National Forests:

Administration of Outfitter and Guide Policies at the Gallatin Forest

RCED-90-163: Published: Aug 22, 1990. Publicly Released: Sep 25, 1990.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed: (1) the Forest Service's oversight of outfitters' use of the Gallatin National Forest in Montana; and (2) alleged Forest Service favoritism toward certain outfitters.

GAO found that: (1) the Service and outfitters have been involved in a controversy since 1988, when the Service began requiring outfitters to have permits for daytime operations; (2) the Service wanted to limit outfitters' forest use because it believed that their activities had an adverse impact on other recreation visitors; (3) the Service used historical use levels to set standards for outfitters' use of the forest; (4) outfitters contended that historical use was not an acceptable standard and that the forest could sustain higher levels of use; (5) a Service task force involving outfitters plans to establish new criteria for determining use levels, but will not determine the recreation activity level the forest is capable of sustaining; (6) the Service's use of historical data did not provide it with an adequate basis to manage the forest in accordance with federal policy, since historical data did not reveal whether the forest could sustain a higher level of use or whether the service level should be maintained to protect resources; (7) the Service provides approximately 40 percent of all recreation days spent on federal lands each year, and the public demand for recreational opportunities on federal lands is increasing; (8) it could not determine whether alleged Service favoritism toward certain outfitters actually occurred; and (9) the Service's procedures do not provide adequate internal safeguards to ensure that favoritism does not occur.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Forest Service plans no further action on this recommendation, citing its opinion that its forest planning process adequately addresses outfitter and guide activities.

    Recommendation: In order to ensure that the public demand for recreation opportunities in the Gallatin forest, including outfitter-guided visits, is met within the forest's capabilities, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Chief, Forest Service, to conduct such studies as may be necessary to determine the level of recreational activities the forest can sustain.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Forest Service plans no further action on this recommendation, citing its opinion that its forest planning process adequately addresses outfitter and guide activities.

    Recommendation: Because the Forest Service has no plan to establish a procedure for assessing forests' capabilities to sustain recreational activities, even though the public demand for those activities is increasing, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Chief, Forest Service, to identify those forests where recreational activity is substantial and to conduct any additional studies that may be needed at those forests to adequately determine their recreational capabilities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Forest Service plans no further action on this recommendation, citing its opinion that the Forest Service Code of Conduct prohibits conflict-of-interest situations.

    Recommendation: In order to ensure that acts of preferential treatment, or the appearance of such acts, do not occur in the administration of the outfitter permitting program, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Chief, Forest Service, to develop internal control procedures for use at all national forests to routinely identify and remedy possible conflict-of-interest situations at the forest and ranger district levels.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

 

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