Forest Service report on Vermont Gathering

P.O. Box 27217
Washington, D.C. 20038
(202) 462-0757

February 5, 1991

Marian Connolly
USDA, Forest Service
12th and Independence Avenue S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20090-6090
Webmaster's note: Ms. Connolly is now retired from the USFS, and this address is not valid for her anymore.

Dear Ms. Connolly,

Having reviewed a copy of the NFS report on the 1991 Vermont National Rainbow Gathering, I was reminded of our telephone conversation of January 18, 1992, regarding the anti-gathering regulations you are currently working on.

I recalled asking whether you really believed in what you were doing with relation to these to-be-proposed-regulations, and your reply to the effect that you believed them to be necessary.

Notwithstanding your sincere beliefs on this issue, I still have serious reservations as to the necessity of additional regulations which would have the direct and proximate effect of further limiting traditional concepts of individual liberty. Hopefully the accompanying summary will give you food for second thought on your present position.

On the other hand, if you could take the time to bring to my attention any substantial issues that have escaped mention in my summary, it would be very helpful to my personal quest for an accurate understanding of reality.

In service to a loving Creator


Summarization Of
NFS Vermont 1991 Rainbow Family Gathering Summary

The National Forest Service recently completed a report, prepared by NFS Public Relations Officer Susan Denoncour, about the 1991 National Rainbow Family Gathering in Vermont. If this report is credible, I believe, it shows that the government anticipated the worst, feverishly prepared for the worst, yet carefully documents the fact that virtually nothing undesirable happened.

Essentially the NFS knew the Rainbow Family "insist(ed) that their promise to 'live in harmony with the land' was enough to guarantee health, safety and environmental protection." In fact, the report indicates that the Family fulfilled that promise.

Even though NFS"s worst fears proved to be nothing more than silly worries, the report still concludes with recommendations which are totally inconsistent with the facts it records. Rather than simply admit their fears were groundless it appears that the NFS opts to pretend the worst case scenario actually materialized.

The twenty-nine page report is summarized in six pages, and accompanied by approximately 150 pages of appendices. The following is my summary of the official 29 page summarization.

Executive Summary

"Each year the Rainbow Family of Living Light congregates on a national forest of its choosing to celebrate their bond with the Earth and to pray for world peace and healing."

"There is no apparent leader or formal leadership structure. They believe in human equality and all members have an equal say in decision-making and an equal share of power. They govern themselves by consensus. They advocate tolerance and acceptance of all beings and beliefs which results in a group with diverse, and often divergent values."

"As American citizens, Rainbow Family members defend their first amendment rights to free speech and peaceful assembly on public land..... In 1988 the Rainbow Family's constitutional right to gather on public land was upheld by a federal district court in Texas."

"In last minute Rainbow style, the Family announced its selection of the Rob Ford Meadows within the Green Mountain National Forest. A seed camp of 200-300 Family members arrived to prepare the site for the event. Much of the work was slow, but they were basically ready when the masses arrived at the end of June."

"July 4th was the culmination of the gathering, with traditional rituals observed. Thousands of Family members met at main meadow for the silent peace vigil from sun-up until noon with boisterous celebrations following."

"On August 5, Forest Service officials conducted a final inspection of the area and declared the clean-up and rehabilitation work complete and acceptable."

Event Highlights

"Attendance peaked on July 4 with an estimated 16,000 people on site.... Despite the masses of people, the event concluded with relatively few serious reportable incidents."

Key Management Concerns

"From the start three (sic) issues concerned the Rainbow Family and Forest Service officials alike (:)"

Major Impacts

NFS Conclusions And Recommendations

"There were no major health or safety problems and no permanent or significant impacts to local communities or the natural resources."

"The Rainbow Family has gathered in national forests for two decades.... No one plans for it, no one budgets for it. And although the Forest Service has been successful at rallying around the incident once it materializes, it needs to take a more proactive approach. The Washington Office should identify the event in its annual program of work and budget adequate funds."

