Many people own private property adjacent to National Forest System (NFS) lands. Sometimes crossing NFS lands may be necessary to access private property if no reasonable alternative exists across non-federal lands. In such cases, a landowner may submit a proposal to the Forest Service requesting authorization for noncommercial road use across NFS lands.
Frequently Asked Questions
The Forest Service typically issues special use permits, not easements, to grant noncommercial road use to access private property.
In most cases, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) is the statutory authority used to authorize noncommercial road use to private property. Regulations at 36 CFR 251, Subparts B and D govern the process. Forest Service Authorized Officers are to grant “only those access facilities or modes of access that are needed for the reasonable use and enjoyment of the land and that minimizes the impacts on the Federal resources (36 CFR 251.114(a). In some cases, non-motorized modes of access may be determined to provide adequate access.
Special use authorizations for road access usually are granted for a period of 20 years. At the end of that period, a new authorization may be issued if access is still required and existing road use is compliant with permit terms and conditions.
Special use permits are not transferable. However, if a landowner sells their property, a new authorization may be issued to the buyer. The seller and buyer would need to complete a 2700-3a form and submit it to the appropriate Forest Service office along with a copy of the deed for the property being accessed.
Landowners need to demonstrate:
- Lack of access to their property ((36 CFR 251.114 (f)(1)) - that they lack existing rights or routes of access available by deed or under State or common law.
- Proposed access route minimizes adverse impacts to resources (36 CFR 251.114(f)(2));
- Location and method of access is consistent with Congressionally designated areas and Forest Plan (36 CFR 251.114(f)(3));
- All legal recourse to obtain access across non-Federal land has been exhausted or has little chance of success (36 CFR 251.114(f)(4));
Supporting documentation such as the following may be provided to demonstrate the above:
- Deeds and other documents related to the ownership history of the property to be accessed and surrounding lands;
- Maps demonstrating the location or lack of historic access;
- Evidence that legal recourse to obtain access across adjacent lands has been exhausted or has little chance of success; and
- Documentation showing that efforts to purchase or otherwise acquire access rights from neighbors have been unsuccessful.
County records offices, a real estate attorney, or a title insurance company may be able to assist landowners with obtaining needed documentation.
If reasonable access exists or may be obtained using non-federal land, the Forest Service will not issue an authorization for the use of public lands merely to provide a landowner with a less costly or less restrictive access route.
Besides the information described above, if no reasonable alternative to the use of NFS lands exists, the Forest Service will need the following information to process a road access request:
Landowners are encouraged to schedule a pre-application meeting or phone call to go over the specific situation, ensure that the landowner understands the Forest Service process, regulations, policies, and to ask any questions. Applications or questions can be sent to the Lands inbox at SM.FS.email@example.com.
- Complete SF 299 application form (link)
- A detailed map (U.S. Geological Survey quadrangle or equivalent) or plat (survey or equivalent) showing the requested use in relation to NFS lands, identification of landowner’s property, scale, map legend, legal description, and a north arrow.
- A description of the proposed method of access.
- A description of the proposed use of the property to which the landowner is seeking access.
- Any construction or maintenance proposed and landowner plans for environmental protection and rehabilitation.
- A copy of the landowner’s property deed.
- Documentation of technical and financial capability to demonstrate that the landowner is capable of constructing, operating, and maintaining the requested road and, if needed decommissioning the road and reclaiming NFS land if use terminates.
Documentation must be complete for the Forest Service to process a request. For example, list any proposed new construction, brush or tree removals, culverts, or materials that need to be brought across NFS lands. Failure to provide information with the initial proposal can cause delays and increase costs.
Landowners are encouraged to schedule a pre-application meeting or phone call to go over the specific situation, ensure that the landowner understands the Forest Service process, regulations, policies, and to ask any questions.
After an application has been accepted and the applicable cost recovery processing fee has been collected, the Forest Service will analyze the potential environmental consequences of the requested use, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act ,(NEPA ). If needed, an operation and maintenance plan may be developed to ensure protection of Forest resources and address road maintenance activities such as tree trimming, grading, surfacing, snow plowing, etc.
Once the NEPA analysis is completed, the Forest Service will make a decision whether to deny the use, issue an authorization for the use as proposed, or issue an authorization for the use with modifications. This process typically take two to six months from receipt of a complete proposal, but it could take longer for projects that are large, complex, have the potential to impact special environmental resources, or when necessary plant, animal, or cultural resources surveys need to take place in a specific season.
Only after an authorization has been issued and signed by all parties, may access (including any authorized construction or maintenance activities) proceed. The special use authorization states what use of NFS lands is granted. It does not imply permission, so if a holder wishes to make changes to the road that are not covered by the authorization or operating plan (e.g. widen, surface, install ditches/ gates, remove trees, etc.), the holder will need to obtain authorization from the Forest Service.
Road Use Permits and Commercial Road Use Permits
Road Use Permits and Commercial Road Use Permits
Road use permits (FS 7700) are issued when a landowner needs temporary authorization to make changes to a Forest Service road, or to use a road on Forest Service lands for commercial purposes. Examples might include:
- A logger is commercially harvesting nearby private lands, and needs to use a Forest Service road to move the equipment and logs to the nearest public road.
- A landowner needs to move a large trailer to their private property. The access road is narrow, and the landowner needs to remove three trees and trim some branches in order to get the trailer and setup equipment to their private land. They do not need an authorization for permanent access to the property.
Road use permits are not special use permits – they are issued through the Forest Service engineering department. There is no fee associated with the temporary permit, but a landowner may be charged a bond or be required to repair any damage to the road caused by their use, especially by any heavy equipment.
If a landowner needs to obtain a road use permit, please submit a Road Use Permit Application form. If unsure whether a road use permit or a special use authorization is needed, contact the local permit administrator who can help determine which tool is more appropriate.
If road use is commercial in nature, or if using oversize vehicles, please include the appropriate attachment: