The cabin in the woods was a perfect fit for Dale and Jaydeen Ortman, when they first saw it back in 2004.
“We fell in love with this place and it fit with retirement. So we simply stayed,” said Dale Ortman.
They purchased the cabin under a “recreational cabin” program that allows people to own cabins on forest service land. They own the structure, but not the dirt.
Last year, the Ortmans decided to sell because of their age and mounting health concerns. The recreational use permit that accompanies cabins like theirs, allows for the sale of the structures with Forest Service permission.
“We put it up for sale, received an acceptable offer, went to the Forest Service and were informed that they would not approve the sale because it was their intention to phase out the special use permit,” said Ortman.
Behind the scenes, it appears that the Forest Service had re-classified the Ortmans' cabin and the cabins of four others in the area from “Recreational Cabin” to “Isolated Cabins.” And the Forest Service is phasing out the isolated cabin program.
Emails obtained by CBS 5 Investigates indicate the Forest Service made that decision in 2008 but kept it under wraps to avoid “a big public relations workload.”
“I would have thought that they’d be forthright and come up and tell us what was being initiated. What the plans were and how it would affect our lives,” said David Kelly, whose cabin has been in his family for three generations.
“The only plan I’m aware of is the letter I’ve received, actually it was an email, stating, ‘Tear it down or pick up and leave,’” said Kelly.
“It pretty much tears you up because that was our, that was our life,” said Robert Kisling, who had also tried to sell his cabin.
These cabins are not located in the middle of the National Forest. They’re actually on the outskirts of the town of Oracle, Arizona. If you look around, you may get the feeling there really is nothing isolated about this area. Rooftops dot the forest canopy in every direction.
“The house sits within 75 feet of (the Oracle) borderline,” said Kelly.
All three of the families who spoke to CBS 5 Investigates say they would like to purchase the land from the Forest Service at fair market value, or just continue to enjoy the properties the way they and previous owners have for decades. But they say the Forest Service has turned down their offers.
“They obviously would not have purchased these structures, these cabins, had they felt that the status was going to change and they couldn't sell them in a few years. So yeah, they have a beef. They really do,” said Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, whose office Dale Ortman contacted earlier in the year.
Sen. Jeff Flake introduced a bill, S.2062, on Thursday, that would direct the Forest Service to sell the land to these families at fair market value. But Flake says there’s a much easier solution.
“The Forest Service has the authority. There’s something called the Small Tract authority, where those small parcels can be dealt with without going to Congress,” said Flake.
On Thursday, a spokesperson for the Coronado National Forest emailed CBS 5 Investigates the following statement:
“The dwellings in question don’t fit the definition of Recreation Residences, as they are not part of any tract of land set aside for such use. We are exploring potential alternatives with staff from our regional and Washington offices at this time.”
Until they hear otherwise, the three couples are in limbo. Two of them are waiting to sell because of health concerns. The third is hoping to be able to pass the cabin on to a fourth generation someday.
“They extended this land to people to live on, to enjoy. And now they've changed their mind for whatever reason and said, ‘We don't want you on the land anymore,’” said Kelly.
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