Forest Service Issues Field Guidance For Administering Permits During Pandemic

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The US Forest Service has issued guidance on various matters related to permits and the impacts of covid-19, including waivers of interest and penalties on bills typically due prior to July 7.

The agency has not yet taken any actions to waive fees in their entirety.  Instead, it encouraged forests to defer payments on any bills related to commercial recreation special use permits due prior to July 7 to July 7.  The deferrals do not apply to land use permits for communication or water facilities or utilities based on the agency’s view that “they can continue to operate under the restrictions imposed in response to COVID-19.”  That deferral did not apply to any bills due prior to March 13, 2020, under the apparent theory that covid-19 had not impacted the permittee’s ability to pay those fees.  For bills that were deferred until July 7, the agency waived interest, penalties and administrative costs that otherwise would have been applicable.  If you receive a bill that includes interest, penalties or other costs, you likely were billed in error.

The agency also confirmed that forests can delay issuing prospectus or their due dates if they so choose.  The guidance noted that a delay “may be a good option if it will be difficult to conduct site visits or if you think interest may be lower than expected due to businesses needing to respond to COVID-19.”

In addition, the agency pointed out that a permit holder can request that its permit be put in “non-use” status which would fully waive any land use fees for that particular period of non-use.  However, in order to qualify for this status, the guidance (which may not be consistent with the agency’s policy) states that a permit holder cannot generate any revenue from its authorized services, including receiving fees from online sales for future dates.  The Forest Service Handbook states as follows as to non-use status:

The authorized Forest Service officer may place a use authorization in a non-use status when such action is necessary for the protection of the interest of the United States, or when circumstances beyond the holder’s control deny the holder the use of the authorization.  Placing an authorization in non-use status fully waives fees for that period.  The holder may not use the area for the use authorized during the non-use period; however, the holder must maintain the premises and improvements in a satisfactory condition.

 

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