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August 27, 2007

Recreation Fees as 'Public Lands Shakedown'?

Ted Williams minces few words in letting us know that all is not well in 'Rec Fee Demo Land'. Increasingly, people are questioning the wisdom of the fees. As one Forest Service observer puts it, "We're going to have to do more with less until we do everything with nothing." Here's a snip:

FEES HAVE BECOME A PUBLIC LANDS SHAKEDOWN, Ted Williams, [Aug 24]: … With little public or congressional oversight the Forest Service assesses recreational facilities for profitability. The ones that generate least revenue -- remote campgrounds and trailheads, places to which lovers of wildness and quiet would naturally gravitate -- are now first to get disappeared. Bulldozers are knocking down campgrounds, dismantling latrines, removing fire pits. You won’t even be able to park. The agency is financing the process with $93 million in fee receipts; in effect, charging you for the rope it hangs you with.

As abusive as [Recreation Access Tax] RAT fees are in their own right, the Forest Service is abusing them further by playing fast and loose with the law. The Recreation Enhancement Act requires that fees be charged only if there has been “significant investment,” defined as six amenities: security services, meaning staffers who check to see if you’ve paid, parking, toilets, picnic tables, trash receptacles, and signs.

A site has to have all six. But the Forest Service has dreamed up a way of getting around the law by designating sections of forest as “High Impact Recreation Areas” (HIRAs). One corner of a HIRA might have a sign; another, perhaps two miles away, a trash can. Three miles from both might be a parking lot; the law makes no reference to anything like an HIRA. The Forest Service flouts even this bizarre interpretation of the law. Last year it admitted to Congress that 739 HIRAs didn’t have the six amenities. Moreover, there are at least 3,000 former Fee Demo sites outside HIRAs that are still charging fees, many of them illegally.

When Christine Wallace, a Tucson legal secretary, refused to pay a fee on a Coronado National Forest HIRA in Arizona, she was prosecuted for what amounted to hiking without a license. While the law allows the Forest Service to charge all manner of fees, it specifically prohibits entrance fees. Accordingly, a court found that the agency had acted illegally.

But the Forest Service appealed, and in January 2007, won a reversal. If the ruling is not struck down by Wallace’s motion to reconsider or by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where it seems headed, case law will criminalize exiting your vehicle on your own public land without first finding a ranger station, if one is open, and coughing up money that even the motorized-recreation axis that hatched RAT fees never intended for you to pay.

RAT fees are more than just a ripoff. They’ve become a replacement for squandered wealth, an incentive for continued profligacy, and an excuse for the White House to keep slashing appropriations for public-lands management. …

Scott Silver explains the derivation of RAT:
". . . officially known as the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act, [it is] commonly referred to as the Recreation Access Tax (RAT), See: The Rat is Vermin, Earth First! Journal.

Posted by Dave on August 27, 2007 at 01:43 PM | Permalink


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