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"Fee Demo program has fallen short"
Sen. Larry Craig
The Times-News Twin Falls, Idaho
July 12, 2002
The grades are in, and the recreation fee demonstration project has flunked in Idaho. I will oppose the continuation of the pilot project as it has been implemented over the last few years, including the proposed Hells Canyon recreation
However, opposing the recreation fees leaves us with challenges in addressing increased use and impact by those wishing to spend time on our rivers and public lands.
It's worth recalling that the pilot program proposed by the Forest Service had good intentions. It was supposed to make up for budget shortfalls that the natural resource agencies perceived they were experiencing.
In spite of Congress increasing funds for recreation on Forest Service lands over the last decade, there has been a decrease in the amount of money actually getting to the ground. Some of that money has been diverted to other programs such as the failed and costly Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project.
Additionally, during bad fire seasons like the one we are having this year, the Forest Service is forced to use project funding to pay for the cost of fire fighting, then get reimbursed by Congress in an emergency bill early in the next fiscal year. The net effect of this process is that funding for many of the agency's field operations, including some recreation spending, is held back or borrowed to pay for fire fighting. This uncertainty further hinders the delivery of recreation service.
When the demonstration program was first introduced on Forest Service lands, there were several conditions: First, we wanted to keep money collected at the local level to make improvements on the ground in that recreation area.
Second, there had to be collaboration with those most affected by the fees-- the recreation users and the local communities adjacent to that forest.
And third, whatever fee program proposed had to be fair to all users.
While some recreation fees have become commonplace and successful, such as fees for campgrounds or fishing and hunting licenses, the recently implemented and proposed fees on public lands and for river use have failed. These new fees are also meeting substantial resistance from recreation users.
We have seen the Forest Service aggressively grow the user fees beyond the original intent of the program. In some instances the Forest Service has taken a "field of dreams" approach: if they build it, the public will pay? The original pilot program authorized a limited number of projects, but one region chose to collect trail head fees on more than 1,000 different trails in two different states as a single project. Administrative expansions like this have only undermined the public's trust in this program and provided reason for change.
Absent the pilot program, we are left with three challenges: First, we need to properly fund recreation activities on public lands, and make sure recreation dollars are going to recreation.
Second, we need to streamline the litigation process for appeals on public lands. I have introduced legislation to do just that. We can no longer afford to manage public lands in the courtroom, whether for recreation or fire management. Those decisions must be placed in the hands of Forest Service and other land management professionals in collaboration with the local communities most affected by those decisions.
Finally, there are areas on our National Forests that receive so much recreational use we are literally loving them to death. After the adoption of the Roadless policy, recreational use has been concentrated into fewer and smaller areas. We must find ways to help the agencies control this over-use and find ways to disperse this use to less heavily-used areas.
I will be working on these challenges and invite concerned communities and individuals to share innovative ideas for improving the stewardship of Idaho's public lands.
Commentary by Scott Silver 07-12-02
"We have seen the Forest Service aggressively grow the user fees beyond the original intent of the program. In some instances the Forest Service has taken a "field of dreams" approach: if they build it, the public will pay?"
Quoted from Op-Ed by Senator Larry Craig (R-ID):
Pasted above is an Op-Ed article by Senator Craig which appeared in this morning's press. Senator Craig (R-ID) had been a staunch supporter of Fee-Demo since the program's inception. So when Craig now says: "the recreation fee demonstration project has flunked in Idaho", that is an important (and telling) condemnation of the failed recreation fee program.
In acknowledging that fee-demo has not, and will not, accomplish its officially stated purposes, Craig goes on to offer three potential alternative solutions. The first of these is for Congress "to properly fund recreation activities on public lands, and make sure recreation dollars are going to recreation.'
I endorse that solution whole-heartedly and encourage everyone in the nation to contact their Senators and Representatives officials and tell them it is time to once again properly fund recreation activities on public lands and to make sure recreation dollars get to recreation.
Clearly, the USFS has failed. Clearly, the Fee-Demonstration program has failed. Of these facts there can be no doubt.
The time to bring the US Forest Service under control and to demand fiscal accountability from this agency is long over-due. The time has come to permanently end forest fees, once and for all!
With Fee-Demo being recognized as a hopelessly failed idea, a potential policy vacuum will likely develop should activists successfully convince Congress to kill the program (That remains a big "IF"!! but not nearly so big an "IF" as it once was!!!).
It is more imperative than ever to ensure that Congress implements the RIGHT SOLUTIONS for the management of recreation on America's public lands. It is crucial that inappropriate solutions, such as increased dependence upon public-private partnerships, leveraged funding, commercialization and privatization be avoided.
It is time to kick the American Recreation Coalition out of the national recreation policy driver's seat. Their failed policies have caused too many problems already!!! And perhaps more than anything, it is time to restore the principles of Democracy to the management of America's public lands.
CONGRESS NEEDS TO HEAR YOUR SOLUTIONS. YOUR LETTERS TO THE EDITOR ARE CRITICAL.
Read more . . .
Senator Regula's fee demo support and The Wilderness Center, Inc.
Fee demo demonstration in Bend Oregon
Fee Demo program rejected by USFS employees
Fee Demo on OPB