From Smokey the Bear’s Lips to Your Ears

Essential camping dos and don’ts — from Seattleite‘s resident Forest Patrol Officer.

For many of us here at Seattleite, this is just one of our jobs. Some write for other publications, work in offices or serve fine food at restaurants. Then, there’s our associate editor, Brad Nehring, and his weekend gig with the U.S. Forest Service. 

He works as a USFS Forest Patrol Officer (FPO) — you know, those guys in brown shirts who drive around the forest and write tickets. As our Northwest weather slowly makes the push toward “camping appropriate,” he wants to remind campers, hikers and bikers that there are rules when one spends time in the forest — and penalties for those who break them. Visitors should check out the U.S.F.S. official website for a more detailed description of all the rules they should follow when recreating in the great outdoors.

Don’t: Dump Garbage ($125 fine)

Most of us visit the outdoors to catch a glimpse of Mother Nature at her most pristine — and nothing ruins the illusion like a campsite littered with grimy clothes, rotten food and empty bottles. It’s illegal to dump trash in the woods, so don’t forget to bring a few Hefty bags from home to pack out your leavins. Picking up garbage puts FPOs in a really rotten mood — a “ticket-writing” mood, if you catch my drift.

Do: Review Local Firearm Regulations ($275 fine)

Are you 150 yards from a road, campground or body of water? Do you have a solid backdrop for your targets? If your location meets forest regulations, then chances are you and your buddies can shoot there — but even then, don’t be so sure. Contacting the local ranger station is the only foolproof way to determine where the legal shooting sites are — and where they aren’t. Oh, and pick up your shells when you’re done; spent ammo counts as litter.

Don’t: Go Off-Roading With Your ATV ($85 fine)

Everybody loves bumping down a muddy path in four-wheel-drive, but your quad, three-wheeler or lifted Jeep can’t leave the main road unless you’re in a sanctioned ORV park — and large, blatant signs will indicate whether that’s the case or not. Actually, the law states that any non-street legal vehicle that must remain off the ground. So technically, even if you just unload it from a trailer or truck bed, you’re breaking the rules.

Don’t: Cut Down Trees ($275 fine)

The rule states that a tree must be “dead and down” before it can be chopped into firewood. Yes, this includes stumps — they’re still standing, right? Also be sure to leave behind your kindling unless you have a certified firewood collection permit. If you take any firewood with you and a law enforcement officer catches you, the fine will be hefty.

Do: Completely Extinguish Your Campfire ($125 fine)

A campfire must be completely out before you leave the site for the day; no smoke, no embers, no heat. This is especially true during July and August, when the heat index is high and relative moisture is low. The last thing anyone wants to do is start a forest fire — so throw an extra splash of water on those ashes, just in case. 

Do: Be Nice To FPOs (no fine — just good karma)

Most FPOs spend their days driving for hours on end, picking up trash and handling situations with (literally) unhappy campers. So, next time one approaches you, a smile and some friendly conversation go a long way. They’re just doing their job by making sure everyone in the forest is safe and able to enjoy the natural beauty around them.

Have a safe summer in the woods!