Commercial permits and special-use authorizations

If you intend to make use of public lands for business or financial gain, hold a large event, or a number of other reasons, you may need a special-use permit. The Forest Service, National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management receive thousands of applications every year. Federally designated Wilderness Areas have stricter regulations on commercial and special uses.

You may need a special-use permit

Requirements may vary, so you should contact the local land management agency. A staff member will be able to advise you. Generally, you may need a special-use permit:

  • If there is a fee being charged or if income is derived from the use.
  • If you will need to occupy, use or build on agency land for personal or business purposes, whether the duration is temporary or long term.
  • If an activity on those lands involves individuals or organizations with 75 or more participants or spectators.

Other activities that may require permits include ash scattering, large family reunions, church services, first-amendment demonstrations, political events, public assemblies, and weddings and other ceremonies.

Agency special-use programs, which follow agency policy and federal law, generally allow uses of those lands that provide a benefit to the general public and protect public and natural resources values.

A special-use authorization is a legal document. If you are deriving income or otherwise meeting the criteria for a special-use, you must get a special-use permit. You may not be eligible for a normal wilderness permit or a long-distance permit.

How to apply for a special-use permit

The U.S. Forest Service commercial permit webpage has good information for you to look over.

  • Contact the agency office where you want a permit to request an application.
  • Prior to submitting the proposal, you are likely required to arrange a pre-application meeting at the local office where the use is being requested. A staff member will discuss your proposal, potential land use conflicts, application procedures and qualifications, probable time frames, fees, bonding requirements, additional coordination with other agencies, environmental reports, and field reviews.
  • Most commercial uses require additional information with the application. You may need business plans, operating plans, liability insurance, licenses/registrations, or other documents. A commercial use is when an applicant intends to make use of public lands for business or financial gain.
  • Complete and submit the application form, including supporting documents, to the local agency office. An incomplete proposal could delay the processing.

Commercial filming and photography permits

If you are creating photographs or videos with the purpose of generating income, you may need a special-use permit.

Advice for the general public about paying for services on public land

If you are paying a guide or for another service (food, rides, etc.) on public land, the person you are paying likely needs a special-use permit. Their status as for- or non-profit does not factor into whether they need a permit. You are welcome to ask to see their special-use permit so that you can assess whether they are operating legally.

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