Forest fines increase, but will they work? |

Forest fines increase, but will they work?

Bob Berwyn
Summit County correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo. ” Increased penalties for violating National Forest regulations may help deter people from riding their all-terrain vehicles illegally or leaving campfires unattended, but Forest supervisors say it won’t eliminate the problems.

Fines for some infractions jumped as much as 1,200 percent in early March.

“I think we’ve heard the question numerous times as to what kind of deterrents these fines are,” said Rick Doak, a recreation manager for the White River National Forest, headquartered in Glenwood Springs. Doak acknowledged that the new fines aren’t a golden bullet.

“It’s another tool for the Forest Service to manage the land,” he said.

But he hopes that some potential violators will be deterred by the potential hit to their wallets. As an example, he used the hypothetical case of an elk hunter who takes an all-terrain vehicle a quarter-mile off the trail to recover his kill. Such a hunter might consider a $75 fine just as the cost of doing business as part of a multi-thousand dollar hunting vacation in Colorado. But a $300 fine might make the same hunter think twice about going off-road, Doak said.

What the new fines don’t address is the lack of on-the-ground law enforcement presence, said Summit County wilderness advocate Currie Craven. With limited personnel, the Forest Service can’t adequately enforce existing regulations, Craven said, pointing to the persistent problem of motorized incursions into non-motorized areas and even designated wilderness.

The most recent federal budget could make that problem even worse by cutting the agency’s staff even more.

“They’re starving the Forest Service. It’s unbelievably irresponsible and shameful,” Craven said.

Craven said not all motorized users are outlaws, but said that, especially with regard to winter snowmobile use, it appears that more than the “proverbial 10 percent” are disregarding the rules.

To find a real deterrent, Craven advocated for a graduated fine structure that would increase penalties for repeat offenders, ultimately resulting the confiscation of vehicles associated with the unauthorized use.

Doak said the federal government does take wilderness intrusions very seriously, citing the increased fine of $500 as an example. Off-road violations outside wilderness areas are now subject to a $250 fine, he said.

Along with penalties, Craven said the Forest Service has to do a better job identifying boundaries. The same goes when it comes to fire ” a critical issue in the beetle-ravaged forests of Summit County. Part of the answer may lie in better communication and outreach to the public, said wildfire mitigation officer Patti McGuire.

“Presence is just as much of a deterrence,” McGuire said, explaining that patrolling rangers and volunteer groups like the Friends of the Dillon Ranger District have a huge role to play in educating the public.

“You have to have people on the ground,” McGuire said.

Ongoing contact with campers and hikers is critical to making sure people follow the rules.