SHERIDAN – The Bighorn National Forest is beginning a process to change the way camping in the forest is regulated to take effect in January 2023.
In the summer of 2022, managers will open a public comment period to update the regulations based on recommendations from the citizen-led Dispersed Camping Task Force. The proposal includes changing relocation requirements, a consistent approach to scenic byway management where US Highway 16 would have a no-camping buffer like US Highways 14 and 14A, and consistency with all other national forests in the area to switch to a year-round 14-day stay limit.
“The intent is to have an easy-to-understand program that’s also easy to enforce,” said Andrew Johnson, director of Bighorn National Forest. “This is just the beginning of implementing a series of recommendations sent to the forest by a grassroots community group to resolve scattered camping issues that have persisted for far too long.”
In 2016, the Big Horn Mountain Coalition, in coordination with Bighorn National Forest staff, initiated a public discussion about dispersed forest camping. The coalition noted that the general public agreed that scattered camping issues are a widespread problem. In response, the coalition called on each of the four counties that make up the forest to seek interested citizens to participate in a collaborative task force. The goal of the Dispersed Camping Task Force was to review the results of the coalition polls, hear forest concerns, and work to develop possible solutions.
After a year of monthly public meetings, the task force presented a list of recommendations to Bighorn National Forest managers. Due to staff shortages and the pandemic, the forest authorities have only been able to implement one recommendation, namely to extend the end dates of camping restrictions in 2020 (from September 10 to September 30).
In addition to updating the regulations, the task force also suggested the following points for consideration by forest managers:
• Implement a sticker program to approve dispersed camping.
• Identify and assign designated scattered campsites.
• Expand Jaws Trailhead to accommodate overnight camping, including livestock.
Aside from upcoming local management changes, all National Forest Federal Collateral fines in the state of Wyoming, including the Bighorn National Forest, have recently been updated. The fine for exceeding the camping limit, which is 14 days in Bighorn National Forest, remains at $100. However, for each additional day the property is in violation of regulations, an additional $20 will be added to the fine. Violators leaving behind personal property weighing more than 500 pounds that requires special equipment or procedures to remove will be fined $300. Mandatory court appearances can also be ordered for repeat offenders.