National Forests Need Sensible, Consistent Policy
|February 27, 2004||Posted by Staff under Progress Report, The Progress Report|
National Forests Need Sensible, Consistent Policy
It’s Yours, But You Have to Pay a Private Company to Access It
Of course one needs to pay to maintain forests and keep them in good condition. But should one have to pay simply for access to one’s own forest? How about the parking lot at the edge of the forest? Should that be a monopoly?
These questions can get complicated. However, the extreme government practice of charging individual taxpayers for a walk through a forest, while paying millions of dollars to private corporations to log in those forests, is clearly ridiculous.
From the Times-News of Twin Falls, Idaho:
Time to make a stand against stiff forest fees
Our view: Congress can start now in dismantling the excessive taxation of forest access fees. Members of a U.S. Senate committee have an opportunity to make a statement about the future of the fee demonstration program.
It’s time Congress recognized the pay-for-play program on most of our national public lands is a failure — and un-American to boot.
S. 1107, sponsored by Sen. Craig Thomas, R-Wyo., is called the Recreational Fee Authority Act. The bill calls for access fees to be made permanent in lands operated by the National Park Service. The bill mentions nothing about permanent access fees for lands managed by the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Not yet, that is. Officials from the Departments of Agriculture and Interior are lobbying hard to make access fees permanent in all four agencies, as well as the Bureau of Reclamation.
Congress’ best route would be to end fee demo once and for all.
Thomas makes a reasonable pitch at permanent fees in national parks. Tourists and park users have become accustomed to park fees, which go toward trails, roads, signs, maps and other services.
But permanent fees for a walk in the forest, or common use of a trail, are different. There are fewer services with those lands, which are already subsidized by federal taxes. Paying those taxes, along with additional access fees, is nothing less than double taxation.
Under new rules which go into effect April 6, BLM land users without valid access passes may be subject to a maximum $5,000 fine and six months in jail for noncompliance (as opposed to the current $100 penalty). All for not paying a $5 parking fee on a BLM trailhead.
What’s apparent with this tougher law is that more of the public is refusing to pay the fee. So the government is growing longer fangs.
At a minimum, the committee should refuse any effort to make the fees permanent outside of national parks. Idaho Sen. Larry Craig was leaning that way recently. “We aren’t going to attach other fees to this bill,” said Dan Whiting, a spokesman for Craig. Whiting added that as chairman of the Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests, Craig wants to have hearings on the impact of forest fees.
“He isn’t interested in giving the Forest Service blanket authority to deny people access to public lands,” Whiting said.
The Senate may be able to shoot down any effort to get that blanket authority this week. But those agencies will be back looking for it before long. The best way to stop them is to end the fee demo program — and end it for good.
Some reasons to oppose forest access fees, according to freeourforests.org
- 1. Our public lands are our heritage and our birthright. We own these lands. They are not a recreational commodity.
2. We already support the public lands agencies and our public lands through our federal taxes. Furthermore, hunters, fishermen and others pay liscensing fees on top of access fees and taxes. This new fee amounts to nothing more than double – or even triple – taxation.
3. The act of paying fundamentally alters the way one relates to the outdoors. People won’t feel the reponsibility of being on their own land. Rather, they will feel like they are visiting Disneyland where someone else is being paid to clean up after them.
4. Fee Demo has nothing to do with the stewardship of public lands. It is, in fact, the beginning of an attempt by corporate America to privatize and commercialize our public lands.
5. Businesses that sell passes are selling-off our freedoms. These vendors make a profit from the loss of one of our basic rights as American citizens: our right to access our public lands.
6. Making the public pay a fee to use its own public lands, while at the same time providing federal subsidies for timber, cattle, and mining interests on public lands, is not only illogical, but immoral.
7. The American people should not have to pay again for wilderness areas where there are no man-made improvements, where they don’t want any improvements, and where there shouldn’t be any improvements.
8. People need a place to go – relatively free and un-fettered from society’s pressures. Our public lands are the last of these places, and Fee Demo destroys this ideal.
9. Requiring a fee to use wilderness while cities are free is the same as saying that we are not a part of the natural world – we don’t belong out there.
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