Special Use Permits

Who Needs a Permit (Authorization) and Why?

As a steward of the National Forests, the Forest Service has a duty to minimize resource impacts on National Forest System lands. The Plumas National Forest manages its many resources with the objective of caring for the land and serving people. Management protects natural resource values, public health and safety, and is consistent with goals outlined in the Plumas Land Management Plan. In order to meet these objectives, permits or authorizations may be required for the occupancy and use of Forest Service land or resources.

Special Use Authorizations provide use of, and access to, National Forest System lands for a wide variety of activities.  These activities can be commercial or non-commercial operations. There are approximately 600 special-use authorizations issued on the Plumas National Forest. 

First Step:  The Proposal
Each year, the Forest Service receives numerous proposals for a wide variety of activities on National Forest Lands such as water transmission lines, outfitting and guiding, recreation special events, telecommunication, research, photography, and rights-of-ways. Depending on the complexity of the proposal, obtaining a Special Use Authorization can be a lengthy and costly process. 

The Forest Service carefully reviews each proposal. It is your responsibility to provide the Agency with all the information needed to review, evaluate, and make a decision on a submitted proposal. All proposals are subject to two levels of screening. If a proposal passes the second level of screening it is accepted as an application.

Next Step:  The Application
After your proposal is accepted then it is time to complete an application.  There are different forms that are used to collect more specific information.  The permit administrator you are working with will give you the appropriate form. The details of your application will be analyzed pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and cost recovery fees may be applicable. The environmental analysis process will determine if the proposed use will be authorized with a Special Use Permit.

Cost Recovery
Cost Recoveryis the assessment and collection of administrative fees from special use applicants and permit holders in order to pay for the administrative costs incurred by the Forest Service in processing a special use application and monitoring a special use for compliance with the terms and conditions of an authorization.

Cost Recovery applies to all special use proposals formally accepted as applications, including authorizations for new uses, changes to existing authorizations, authorizations issued as a result of termination of existing authorization, and authorizations issued as a result of change in ownership or control of facilities under existing authorization. 

Cost Recovery does not apply to applications or authorizations that require 1 hour or less to process or monitor, applications for noncommercial group use, or applications for recreation uses that require 50 hours or less to process or monitor.

Processing/monitoring fees include the Agency’s cost to review and evaluate the application, meet with the applicant, conduct environmental reviews & analyses, conduct site visits, conduct technical and financial reviews, and prepare documentation of analyses, decisions, and authorizations.

Currently, The Plumas National Forest is only accepting and processing special use applications that meet the following criteria:

  • Non-discretionary permit actions where the Forest Service is required by law to respond.
  • Permit actions necessary to correct health and safety issues, potential liability and environmental damage.
  • Permits and amendments necessary to authorize negotiated or legal settlements of unauthorized uses. 
  • Permits required as a result of a natural disaster.
  • Permits that meet a demonstrated public need that cannot be met on private land.
  • Non-Commercial Group Use Permits.
  • Re-occurring recreation event permits when the proposal is submitted at least 180 days in advance.
  • Previously authorized temporary Outfitter and Guide permits when the request is submitted during the open season between November 1st and January 31st.

Applications that do not meet the above criteria are being deferred until a later date due to the current workload involved with processing the backlog of expired permits.

Examples of Activities Requiring an Authorization


According to forest regulations, an activity that involves a group of 75 or more people, either as participants or spectators, is considered a “group use”. Non-commercial group useis any activity where an entry or participation fee is not charged, and the primary purpose is not the sale of goods or a service. Some examples of noncommercial group uses are weddings, church services, graduations, camping trips, hikes and family reunions.  To obtain a Noncommercial Group Use Permit please contact your local permit administrator on the Ranger District where you would like to hold your event.

Commercial activities, even when organized by a non-profit organization, may require a special use permit.  Examples include music festivals, rallies and races, endurance rides, regattas, filming, trail rides and festivals. Commercial guiding or leading groups of any size requires a permit. 


This type of special use includes organized events of a temporary nature, such as animal, vehicle, or boat races; fishing contests; rodeos; adventure games; and fairs.  If you are interested in learning more about submitting a proposal for a recreation event, please contact your local ranger district office.  The Plumas National Forest is asking for all Recreation Event proposals to be submitted at least 180 days in advance,in order to facilitate the processing of the permit.  Please coordinate with the Ranger District where you would like to operate.


National forests are a popular location for the commercial filming and still photography industries.  Anyone wishing to film on National Forest System lands must obtain a special use permit from the Forest Service. A "Filming on Public Lands"webpage addresses many common questions concerning the permitting process.  To request a filming permit on the Plumas National Forest please fill out a Request for Filming Form and submit to the local permit administrator on the Ranger District you wish to film.

For more information please visit the Region 5 Commercial Filming Page.


Research includes observatories, laboratories, stream gauges, weather stations, educational research study, and similar uses not intended to result in further development.  If you would like to submit a new proposal to conduct research or to renew or modify an existing research permit on the Plumas National Forest please contact a district ranger office. 

Our goal is to provide a high level of customer service for research activities on the Plumas National Forest.  Please understand however, that depending on the complexity of the proposal, and any environmental compliance that may be required, it may take up to 180 days to process a research permit.


This area of Special Uses includes all commercial outfitting operations involving services for accommodating guests, transporting persons, and providing equipment, supplies, and materials.  It also includes commercial guiding activities wherein the guide furnishes personal services or serves as a leader or teacher.  The open season for applying for an Outfitting and Guiding permit is November 1st through January 31st.   

Although we are providing the following list of outfitters and guides, the Plumas National Forest does not endorse any of the businesses on this list.  Guides and Outfitters operating under permit are held to a high standard of customer service and environmental protection, they hold insurance and possess various certifications in their various fields of expertise. To help the Plumas curb illegal outfitting and guiding, please make sure the guiding service you hire holds a current permit on the forest. This information below is available to help our visitors make the most out of their trip to the Forest.


Back in the early 1900's the Forest Service Recreation Residence program started to give private citizens the opportunity to own a single-family cabin in designated areas on the National Forests. They are commonly called "summer homes" or "recreation cabins". These privately owned cabins (improvements) are located within formally established "tracts" on individual "lots" designated for that purpose.  The last formally established tract in the Region was in 1959 and no new tracts or cabins are allowed to be built.  These recreation residence permits are authorized and administered under the terms and conditions of a special use authorization (SUA) called a permit.

 It is important to note that just by applying does not guarantee that a permit will be authorized.  Therefore any action taken before receiving a Special Use authorization, such as occupying National Forest System Lands and advertising or expending funds, is premature and at the proponent's risk.  It is also a violation of 36 CFR 261.

For more information regarding Special Use Authorizations on National Forest visit the Forest Service National website or the Region 5 website.