Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Nudity on Federal Lands

With the pending transfer of some state authority onto National Forest lands, I posed a question in one of the forums I'm a member of. The question was "How would this transfer affect the perceived ease of being nude in our National Forests. One reply stood out as carefully thought out and full of excellent advice. I post it here in it's entirety because it is worthwill sharing.

Where does this lead if the state patrol or a county sheriff could have applied state or county law on federal lands? Some things make sense and we can all agree to . . . like setting unsafe fires in fire-prone areas. What about nudity . . . illegal in the state and county but perfectly legal on federal lands?

This subject is VERY tricky, and I'll cover some of what I covered on Naturist Hikers group here. I really need to turn this into a web page...

The subject of local law enforcement on NFS land is very tricky, and varies from section to section and forest to forest. There are several Cooperative Law Enforcement Agreements between Local Law Enforcement, USDA, and NFS. The scope of these agreements varies, and you should inform yourself about the situation in your particular area and those areas where you visit.

Here's one example:


A. The Missouri State Highway Patrol agrees:
1. To continue to enforce the civil and criminal laws of the State on lands and water within or a part of ANY Unit of the National Forest System within the normal scope of its duty without reimbursement by the Service.

Now, that's just a small part of that whole agreement. You can see, however, that the agreement allows for the application of State law on Federal land.

Frequently I hear naturists make the claim, "There is no law regarding simple nudity on Federal (NFS) land." While that may be true on some NFS land, it isn't true on all Federal land. Also, just because there isn't a Federal law governing an activity, that does NOT mean that the activity is
actually legal.

NFS land is governed by Orders, and the administration for each NFS reigion may set rules based on 36 CFR 261.

Looking at the Order for the Southern Reigion, for instance, "Being publically nude." is specifically forbidden.

The Order includes this language:

"Violation of the above is a Class B Misdemeanor punishable by fine and/or imprisonment under 16 USC 551/36 CFR. Copies of Supervisor's Orders are on file at the District Ranger Office and Forest Supervisor Office in accordance with 36 CFR 261.51"

This is based entirely within the NFS rules. Section 261.58: Occupancy and use. "When provided by an order, the following are prohibited:" - and Being publically nude is one of the prohibited activities.

What does 'Being publically nude' mean?

36 CFR 261.2 Definitions

Publicly nude means nude in any place where a person may be observed by another person. Any person is nude if the person has failed to cover the rectal area, pubic area or genitals. A female person is also nude if she has failed to cover both breasts below a point immediately above the top of the areola. Each such covering must be fully opaque. No person under the age of 10 years shall be considered publicly nude.

That's fairly clear.

So, an administrator may post an Order prohibiting 'Being publically nude'. What is entailed in posting an Order?

261.50 Orders.
(a) The Chief, each Regional Forester, each Experiment Station Director, the Administrator of the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit and each Forest Supervisor may issue orders which close or restrict the use of described areas within the area over which he has jurisdiction. An order may close an area to entry or may restrict the use of an area by applying any or all of the prohibitions authorized in this subpart or any portion thereof.

(5) Be posted in accordance with §261.51 §261.51 Posting. Posting is accomplished by:
(a) Placing a copy of the order imposing each prohibition in the offices of the Forest Supervisor and District Ranger, or equivalent officer who have jurisdiction over the lands affected by the order, and
(b) Displaying each prohibition imposed by an order in such locations and manner as to reasonably bring the prohibition to the attention of the public.

So, to make sure you know what the Orders for your reigion are, you should check with the District Office, and look for signs with Orders posted. In some instances - like in and around some hot springs - nudity is officially sanctioned.

Even if you do not find a specific order against simple nudity, you CAN still be fined for indecency, disorderly conduct, and a variety of other things depending on the disposition of the ranger.

What's the penalty for violating an Order?

Sec. 261.1b Penalty.
Any violation of the prohibitions of this part (261) shall be punished by a fine of not more than $500 or imprisonment for not more than six months or both pursuant to title 16 U.S.C., section 551, unless otherwise provided.

Having said ALL of that, you can still enjoy Body Freedom on NFS land...BUT:

You have to understand the scope of the rules, and the scope of their enforcement.

It's perfectly legal to shoot on NFS land, for instance. There are rules that apply. You can't shoot across roads or trails. You can't shoot in campgrounds. You can't do anything that might be considered 'threatening' with a firearm. If you play by the rules, however, you can shoot on NFS

In our context, the rule prohibits 'public nudity', and it's important to understand what that means. What it means is that if you don't get caught, it ain't illegal. ;) If you stroll around in a public campgroud in the nude, then you're going to get a complaint, and you're going to get a
ticket. The ticket you get is going to be a 'disorderly conduct' ticket. If you give the ranger any lip, or if the ranger is having a bad day, you might get arrested. This is arguably better than what you'd get in any incorporated city, where you WOULD be arrested no questions asked.

Past strolling around naked at a campground, you have to consider the scope of patrol and enforcement. "The Law" doesn't reach everywhere. For the most part, there aren't enough NFS rangers to go around and cover every square foot of NFS land. They mostly drive around in their pickup trucks, check the campgrounds, drive the back roads, respond to complaints, and look for forest fires. They don't have the manpower to be everywhere, and most of them don't have the time or energy to walk deep in the back country. In my area - in the South - I have NEVER seen a ranger more than maybe half a mile down any trail or away from any road. EXCEPT in an emergency, or those doing trail maintanance.

