Permits, Permits and more Permits

10:32 p.m. on January 13, 2010 (EST)
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Hey guys,

I thought I would just rant about all the permits needed to go backpacking. I was checking a few websites and planning a backpacking trip. It looks like I need a permit to use a campsite. I need a permit to start a fire. Of course you need to file for these months in advance for the camp. What gives? Is this god’s country or just another money making opportunity? I am not one to run around starting forest fires. I am a very careful person. Would I need a permit to use my Optimus camp stove or a bush buddy stove I may pick up?

I suppose I can drive two hours out of my way to get a permit to start a small fire, but that is so lame.

2:00 a.m. on January 14, 2010 (EST)
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Consider the following, if you're wondering why fires are banned in many forests and parks:

6:38 a.m. on January 14, 2010 (EST)
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Out of curiosity, where are you heading?

11:35 a.m. on January 14, 2010 (EST)
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Here in CA it seems like you need a permit to breath sometimes. Anyway the permit to make a camp fire is free. It looks like it is the only one you cannot get on the internet. You have to go get it. That is a two hour drive.

Tom - banning all camp fires isn't going to stop the next forest fire. The effect it has is it allows the state to sue you if you start a fire by mistake.

Hi Alicia - I am not sure where I can go. The more I look the more reasons I find that everything is off limits for one reason or another.

I like to play by the rules but it doesn't mean I have to like the rules.

11:52 a.m. on January 14, 2010 (EST)
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Consider the following, if you're wondering why fires are banned in many forests and parks:

I live less than a mile from where that fire started,a scary time indeed.This hunter,with little hunting experience and even less brain power,started a signal fire in a 30mph wind when he became separated from his hunting companion.What seems outrageously stupid to most of us with any backcountry experience,you can't count on everyone to use simple common sense.Permits are a necessary tool,in that sense.

12:14 p.m. on January 14, 2010 (EST)
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When I was growing up and my parents were taking me out into the wilderness (many many decades ago), there weren't all that many places where permits and reservations were required. At that time, most people, including urban dwellers headed out to the woods, had a good idea what was needed in terms of knowledge and safe practices, plus, there were few people wandering around out there. Now, this was in the Wild West, where kids literally "grew up to be cowboys" and we laughed at the tenderfeet and Eastern dudes.

By the time I was a teenager, you had started seeing dozens of people in remote locations (meaning several days hike or horseback ride from the nearest trailhead), fire circles all over the place, and you were rarely out of sight of another party on the John Muir Trail during the summer. A number of major (multi-thousand acre) forest fires happened every year. Some of my friends and I equipped ourselves by following the "high trips" of the Sierra Club and other outdoor organizations and gathering stuff left behind (including nice sleeping bags).

By the late 1970s, the conservation organizations had realized that the hundred-person treks intended to introduce people to the natural wonders and the importance of preserving the environment were actually doing severe damage, plus a loud outcry had developed even among the car-campers and RV drivers who hated the traffic jams in the Smokies and squalor of Yellowstone and Yosemite campgrounds.

Even in the 1950s, the Forest Service had required fire permits as a way of getting a face to face talk and educating people about the dangers of fires. Smokey the Bear had started lecturing people from signs from when the original Smokey was rescued from a New Mexico forest fire in the 1930s, but started getting serious by the 1950s. Still, by the 1970s, when people no longer actually used the decorative fireplaces in their houses for heating and barbecuing was done by piling up commercial charcoal and dumping a gallon of lighter fluid on it, the majority of campers and backpackers could no longer be depended on to know how to build and light a campfire safely. Backpacking stoves were readily available by then and were generally less likely to be involved in wildfires. An astounding number of people still build campfires directly on duff and even pine needles.

In response to the public outcry, reservations were instituted in the most in-demand areas for backpacking, climbing, and so on. Since lakes and streams were being heavily over-fished, despite fish-planting programs that extended back to the 1930s and CCC days, fishing licenses with limits had long been required (thanks to organizations like the Izaac Walton League), and same for hunting licenses (remember, the buffalo were almost wiped out in the 19th Century).

What this all comes down to is that there are too many people, the majority of whom are ignorant (or just plain ignore) of safe practices and of their impact on the tiny and shrinking amount of wilderness in the world (not just the US) - "It doesn't hurt anything if I build just this one campfire and burn my beer cans and foil wrappers in it". Remember that "careless" and "care less" are just a tiny space apart from each other.

