Washington, DC — The U.S. Forest Service is opening its landscapes, roads, marinas and ski resorts to corporate advertising under new rules slated to become permanent this spring, according to comments filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The rules would also preempt state and local restrictions governing promotion of alcohol, tobacco products and gambling.
“Vistas of our national forests may soon include giant inflatable beer bottles, banners for chewing tobacco and snack food kiosks,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “Under this plan, every tacky commercial promotion will be welcomed, subject only to approval by a Bush administration appointee.”
The focus of the plan is to encourage corporate donations to support “special events, such as races, competitions [and] festivals” on national forest lands. The proposal substantially liberalizes “sponsor recognition” rules so that, for the first time, a corporation could –
- Display banners, signs and other advertisements on forest trails, along roadways and inside concessions. The only limit on ads would be the discretion of a designated “authorized officer;”
- Override state or local restrictions on advertising alcoholic beverages, tobacco products, gambling or other services and devices; and
- Advertise without any limitation inside lodges and marinas, on ski gondolas and within ski areas operated by concessionaires.
Public comment on the plan concludes this Monday, March 27 but the rules have been in temporary effect since November 25, 2005. The Forest Service action is similar in scope to a pending plan by the National Park Service that encourages park officials to directly solicit contributions and offer “donor recognition” packages, including plaques and limited naming rights, in return.
The proposed Forest Service rule seems designed to facilitate image enhancement campaigns by corporations, asking them to submit “a plan that describes the program…objective and target audience; and communication or marketing strategy.” All rules restricting banners, billboards and other “exterior” signs in the forests would be waived for a “special project” deemed to “promote public participation” in national forests.
“First the Bush administration wants to sell off national forest land, now they propose to rent out whatever is left,” added Ruch, referring to an administration plan to sell 300,000 acres of national forest land to pay for ongoing programs. “If corporations are truly contributing to our national forests for altruistic reasons then they do not need the public recognition, but trading donations for corporate ad campaigns splashed across our public lands is just a thinly veiled form of payola.”