Originally written in 1998. Last Updated, May 2002
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The New Public-Lands "Product":
Recreation for Profit

   " As I look to our day-to-day operations ... I am struck by the paralysis and financial and environmental costs we bear because of controversy and litigation..."
  • spoken by former USDA Secretary, Dan Glickman on October 10, 1997.

    Former Secretary Glickman, and the US Forest Service leadership were desperate to break free from the constraints which paralyzed their organization. Glickman's replacement, Secretary Anne Veneman is even more intent on breaking what she and others call "analysis paralysis". Veneman and her counterpart Interior Secretary Gale Norton are both intent upon managing outdoor recreation on public land as an extractive commodity -- one coequal with logging, mining, oil and gas exploration, etc.

    In December of '96, speaking at the Western Summit on Tourism and Public Lands, then Undersecretary of Agriculture, Jim Lyons, announced: "Recreation is going to be our business in the future. By the year 2000, recreation will amount for $97.8 billion of the $130.7 billion generated by activities on national forests. Fish and wildlife (will) generate $12.9 billion,minerals $10.1 billion, timber $3.5 billion and grazing about $1billion."

    In the new forest paradigm, emphasis is being placed upon commercial and motor-sport based recreation. Forest Issues Activists may need to shift at least some of their attention from timber to recreation, to keep in step with the Forest Service's changing focus. We must, as a community, ensure that the USFS does not attempt to manage recreation, in the same manner in which they have managed timber. At Wild Wilderness we have created a windshield sticker which expresses this new philosophy. It reads: "TREES by the BOARD FOOT or by the HOUR (US Forest Service)".

image:  Trees by the Board Foot or by the Hour (USFS)

    Recreation, if managed well, is a far better use of our national forests than unsustainable timber production. If managed poorly, or managed primarily as a cash generation tool, then a shift to 'Industrial Recreation'; is hardly an improvement over the old Forest Service direction. Unfortunately, the USFS seems hell bent on 'commercializing, privatizing and motorizing' recreational opportunities on federal public lands.

    This shift actually began in the early days of the Reagan administration. On the one hand, Interior Secretary James Watt undertook a whirlwind effort to 'privatize' public resources. On the other, Congress began to withhold maintenance funding to all federal land management agencies in what we believe was a deliberate attempt to further promote the 'privatization' agenda. Without adequate maintenance funding, the 'maintenance crisis' we are now facing was inevitable. And so was the eventual 'rescue' of a decayed public lands recreation system, by private/public joint ventures and partnerships.

image:  I'd Rather Pay Taxes Than Trail Fees

    Consider the following quote from the Chairman of the Senate's Natural Resources Committee, Senator Frank Murkowski: "To understand what is possible, we need only look to the Forest Service. In the first half of the 1980's, budget cutbacks forced the closure of many forest campgrounds and reduced seasons of operation at virtually all others. Beginning in 1987, the agency initiated a program to replace its direct campground management with concessioned operations. In 1996, 70% of all camping in the forests occurred at concessioned campgrounds..." Congregationally mandated' budget cutbacks ' made this possible and Murkowski proudly points out this achievement!

    Now consider another Murkowski quote: "If the Forest Service policy won't allow that, we'll change the policy. If we have to cut off funds to get your attention, we'll cut off the funds" It is a sobering thought to realize that Senator Murkowski is now promoting a major, industry-sponsored, set of recreation initiatives.

image: USFS Trail Fees.. The Thin Edge of the Wedge

    The shift to industrial recreation is well under way. The Recreation Fee Demonstration Program that was originally implemented in 100 test sites around the country, is the most visible leading edge of this effort. USFS literature states: "The purpose of this program is to test the effectiveness of collecting fees to help maintain federal recreation facilities and to enhance visitor services and wildlife habitat."

    If this were true, then Wild Wilderness would have little complaint with this program. Unfortunately, there is a great deal left unsaid in this simple statement, but it is alluded to later in this same document when it states: "The Forest Service's recreation fee demonstration program was developed in partnership with leading national recreation interests. Its implementation is occurring through a Challenge Cost Share partnership with the American Recreation Coalition (ARC)."

image: Can't See the Forest ... For the Fees

    All around the country, groups are forming to fight these fees. There is no ideological commonality linking these groups, except the basic belief that as Americans, we already own these lands and that it is wrong to charge an access fee to walk in the woods. Several groups are particularly concerned that this fee is just another TAX and they have latched on to the rather catchy saying: "Can't See the Forest for the Fees". Although Wild Wilderness offers this phrase on one of its dozen different windshield stickers, we consider this one of the lesser reasons for opposing this fee. But, because it is such a popular, and commonly held sentiment, we would be wrong to ignore the power of this message.

