US Forest Service confirms state regulations are binding on concessioners unless they conflict with federal laws

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The US Forest Service recently reviewed Oregon laws which impose licensure, operational and structural requirements on campground concessioners operating on national forests within Oregon as well as on the campground facilities.  The Forest Service found that, while Oregon could require the operators to obtain state licenses, the state’s laws were not binding on the Forest Service, its facilities or the operation of those facilities and are pre-empted if they conflict with federal law.  The Forest Service found that the license requirements themselves did not conflict with federal law or operations of the campgrounds and therefore are applicable to concessioners.

In reaching its conclusion, the Forest Service noted that, pursuant to a federal statute that applies to all national forests, states do not lose their civil or criminal jurisdiction over citizens who are in a national forest in that state and the state has concurrent jurisdiction with the federal government over anyone on Forest Service lands within the state.  This jurisdiction apparently includes the right to regulate the activity of that person while on Forest Service lands.

However, if the regulation of activity is viewed as being in conflict with the Forest Service’s administration of its campgrounds, the agency would likely conclude that regulation is invalid.  For example, the Oregon law requires that the state must receive and approve plans prior to any construction or modification of campgrounds.  It also sets out specific standards for floors for purposes of insect and rodent control and includes criteria for toilets and bathing structures.  Notably, the agency requested that it be notified of any situation where Oregon enforcing its criteria related to the construction, modification or operation of the campground facilities.

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