Respect All Laws, Regulations, Guidelines and Policies of the U.S. Forest Service
The forest service policy on geocaches on their lands is generally understood to be that if geocachers abide by all laws, policies, rules, and guidelines within a national forest, then it’s alright to geocache there. Since the U.S. Forest Service is made up of hundreds of different forests with different names, managers, employees, concerns, and policies; some of the rules and what they allow are also different. It can be looked at like the many different sovereign states that have some latitude, but still fall under the authority of the federal government. But on a whole, so long as geocaching enthusiasts abide by all existing regulations, including motor vehicle restrictions, not damaging any trees/flora/fauna, causing no impact to streams and wetlands, it will generally be considered acceptable. Peter Hubball wrote a great piece on Biodiversity: Why Conserving Wildlife is Important for us.
Furthermore, geocaches should be hidden appropriate areas. Inappropriate placements would be somewhere that impacts historic buildings, monuments, interpretive displays, landscaping, weather stations, archeological sites, wildlife, and riparian stream sides. If you want to mouth off or get huffy with Forest Service employees, you’ll only ruin it for other friendly geocachers. Don’t fall prey to an overly heightened sense of self-importance.
Your Actions Could Jeopardize it for other Geocachers
The U.S. Forest Service would probably have very few problems whatsoever with this hobby, if all geocachers acted responsibly and used common sense. In other words, in a world without knuckle heads all would be well. But that’s not the world any of us live in. So, because of the knuckle heads who always manage screw things up for the rest of us, the organization that manages our nation’s forests, which I have a great deal of respect for, has to set some ground rules to protect its lands and everything in them listed above. They also need to look out for, and accommodate, all the other recreationalists who are using it for other purposes. We live in times when no one wants to see suspicious looking objects lying around, so some kind of label that states it’s a geocache container is highly appreciated whenever it’s possible.
As an OIF combat veteran who saw plenty of Improvised Explosive Devices dressed up in innocuous looking packages, I think it’s safe to say that none of our government folks, who are sworn to protect and be good stewards of our forests, want to see something that might look like it could harm them or the general public. Geocachers, first and foremost, need to respect the concerns and regulations of all the forest service employees that manage our land. After all, they don’t come trampling into your workplace and mess with your stuff and your Swingline staplers now, do they?
Contact the Local Rangers First
What is the best answer really? Always check with the managers of the local forest at the offices and ranger stations where you plan on geocaching first. Geocaching.com works hard to maintain a proactive, healthy relationship with the Forest Service and quickly remove anything that is placed inappropriately. You can find any forest agency in any state in the U.S. by consulting this link to the USDA Forest Service website. Any new geocache must be cleared with the particular governing body of the forest it’s placed in.
In Wilderness Areas where leaving no trace is the standard, geocaching is unacceptable. But if we’re talking about Wilderness Areas then I would urge that the best way to experience those wild, pristine treasures, designated as such, is to fully immerse yourself by backpacking in and doing some primitive camping there. Wilderness Backpacking Adventures in Montana is an article that highlights three of the best National Forests to explore to enjoy all the beauty, grandeur, and solitude of the unforgettable Montana Rockies. These national forests rival any of the national parks but don’t see anywhere near the volume of visitors. But any forest in our country offers ample opportunity to enjoy splendid repose.
In summary, abide by all laws and regulations, use common sense, and treat the forests and Forest Service employees with the dignity and respect they deserve. If too many geocachers fail to meet these standards, the Forest Service could very well ban this activity should they deem it necessary.
All images courteous of Dan McGoldrick