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Fee Demo fees replaced by new Recreation Access Fees

Today the long-awaited interagency guidelines for implementation of the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act was to be released. Since that law was passed in December 2004 and until the guidelines were completed, individual forest manages had largely been winging-it with respect to dealing with the new Recreation Access Tax.

Pasted below was, this morning, a front page article in my local newspaper. It explains that day-use recreation fees for the Deschutes National Forest had been suspended and that such fees would not be charged during the next 30 - 45 days. The article stated that USFS managers thought that as many as 1/3 to ˝ of all existing fee sites on the Deschutes NF failed to comply with the strict requirements of the RAT. A fee hiatus was therefore declared so as to give the agency adequate time to come into compliance with the law and remove from the fee program all non-complying fee sites.

This morning’s announcement was great news. I was looking forward to visiting once again, if only for a few weeks, places upon the forests from which I’ve been excluded for 7 years long years. This afternoon, however, the Deschutes National Forest made another decision --- the wrong decision. It said there would be no fee hiatus after all. (See subsequent USFS News Release / Retraction, appended )

It is important to understand that the RAT makes no provision for a transitional grace period. It does not authorize the USFS to phase out non-complying fee-sites. With passage of the RAT, all existing fee authorities, such as fee-demo, were repealed effective immediately. The only authority in existence today for charging recreation user and entrance fee is that provided by the RAT and the only language I’ve ever found within the RAT which deals with this transitional period is quoted right here:

Effect of Regulations- A regulation or policy issued under a provision of law repealed by this section shall remain in effect to the extent such a regulation or policy is consistent with the provisions of this Act until the Secretary issues a regulation, guideline, or policy under this Act that supersedes the earlier regulation.

I’m no lawyer and perhaps I’ve missed something. Yet my reading of this leads me to believe that the Deschutes NF may have, by their own admission, now chosen to willfully flout the law.

In fact, unless I am mistaken, it now appears that land managers are violating the law whenever and wherever they charge fees at recreation sites that do not comply with the strict requirements of the RAT. This is not just a problem for the mangers of my local forest. This is a major problem for BLM and USFS managers all across the country..... or so it would appear.

Scott Silver, Wild Wilderness


Day-use fee for forests suspended

The Bulletin
By Yoko Minoura
April 22, 2005

Central Oregonians can enjoy national forest land without a pass for the next 30 to 45 days, according to a release from forest officials.

Deschutes National Forest officials have decided to suspend all day-use fees until a set of new legislative rules can be applied, and are urging users to wait before buying a Northwest Forest Pass.

The fee for overnight users remains unchanged. According to Mark Christiansen, recreation program manager for the Deschutes National Forest, legislation passed in December gives federal agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service the authority to levy a day-use fee, but only at sites that provide a certain level of user amenities.

Sites that do not meet the criteria will waive the user fee.

Christiansen said officials are temporarily suspending day-use fees at all sites in order to ensure all national forests interpret the regulations in the same way. The U.S. Forest Service is working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management and other federal agencies that govern public land to ensure guidelines for the public are clear and uniform as possible.

“We’re very concerned that interpretation be done consistently,” Christiansen said. “We’re very cognizant of what of continuous (rule) change does to the public, and we’re trying to reduce that.”

Locally, Christiansen said the implementation of the new regulations will mean anywhere from one-third to half of all sites that previously required a day pass or a day-use fee will become free.

According to Christiansen, user fees were originally implemented in 1996 in order to recoup the cost to operate and maintain amenities and improvements for forest visitors.

While the implementation of the guidelines will mean a drop in revenue, he said the new legislation is beneficial because it grants the U.S. Forest Service authority to levy user fees.

“It’s good to have clarification on this issue,” Christiansen said.

He said he expected the new guidelines to be in place within 30 to 45 days. Once in place, visitors can assess their forest use to decide if they ought to buy a day pass or the Northwest Forest Pass, which is $30 and valid for one year.



Forest Service To Continue Requiring Recreation Day Use Pass

Ochoco and Deschutes National Forests,
and Prineville District, Bureau of Land Management

Office of Communications
Working as One to Serve Central Oregon
For immediate release: April 22, 2005
Contacts:     Mark Christiansen, Deschutes National Forest, 541/383-5571
                    Roland Giller, Office of Communications, 541/383-5653

Forest Service To Continue Requiring Recreation Day Use Pass

Deschutes National Forest officials will continue to require recreation day use passes in an effort to be consistent with other forests.

On Thursday, forest officials advised the public to delay purchasing the passes until a determination could be made in how the new Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act would be administered.

The forest and private vendors will continue to sell the passes during the transition period. The Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act, passed in December 2004, establishes new criteria to identify which recreation sites will require fees. The new legislation means some sites would be exempt from the program and no longer require a fee.

The act continues to reinvest fees back to the site of collection to enhance visitor services and reduce the backlog of maintenance needs for recreation facilities.
The Deschutes National Forest is preparing for implementation of the new legislation. It is unique in that it administers a national monument and officials need time to ensure the legislation is applied to it appropriately.

“We hope to make the transition as customer-friendly as possible,” said Deschutes National Forest Supervisor Leslie Weldon. “We regret any inconvenience to forest visitors.”

The current program will be modified to meet the intent of the act. Those modifications will be publicized for Deschutes National Forest sites over the next 30 to 45 days.

Recreation passes can be purchased at all Deschutes National Forest offices and some Central Oregon retail outlets. Telephone the Deschutes National Forest headquarters at 541/383-5300 for additional information.

Webmeister's note: 
This is not a fair way to treat customers of Recreation on our Public Lands. Would it be prudent to stay away from the recreational forest until this is all straightened out?  Perhaps we could go to Disneyland to help the Economy? --Webmeister Speik




Read more . . .
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