"Secondly ... the Forest Service needs to finalize procedures for requiring a special use permit and performance bond for all large group gatherings on National Forest System land."

"Lastly, during the 1991 Rainbow Gathering, it became apparent that the American public has not reached consensus on the appropriateness of large groups gathering in their national forests."

Needless to say the American public has never reached consensus on anything. However, what is apparent (as evidenced both by the Texas district court decision mentioned in the report, and the fact that the Rainbow Family has been gathering on public lands for twenty years) is that the fundamental law of this country has long recognized the appropriateness of such gatherings. Assuming -- although the report provides no basis for this assumption -- that the question of the "appropriateness" of such gatherings does indeed extend beyond the personal opinions of those involved in the preparation of this report, and has indeed begun to infect a considerable segment of the American public; that hypothetical situation would only illustrate how sadly the collective American mind has degenerated since the days when freedom of speech, religion, and assembly were widely considered to be immune from totalitarian government meddling.

The bottom line on "Social and Economic Impacts," as summed up by the NFS, "There were no life threatening incidents, no personal injuries, no property damage and no perceivable changes in the area's social structure or values." Moreover, "There were no known unpaid bills following the gathering in Vermont." Page 24.

Law Enforcement

"The Addison County Sheriff's Department and the USDA Forest Service were lead agencies in the cooperative law enforcement effort that also involved the Caledonia, Orange, Rutland, Washington, Windham and Windsor County Sheriff's departments; the US Border Patrol; US Marshal Services and the Vermont State Police."

Despite the fact that the Rainbow Family neither requested nor desired it, and although it complains about financial burdens, the NFS report leaves the distinct impression that far and away the greatest government expense was for "law enforcement." In this area the report leaves the reader with a rather fuzzy view: "A full report of the law enforcement operations connected with the 1991 Rainbow Family Gathering has been prepared under a separate cover."

Still fairly clear inferences may be drawn.

According to the Financial Summary NFS spent $297,171 (page 12, alternatively, on page 28, the figure is $301,100) to "administer" the gathering. The report reflects that $277,190 was spent outright on "law enforcement." The remainder of the money appears to have gone for law enforcement support (radios, telephones, video equipment -- some of which was apparently stolen, possibly by law enforcement personal -- etc.), NFS "public relations," and a small, indeterminable sum which went for "surveying stakes, and gravel for road restoration."

Compared to the price of a B-2 bomber, for example, $297,171 dollars is a pittance. Just the same the taxpayers didn't get a great deal in return for their pittance. NFS flooded rural Vermont with law enforcement agents. Over the period from June 1, 1991 to August 5, 1991 this deluge of police resulted in only 9 arrests and 69 traffic citations issued to residents of 22 different states. Vermont, with 15 citations, had far and away the greatest number of citations to citizens of a single state.


NFS admits, "Some local citizens were irritated by the increased law enforcement presence on the State highways and in towns. Some felt it was an unnecessary show of authority that turned their community into a police state."

Appendix H-19 to the report, a Vermont Human Services Agency document, might easily be used to support a charge that the government's obvious preoccupation with "security," was, in reality, totally unnecessary:

"The Department of Corrections expended very little in costs and man-power.... the majority of our expense was in preparation by Central Office staff in the event of a mass-arrest. "Rutland Superintendent Michael O'Malley, who was closest to the situation, advised that the gathering had extremely minimal impact on his institution. As comparison, he used 'fair week,' which he indicated on its first night alone generates more problems for his facility than what was experienced with the Rainbow Gathering."

Fear And Reason

Instinctually, perhaps, humans fear what they do not understand. It is quite conceivable that the USDA, NFS, et. al. do not understand "praying for world peace," or striving to "live in harmony with the land." But, it seems, a lack of understanding cannot justify a needless regulation which would stifle freedom.