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On the front page of our April 16 edition, senior reporter Ron Eland covered fines the U.S. Forest Service imposed on a local business that illegally operated in the Coconino National Forest.United States Forest Service

Part of the complaint came from damage the business caused to the natural resources by lighting fires in a canyon. The other part of the complaint stemmed from the business’ operation on public lands without a permit.

In an unrelated matter the week prior, I was contacted by a woman angry that a local business owner operating workshops without a permit on Coconino National Forest was told by forest rangers to cease operations on forest land or face fines.

The business owner in question told us that he had been conducting operations on forest land for the past six years without being informed he was in violation of the law.

The simple answer would be to conduct workshops for free on forest land. Operating them for free but asking for a donation may also fall into a grey area, but charging money outright is illegal.

A school is also a public facility, but that doesn’t mean people can randomly go into a classroom on a weekend, start using supplies and charging attendees for instruction. They can, however, ask the school to rent a room, reimburse the institution for supplies, electricity, etc. If the school declines the rental offer, the instructors can’t just ignore the rules and do it anyway.

National Forests belong to all Americans, be they school teachers in Alaska, longshoremen in Maine, farmers in Georgia or artists in Cornville. Yes, Sedona area residents act as stewards for out local forest, in part because of our proximity and in part because of a collective duty to keep our home safe and healthy for future visitors and clean of litter, waste, dumping and debris caused by overuse. The Friends of the Forest spends hundreds of hours maintaining trails and cleaning up litter.

The Coconino National Forest Management Plan was implemented on U.S. Forest Service land around Sedona, championed by Keep Sedona Beautiful and other local groups, who had collected hundreds of tons of trash around the forest before the strict rules were implemented.

There are about 30 for-profit companies that operate in the Red Rock Secret Mountain Wilderness Area, which is just one small component of the Coconino National Forest, but one that completely surrounds Sedona.

The process is neither cheap nor easy. These operators pay hundreds and thousands of dollars in permits and fees in order to use our public lands. In addition to sales taxes, the costs of permits and fees return back to the public coffers to maintain the forest.

Should the USFS permit more for-profit companies to conduct business on forest land? Perhaps, but the process to determine that would have go through the federal channels with a tremendous amount of public input, just as local mountain bikers and hikers have had to undergo to get a few more trails into the network around our city.

The process is long, arduous and expensive, with good reason — the businesses must prove to the USFS that the routes they take and operations they conduct will not damage the forest, which belongs to all Americans. It’s a heavy burden and not one that should be tossed away because a few newcomers are upset that the process won’t allow them to make their private profits on our public lands.

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  • Kathleen Moore

    There is a lengthy discussion in the sedona forum on TripAdvisor about this subject. Please suggest ways to educate the public.
    "How to Research a Tour Guide in Sedona, AZ."

  • Trina Stephenson

    The question NOT asked is why doesn't the public have the right to make a permit application, especially for activities that the public wants and is not currently covered under the 30 permit holders activities. The permit application process is closed for the foreseeable future so the rights of those who would like to make a permit application have been abrogated . In fact, the permit process has been conducted in the past by invitation only. Activities, such as plein air painting instruction, that have occurred for over 50 years or as long as the Sedona Arts Center has been in existence, are now illegal in the majority of Sedona's public lands. Painting in a business's parking lot along the side of 89A or 179 is not the same as painting at the Mescal Trailhead. People come from around the world to Sedona to learn to paint the wonderful red rock views, and they enjoy the ability to use the trails, the public restrooms, the parking lots, and to spend the entire day there if they wish with their Red Rock Pass. The Red Rock Ranger District should open the permit process up to more educational uses in my opinion. We have enough jeeps, mountain bikes, and ATV's.

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