When I first hiked up Mt. Whitney (on the trail, before I went up any of the technical climbing routes), there were already several hundred people a day hiking that trail. By the 1970s, before the strict limits were instituted, there were days that the number got up over 1000. So many popular areas like the Whitney Zone, Lyell Canyon (Yosemite), the Smokeys, Longs Peak (Rocky Mountain NP), and many other places had to get reservation systems and required permits - those areas are very sensitive and really need to be protected.

The Wilderness Act of 1964 set the framework for setting aside areas that are to remain "untrammeled". Part of preserving such areas is that the number of people entering really has to be limited, hence requiring permits and reservations in many of the designated Wilderness Areas. And another part is to take steps to to ensure that the people entering and using the areas are at least minimally knowledgable.

You (and I hope this is true of all Trailspace members and readers) may be very careful with fire and very conscious of your personal impacts, as well as how even tiny impacts can add up all too fast, even when we make a huge effort to minimize our personal impacts on the wilderness.

Anyway, this is a long way of saying that after an activity attracts more than some critical number of participants, it becomes necessary to place some limits and do some education to preserve the environment, whether it is wilderness and fire permits, or drivers licenses.

Our beautiful newly rebuilt house was grandfathered in to keep a real wood-burning fireplace. However, we can't use it on most days of the year, especially cold winter nights, due to declared "Spare The Air" nights - even though we have an EPA-approved, extremely low emission (and no soot, smoke, or ash) wood-burning appliance. Reason? Our fireplace may produce very little emissions and particulates, but add a million or so of them together in the SFBay Area, and the air quality drops tremendously.

Permits and reservations are a nuisance, yeah. It sure would be nice to just wander into whatever wilderness I please whenever I please. But somehow ya gotta keep the riffraff iggurant hordes out (I almost said "the unwashed", but I remembered that I are a "dirtbag climber"). I have been too many places too many times in amongst crowds infringing on "MY wilderness" and have seen too many unattended abandoned campfires. So I am willing to put up with the minor inconvenience or planning ahead and picking several alternatives, in case my first choice is already filled to its quota.

This photo is of a trail in an area with no required permits and no quota system in the High Uintas -

I took this photo of a campsite where the people had headed off for a dayhike. Note the unattended, still burning campfire and food sitting out. Unfortunately, far too many backpackers do this sort of thing. At least it wasn't a bonfire.

2:45 p.m. on January 14, 2010 (EST)
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DrReaper, here is a link to get a campfire permit for CA.

2:47 p.m. on January 14, 2010 (EST)
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I agree people don't always do the right thing in the wilderness. What you are saying is basically, because the education system is a failure. I cannot build a fire without a permit.
I just found out about the drive to get the permit. I am planning a trip up to get it and go by REI. I am not sure what goes into getting the permit other than filling out the form. I will find out and tell you guys.
I think a better solution would to have a class you could take. Permits are a limitation that never goes away. If people were just educated they would know the dangers. They wouldn't need permits because they would know what to do in the first place.
I need the tribe here to adopt me. An American Indian can make fire without a permit.

4:06 p.m. on January 14, 2010 (EST)
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Hi Gary,

I printed out that Fire Permit form and it is expired already. It is only good until December 31, 2009. I hope you can get one that is good for a year. I am going to try to search that website for the updated form.

7:54 p.m. on January 14, 2010 (EST)
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.... What you are saying is basically, because the education system is a failure. I cannot build a fire without a permit.

Not quite. The "education system" (whatever you mean by that, since there really is no "system" to educate everyone who goes into the woods) does produce a large number of people who are skilled, knowledgable, and careful. Unfortunately, there will always be a few (in this case a very large fraction) who are careless, could care less about the environment and other people, and so on. A similar situation obtains for driving a car - "Everyone knows" that driving when drunk produces large numbers of accidents with injuries, death, and property damage. That doesn't stop the many thousands who drive drunk every day. "Everyone" who drives a car is required to pass a driving test of two parts - the rules and regulations plus a driving skills test (yeah, yeah, it is pretty rudimentary). But people run red lights and stop signs all the time (and crash into each other), an unbelievable number believe that they personally own the road and everyone else should get out of the way. Survey 1000 randomly selected drivers and you find that 800 will tell you they are "better than average drivers" (just like in Lake Woebegone, where all the children are better than average). Every time I drive from the SFBay Area to the Sierra and back, I see cars off the road, on their roofs, badly damaged and dented, with far more (especially large SUVs) in winter during snow storms ("everyone knows" that 4WD holds you on the road better - why, it even helps braking - the 4WD SUV automatically repositions itself on the "high friction" side, aka the roof). I get passed all the time on our local freeways by a large fraction of the other vehicles like I am standing still (and that's with my speedometer reading 85 mph, and it's rush hour with vehicles separated by approximately one Mini length).