Due to some budget cuts, there are fewer rangers. NPS and NFS rangers are like any other law enforcement. As a law enforcement trainer, I can speak to this in our context. For the most part, rangers are going to stick to 'easy ground'. They are going to patrol campgrounds and other high use areas. They are sometimes going to 'patrol' high traffic areas like trails and canoeable streams. Really, though, it's quite rare in my experience to meet a ranger more than a little way down any trail - and never off the beaten track.

The lesson there is to simply walk far enough away from 'standard' patrol zones to be off the radar.

The second thing to consider is the nature of NFS 'enforcement'. NFS rangers tend to be of two types. The vast majority are easy going, very friendly people. A very small few have bad attitudes for whatever reason. None of them really like to write tickets - and they really don't want to arrest anybody because it makes a lot of paperwork. ALL rangers, wheather you like them or not, are providing a service - and they ARE the GOOD GUYS. They don't make the rules, they just enforce them.

The rules have been changing in the National Forests recently for a number of reasons. One of the reasons is the expanding phenomenon known as the 'Rainbow Family'. Here is an example:


If you look at the report, and then you look at the new FS rules, you'll see a correlation...

Rules are in place to make a good experience for everybody. Normally rangers don't initiate complaints - and in some instances they cannot. While out west I was caught skinny dipping alone by a female NPS (not NFS) ranger. I got out of the water and covered up. She started writing me a ticket and I said, "Did someone complain?", and she said no. I said, "Then you can't
write me a ticket." - and she couldn't. I knew the rules. She was going to write a disorderly conduct ticket on me - a $50 fine - because where I was nudity wasn't illegal in and of itself. Without the complaint, she couldn't write the ticket. We had a good conversation and she left me alone. Now that the rules specifically censor nudity, a ranger can initiate the complaint. There are some things to remember, however.

Rangers are people too, and if confronted by a ranger, it's best to cover up, stay calm, and stay friendly. Most rangers become rangers because they love nature as much as you do. They aren't just there to make your life miserable. You could get lucky and wind up confronted with someone who likes to walk naked on their off time. If you start acting like a fruitcake or you start spouting constitutional law or you start on about how it isn't illegal to be a human being then you aren't going to do well.

Cover up and say, "Oh! I didn't expect to meet anybody out here!" Smile. Be polite. Be cooperative. Take the warning if you get one. USUALLY you will simply get a, "I'm sorry, you can't skinny dip/hike naked/be naked here." No matter what, apologize and stay friendly. Take the ticket if you get one. Be friendly. Talk to the officer like a human being. The more personable you are, the more likely you'll get off with a warning. If you get a good ranger, and you are out in the middle of nowhere having a dip, you aren't going to have any trouble at all. You might get a, "If somebody comes along, you'll need to cover up!", warning and they'll leave you be.

If you are obnoxious, you'll just make trouble for yourself.

If you have to make any kind of defense on the spot, say things in a very easy non-arumentative way. Pick something and stick with it. DO NOT go into body freedom arguments, or start badmouthing 'stupid rules'. No matter what, cover up immediately. Don't just stand there in all your glory while the person who decides wheather or not you go to jail today is present. Pick
something, say it, and, then keep your mouth shut. Say as little as possible.

1. "I'm sorry sir/ma'am. I really thought it was acceptable to skinny dip here. Has the rule been changed recently?"
2. "Oh, I've been walking out here for a long time, and I've never seen anybody else. I'd cover up quick if I did. I'm not looking to shock anybody."

Stuff like that.

Things you should NOT say:

1. "I know my rights!"
2. "Don't you have anything better to do like catch crooks?"
3. "Hey, baby, wanna date?"

If you get a ticket, it's best to fight it if you can. It's better in the long run to at least show up to a hearing and state your case. Again, be calm and friendly. If you are belligerent to the judge, it will go badly for you. Dress nice, show up early, and make calm and reasonable statements. The ticket is only a misdemeanor, but it'll still cost you as much as $500.00. If you don't have the $500.00, ask for an extension.

If you get arrested, cooperate in every way, but KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT! Don't say anything you don't have to. Get a lawyer. If you can't afford it, contact AANR and NAC and see if they can help you. I can't imagine that a ranger would arrest anybody for simple nudity so long as they weren't doing something obnoxious. Drinking and/or smoking pot while naked is likely to
land you in jail, and there isn't going to be any body freedom defense that is going to save you from that.

In some places you might also run into game wardens but I have little experience with them. Game wardens are rangers too, with arrest powers. They're also frequently armed. For the most part, though, if you aren't doing anything particularly stupid, they'll leave you alone. They have enough trouble on their hands with poaching and other wildlife management issues than to worry about naked people walking around in the woods. ;)

I hike in DeSoto a lot, and I am usually nude. The new rule makes no difference to me. I'm out on remote trails or even off trail. I have NEVER seen a ranger or other officer down those trails. If you streak through a campground, you're going to have a problem. If you hike nude and cover up when someone is coming, you'll do OK.


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