Illegal to “reside” on Forest Service lands
Jeff Perambo awoke on Friday morning at his campsite in the Slate River valley to the voice of a Forest Service police officer outside his teepee. The officer had come calling to inform Perambo that he was in danger of being ticketed for residing illegally on Forest Service lands.
Having recently returned from a summer in Alaska, Perambo contends that he had camped for fewer than 14 days as he sought a permanent residence in Crested Butte and thought he was well within his rights. “I had to tear down my set-up and get out by the end of the day or I could have gotten a $525 fine or six months in jail,” he says.
Perambo didn’t think it was big deal to camp out while he searched for a permanent home. “But since I was just back in town and didn’t have a permanent address, it was ‘residing’ on Forest Service land,” he says, adding, “I was pretty taken aback by it.”
Forest Service officials contacted several campers in the Crested Butte area on Friday, August 21 and issued a number of citations for illegally residing on Forest Service lands.
Gunnison National Forest district ranger Jim Dawson says the Forest Service has recently stepped up enforcing that provision and limits on camping more than 14 days. “Lots of people reside in the forest out there and it’s clearly against the law,” he says.
Forest Service public affairs specialist Leanne Loupe says Forest Service law enforcement officers patrol the area and “It’s pretty obvious the difference between campers and longer-term camps.”
However, Loupe acknowledges that residing in the forest around Crested Butte has been going on for some time. “It’s been going on there for years,” Loupe says. “Typically it happens in communities that have a high cost of living and an abundance of temporary, seasonal work… It was an issue in the Telluride area earlier this summer as well.”
Dan Nielsen, the Forest Service patrol captain who is based in Delta, says the minimum fine for illegally residing is $275; a second offense often spurs a summons to appear before the U.S. magistrate in Grand Junction.
In addition, Nielsen says, officers have within their powers to seize camps as evidence. “It would be based on what the officer observed,” he says. “There would be a number of factors involved.” Nielsen says the property would be returned after a citation was issued or after a court appearance.
Nielsen says Forest Service officers now have more time to patrol local forests, after a long-vacant position was filled in the Paonia Ranger District. “It does free up the officer in Gunnison to concentrate on the Gunnison basin,” he says. Five police officers patrol the entire GMUG, with each officer responsible for approximately 750,000 acres.
Nielson points out that officers are often responding to complaints by citizens when they ask illegal dwellers to move on. “A lot of these sites are popular areas and other people like to use them,” he says. “When people are on that site for three or four weeks, the public comes to us and complains.”
In any case, Loupe says the Forest Service wants to send a strong message. “The point we want to get across is the national forest is for recreational use,” Loupe says. “It’s not for setting up residence—it would be the same as camping on your neighbor’s land. They probably won’t enjoy that.”