    Unfortunately, this strictly monetary point of view fails to capture the real threat contained within the new Forest Service paradigm. And it's not until you know something about the "Challenge Cost Share" partner in that public/private fee program, do you begin to understand what that program is really all about.

image: Corporate Profiteers Keep-Out of Our Forest

    Perhaps the following quote by Derrick Crandall, President of the American Recreation Coalition, will give you a better idea of who's actually behind the new forest service recreation program."As we begin to look at the future we see no alternative but to embrace and build upon a tradition of partnerships, especially within our national parks and federal lands. Public/private partnerships can and should be built on the traditions of concession in the national parks, ski areas in the national forests, outfitting services on publicly managed rivers, campsite reservation services and more. ... The American Recreation Coalition is a non-profit federation that provides a unified voice for recreation interests to insure full and active participation in government policy-making on issues such as public land management, energy and liability."

image: The New Gold Rush...Public-Lands Recreation

    On July 11, 1997, Dan Glickman , speaking before the American Recreation Coalition's Recreation Exchange, reminded his audience that "Recreation is big, big business in America," presumably as his listeners licked their chops in anticipation.

    American Recreation Coalition represents the interests of more than 100 industry organizations. Included on its member list are dozens of motorboat, jet-ski, RV, motorcycle, ORV and snowmobile manufacturers and associations. The remainder of the coalition includes ski area associations, sporting equipment manufacturers, tour associations, public-lands concessionaires, petroleum companies and the Walt Disney Company. Not one hiking, backpacking or environmental organization is on this list (though there are some pretenders). ARC is an active participant in the 'wise-use' movement, and is closely linked to two other anti-environmental organizations, Coalition for Vehicle Choice and the Foundation for Clean Air Progress.

image: Free UUFS Recreation Means Disney-Free Recreation

    Over a period of 20 years, ARC has become perhaps the most influential force affecting governmental recreational policy in this country. Through its Recreation Roundtable and Recreation Exchange, ARC continues to nurture its deep connections within the political system. ARC's goals are to ensure continued and increased access for its many motor sports members, and to promote a climate ripe for new and expanded opportunities for public/private partnerships between federal land management agencies and ARC's commercial development interests. In short: 'privatize, commercialize and motorize.'

    During a USFS staff meeting held on September 18, 1997, Michael Dombeck's Chief of Staff, Francis Pandolfi, said: "The next step is to use the recreation fee pilot to pull together a first class business management plan... For the first time, we are selling a product." (Pandolfi happens to have been Chairman of ARC's Recreation Roundtable before Dombeck and-picked him for this position.)

image: Public-Lands Recreation is not a "Product"

    This same message was spoken by Undersecretary Jim Lyons : "As tourism grows and the public demands a wide range of goods and services, we have to put more of our forest management resources into programs that emphasis the non-timber products that come from the national forests. Of course, recreation is one of those 'products' ..."

    Just weeks before, Lyons fired up executives from the tourism and commercial recreation industries with the words: "So far, recreation and tourism have been silent partners in the political environment. We need people to stand up and speak up. Policy and politics is a contact sport. We hope you'll get in and rough it up."

    To you, my fellow activists, I say the same thing. We need to get in and rough it up! President George Bush already has asked Congress to give him permanent recreation fee authority when he submitted his FY2003 budget. Meanwhile, Representative Scott McInnis (R-CO) has signaled his intention to introduce new, and sweeping, recreation fee legislation in the 2002 legislative session. And to top it off, the American Recreation Coalition will soon introduce their very own "Visitor Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2002" Please put these bills on your radar screens... and then shoot them down.

image: I Like My Wilderness Wild

This document was prepared by, Wild Wilderness, a grassroots organization involved in recreational issues since 1991. Our Mission is to "Protect and Enhance Opportunities for Undeveloped Recreation."