Permits and licenses do not guarantee rational behavior.

....If people were just educated they would know the dangers. They wouldn't need permits because they would know what to do in the first place.

To be blunt, you are only kidding yourself.

I need the tribe here to adopt me. An American Indian can make fire without a permit.

Actually, that's only on tribal lands (I grew up on a reservation, so I am very familiar with the rules - White eyes are still not Native American, even if you have been accorded honorary status).

8:50 p.m. on January 14, 2010 (EST)
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I was talking about educational system in the United States. When else do you prepare people for things they may encounter? Knowing how to make a camp fire could save your life. What not to do is a good thing to know. I wonder how many fires could be avoided each year by some basic education.
Anyway I see a tendency in people to accept government control of their lives and others just don’t get it. I don’t think permits help as much as some education, but that is me. I would much rather take a class and be able to make camp fires after finishing.

Making a camp fire and driving are two different things. I know you’re trying to make a point about people and their careless actions. I happen to have a perfect driving record as well.

10:17 a.m. on January 15, 2010 (EST)
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Reaper, the cell with the expiration date is active so I just changed the date to 2010 and printed mine. I think it is just an oversight or somekind of screw-up. In the past it has always shown Dec 31st of the current year.

5:15 p.m. on January 15, 2010 (EST)
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The permit system in Yosemite allows the NPS to monitor how many people are in the backcountry. Not everyone can be in the same place at once, no matter what they know. Limits allow a certain degree of the wilderness experience without it turning into a day at the mall, with trees.

In Yosemite, the rangers quiz you about your winter experience and what gear you have. Presumably they will discourage people from going out with little or none of either or at least know who they will be out looking for when they don't come back.

Also, you put your permit in your car window. The permit also allows you to park in the long-term parking area. If you don't return when the permit expires, the rangers have an idea where you went and when you were supposed to be back. Saves them wondering why your car is there for a few days. If a friend calls in a panic because you aren't back, the permit will show what your plans were. Could save a lot of time and effort looking for someone who isn't lost in the first place.

The cost in Yosemite for a backcountry permit in winter is ZERO.

6:57 p.m. on January 15, 2010 (EST)
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On the education bit......

There is, of course, more than one type of education. Your way of life also provides an education, for some it provides the type of education that teaches you how to start and maintain fires safely, not cut yourself with a knife, clean up your camp, etc. This was once a way of life for many people and separate from a course you taught / learned in a school building. That way of life is slowly disappearing, at least from my perspective

For the sake of comparison, you can't take someone who has never baled hay, and simply give them a permit (even with a short orientation) and expect good results at the end of the day.

I grew up splitting firewood, shucking corn, fixing fences, and so on. So those are some things that I learned how to do fairly well aside from my education at school. We also went camping a lot, cooked on fires, fished, hunted, etc. So these were also things I learned to do while growing up, (although some would tell you I'm not a great hunter).

Now consider that a lot of today's city kids / adults learned how to use mass transit, heat leftovers in the microwave, play video games, etc, but not farm or country skills. Not that those 'city things' are necessarily bad things, but they don't lend themselves to knowing how to camp and backpack safely or responsibly.

A lot of these people head out into the woods seeking adventure but lacking basic skills, not that I wish to dissuade them, but it does create problems. These problems have to be managed, permits are one aspect of that management. Another way is to encourage them to seek out mentors, read books, and obey the rules and regulations. This is something we should all do, but some people have a head start in terms of self reliance & traveling safely in the woods.

Rules, regulations, and permits, etc. sometimes seem aggravating or restrictive to me I will admit, however I comply. I do so with the understanding that they serve an important role in keeping back country areas open, safe, and pristine.

Just to be fair, I've also seen my fair share of 'country boys' who have no regard for the environment, or for leaving a campsite clean.

One of the best programs out there (that I've been exposed to) for youngsters is the Scouts. Knowing basic back country skills, and understanding Leave no Trace principles can be life enriching if not down right useful, even for those who don't plan to be hard core hikers & backpackers. Simply having more citizens who have a sense of awareness, and a concern for wild places, would hopefully foster a society that could provide the kind of education needed to a greater number of people.

Websites like Trailspace also provide an opportunity for us all to learn, share, and help those who seek knowledge.

Computers, Blackberry's, PlayStation's, and other high tech stuff are useful and enrich our lives.....but they're not everything!

Many of the old skills and ways of life are useful and worth preserving.

Just my 2 cents.

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