The Coronado National Forest recently denied a recreation cabin owner’s request to sell its cabin and transfer the permit to a new owner because the agency had secretly changed the cabin’s designation from a “recreation residence” to an “isolated cabin.” The agency claimed that the change was appropriate because the cabin was not part of an established group or “tract” of cabins. When the cabin owner applied for the transfer, the agency denied the request because it was phasing out the isolated cabin program. The Forest Service Manual states that “isolated cabin” is a designation that “includes isolated recreation cabins located on sites not planned or designated for recreational cabin purposes [where] use of these cabins originated from situations other than occupancy trespasses or invalid mining claims.” It further states that, “in most circumstances, these uses should be phased out.” Holders of recreation residence cabins, however, must be given at least 10 years notice if the agency decides to make an alternative use of the site and there is no agency policy to phase them out. The Forest Service reportedly changed the designation from a recreation residence to an isolated cabin in 2008 but did not disclose it to avoid negative press.
In response, Senator Jeff Flake has introduced proposed legislation, the Oracle Cabins Conveyance Act, which would require the Forest Service to sell the land where the cabin is located to the cabin owner for fair market value. Senator Flake has also asserted that the agency could voluntarily exercise its Small Tract authority to sell the parcels to the cabin owners, thus avoiding the need for federal legislation.