage and damage the public land. Increased use leads to erosion and ecosystem changes, which can negatively impact wildlife populations. Additionally, improper trash and waste removal, such as continuous gray tank dumping, can harm the surrounding soil and water supplies.
The biggest struggle is the frustration that these individuals have brought to the greater camping community. Many locals have found that it’s impossible to find dispersed camping sites that are available, with unoccupied RVs taking up the majority of the spots. The Forest Service acknowledges that this is also a major concern for fire season. They have no idea who owns these RVs or if people are actively using them.
In most cases, “entitled” campers are simply bringing their rigs up to their favorite spot early in the season and leaving it there throughout the summer.
The community weighs in on dispersed camping squatting
The Bighorn Mountain Coalition Dispersed Camping Task Force, a group of individuals representing the interests of the local community, presented the Forest Service with four recommendations. These starting ideas were then expressed to attendees of the public forums, with comments, feedback, and suggestions being encouraged.
The four ideas were as follows:
- Assign Dispersed Camping Sites: Restricting campers to designated spaces would allow the Forest Service to keep track of RVs more efficiently.
- Implement a Sticker Program: Similar to the OHV snowmobile program, dispersed campers would be required to purchase an annual pass. National Forest officials commented that 95% of the revenue would be used to fund dispersed camping enforcement.
- Change the 14-Day Stay Limit: Currently, the Bighorn National Forest forces campers to move at least 5 miles away from their previous campsite every 14 days. Community members have suggested changing this rule to only allow for 14 total days of camping per season.
- Increase the Citation Fee for Overstays: Citation fees would be increased to $100 for exceeding the 14-day limit. An additional $20 would be charged for every extra day.
The problems of enforcement
As one of the least-funded government bodies, the National Forest Service struggles with adequate staffing. While passing new rules is great conceptually, it may be difficult for Forest Service officials to enforce.
In Bighorn National Forest, there is only one protection officer responsible for managing the entire area’s dispersed camping. With an increasing RVer population, managing public land usage has become difficult. The Wyoming community hopes that the proceeds from a sticker system would fund more staff to enforce the regulations.
What’s your take on these “squatters”?
Punishing those who abuse the rules, while not taking anything away from those that don’t, is quite the balancing act. Far too often, respectful campers find themselves paying for the misdeeds of a few bad apples.
Has your favorite National Forest also seen an uptick in inconsiderate RVers? I’d love to hear your solutions in the comments below.