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Requiring permits for certain activities on conservation lands (such as events, hunting, and camping) helps land managers ensure that the activities do not negatively impact the land or others’ enjoyment of it. The permit-application process can also serve to inform users of the rules for using the land.
Managers of parks, nature preserves, and other lands available for public use often require users to obtain permits to use the land for certain activities. Events, camping, and hunting are the activities for which managers—whether they be local governments, land trusts, or other entities—most commonly require permits. Some permit applications are in PDF form and must be submitted via mail or email, while others consist of online submission forms.
The permit process allows the manager to:
This guide explores the basics of permits and permit applications for events, camping, and hunting, and includes examples for each.
Before issuing permits, land managers need to formulate and adopt rules outlining which activities and circumstances will require permits and which locations on the property are open or closed to these activities. The rules should also specify how the permit application and approval process will work, including what information and documentation will be required for issuance of permits.
Land trusts that allow events at their preserves (e.g., weddings or charity runs) almost always require the event organizer to submit some kind of application in order to receive permission to hold the event. Government agencies that manage public lands such as local, state, and national parks follow similar procedures.
Rules about whether or not an event requires a permit typically revolve around two questions:
In many cases, the applicant must submit a security deposit or portion of the activity fee along with the permit application. (Some managers also charge application fees on top of the activity fee.) In rarer cases, the applicant does not pay any of the activity fee until the application has been approved.
Given the complex nature of group events and the potential legal issues surrounding them (e.g., liability insurance, alcohol, noise, etc.), the permit process can take longer (and involve more back and forth between the applicant and the manager) than the process for hunting or camping permits.
Applications and permits typically include most or all of the following information:
See these examples of applications and permits for events on land trust preserves and government-managed land:
Many land trusts require hunters to obtain permits from the land trust in order to hunt on land trust preserves; land trusts typically want to control hunting on their lands because of safety and land-stewardship concerns.
Most land trusts use one of the following three types of permit processes. The first option is recommended because it gives the land trust discretion to approve or deny permit applications.
Applications and permits typically include many, most, or all of the following information:
Land trusts seeking to collect data on hunting or wildlife populations on their preserves could also ask hunters to report any kills.
Some land trusts and trail groups issue permits allowing people to tent camp on preserves and along trails. State agencies—in Pennsylvania, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources—issue permits for certain types of camping in state-managed public lands, such as backpacking in state forests.
Prospective campers must submit a permit application to the respective managing entity. Upon approval, the entity usually issues a physical permit for the camper to display at their campsite.
No matter the format of the permit application (PDF or online form), organizations and government agencies usually issue a printable permit for campers to display. Applications and permits typically include most or all of the following information:
See these examples of permit applications and permits:
See the Other Permits library topic at ConservationTools.org for examples of applications and permits for other uses of public lands, including:
Accidents happen, and when they do, claims for personal injury or property damage sometimes follow. Defending lawsuits is expensive and time-consuming. The defense may be ultimately successful and covered by insurance, but the costs are ultimately passed on to the insured through higher premiums. The risk of being held responsible for injuries or property damage associated with permitting events and activities on one’s property may be avoided or minimized through use of risk-reduction tools and strategies.
One of these tools is the permit application and approval process itself, which allows a government or organization to collect necessary information (such as a certificate of insurance) from users before the activity occurs.
Another tool is requiring permitees to sign a release agreement such as the WeConservePA Model Release of Liability Form; this model includes:
In many cases, land trusts and governments require the applicant to pay an activity fee to use the space for their event. This may have implications for liability protection under state statutes that limit landowner liability for personal injury and property loss claims. For example, as described in WeConservePA’s Guide to Pennsylvania's Recreational Use of Land and Water Act, this liability protection can be lost in Pennsylvania if admission is charged. Exceptions to this include voluntary contributions; in-kind contributions; and contributions used to conserve or maintain the land or pay taxes and liability insurance for it.
WeConservePA offers this guide thanks to support from the Colcom Foundation, the William Penn Foundation, and the Community Conservation Partnerships Program, Environmental Stewardship Fund, under the administration of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Bureau of Recreation and Conservation.
Nothing contained in this or any other document available at ConservationTools.org is intended to be relied upon as legal advice or to create an attorney-client relationship. The material presented is generally provided in the context of Pennsylvania law and, depending on the subject, may have more or less applicability elsewhere. There is no guarantee that it is up to date or error free.
© 2022, 2019 WeConservePA
Text may be excerpted and reproduced with acknowledgement of WeConservePA.