BLM updates rules to prevent ‘public-land squatters’

New regulations go into affect back-country campers on Bureau of Land Management lands, including the area around Handy’s Peak and Cinnamon Pass.

With two weeks to go before the biggest camping weekend of the summer, the Bureau of Land Management is clamping down on campers illegally overstaying their welcome on public lands.

Campers still are allowed to stay for 14 days on BLM public lands and, under current rules, at the end of the two-week stay they must move at least 3 miles and not return for seven days.

The amended rules, which go into effect July 12, dictate campers will have to move at least 30 miles and not come back for 30 days.

“These rules go a long way in our efforts to effectively reduce the impact of long-term camping and illegal occupancy on public lands,” BLM Chief Ranger John Bierk said. “We hope these rules will resolve any inconsistency or confusion that existed in the past with respect to camping and occupancy on public lands.”

The problem isn’t with campers in established recreational sites so much as freelance homesteaders moving onto remote pieces of public land.

Erin Curtis of the BLM’s Grand Junction Field Office said local law enforcement officers occasionally encounter campers who have set up semi-permanent camps.

“We’ve had issues with our law enforcement running across folks who have been pushing these rules,” she said. “It’s not just in western Colorado, it’s all across the West on public lands.

“Basically, they’re kind of public-land squatters.”

It’s more common in the outer, more-remote areas, she said, rather than closer to established camping and recreation areas.

“It’s in the very remote areas, those places where people are trying to get off the beaten path,” Curtis said.

In some cases, people may set up two camps the requisite 3 miles apart and shuttle their time between the two.

It’s been two decades since the camping regulations were rewritten, said Vanessa Delgado of the Colorado BLM office, and the old rules weren’t meeting current public demands.

“The last time we visited these rules was almost 20 years ago,” Delgado said. “Law enforcement felt it was time to see what works to maintain our healthy public lands and fit the needs of our current users.”

Delgado said some of the concerns with long-term camping include interfering with legitimate recreational use of public lands, sanitation and other health concerns, resource damage by illegal campfires, and other impacts from simply being in one spot too long.

Curtis hasn’t heard many complaints from river users, including the heavily used areas in Ruby and Horsethief canyons.

“No, not so much along the river,” Curtis said. “It’s more out in the desert and in some of the high country where they camp out and hope to be unobserved.”

Camping regulations for the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison national forests aren’t being modified, said Kathy Moore, recreation program manager for the three forests.

On U.S. Forest Service lands, campers may stay 14 days in most places and 30 days in others.

“In some of our lesser-used areas, we allow campers to stay for 30 days, otherwise the areas would stay empty,” Moore said. “But in most of our campgrounds and in the dispersed camping areas, the limit is 14 days.”

Established recreation sites on public lands usually have camping and use regulations posted.

More information is available at the Grand Junction BLM website,, and the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forest website,


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