Status Updates on the Evolving Issue of Recreation User-Fees

 


August 10, 2005

As 2004 rolled to a close, the always controversial and broadly despised Recreation Fee Demonstration Program stood poised to die. Conceived during the Reagan years as part of an agenda which called for defunding the land management agencies, stripping citizens of their right to access the American commons, and for bringing about the commercialization, privatization and motorization of recreational opportunities upon our public lands, Fee-Demo was finally introduced as stand alone legislation by the environmental villain, Senator Jim Hansen (R-UT) in 1996. When Hansen's bill failed to move, Ohio Representative Ralph Regula, acting as a stooge of the American Recreation Coalition, slipped it onto that year's Appropriations Bill where it became the law of the land. Originally authorized as a three year test, Regula saw to it that the program was extended again and again and in so doing, perpetuated the burgeoning Libertarian vision of an "ownership society" where everything carries a price tag and citizenship itself confers no rights. Yet after eight very long years, Fee-Demo had become an albatross that by every conceivable measure had proven itself to be a dismal failure. Fee-Demo was about to die and a walk in the woods was about to become free once more.

Unfortunately, in the final hours as the 2005 Omnibus Appropriations bill worked its way though Congress, Mr. Regula interceded once more. A piece of legislation written by the wreckreation industry and introduced in the House by Regula himself, was sneaked onto the massive appropriations bill. Regula's legislation, officially known as the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act, but commonly referred to as the Recreation Access Tax (RAT), had not so much as been introduced in the Senate. It had never been voted on by either chamber, and yet as a result of backroom political deal making, the RAT became the law of the land.

Unlike Fee-Demo, a test program in which land managers had free rein to charge whatever they wanted for whatever they wanted whenever they wanted, the RAT is proscriptive. The RAT prohibits the agencies from charging fees "For persons who are driving through, walking through, boating through, horseback riding through, or hiking through Federal recreational lands and waters without using the facilities and services." The RAT prohibits the agencies from charging fees "Solely for parking, undesignated parking, or picnicking along roads or trailsides." The RAT stipulates that where fees are charged, the following six minimum amenities must ALL be present: "designated developed parking, a permanent toilet facility, a permanent trash receptacle, interpretive sign, exhibit, or kiosk, picnic tables and security services. The RAT requires that all non-complying fee-demo sites revert to fee-free sites and prohibits the agencies from creating new sites without undertaking an elaborate approval process involving a six month public comment period.

Based upon that description, some may conclude that the RAT represents an improvement relative to fee-demo. It does not. The incidiousness of the RAT becomes clears as soon as you look beyond the written law and see how the USFS has chosen to implement it. The USFS has, for example, already used the RAT to create a brand new forest designation called the "High Impact Recreation Area" (HIRA). They are now charging for simple access within these newly defined areas and are doing so in clear violation of the law. They have begun the process of determining which lesser-used recreation facilities can be decommissioned in order to concentration visitation within pay-for-access HIRAs. They are currently evaluating at which currently free site it will be economically beneficial to add the six required amenities so that fees can be charged. They are evaluating the elimination of access to unprofitable sites. They are soliciting partnership agreement with special interest groups and companies that would maintain and operate recreation sites where fees alone do not provide sufficient money. They are, above all else, using their new fee authority to convert nature-based recreation into a commodity that can be developed, marketed and sold. The RAT is plague carrying vermin and will, unless stopped, result in the Disneyfication of Nature and the further commercialization, privatization and motorization of recreational opportunities on America's public lands.

The RAT is not only vermin, it has teeth. The new law now makes failure to pay a recreation fee a criminal offense punishable by up to a $5000 fine and/or six months in jail. Under the new law the owner of a vehicle can be charged with those criminal offenses, even if she was not driving and even if she was not present. The RAT allows law enforcement officers to issue tickets on the presumption of guilt. Persons who receive tickets will be given the opportunity to go to court and attempt to prove themselves innocent. Forging a recreation pass is now a federal crime punishable by a fine of not more than $100,000. As offensive at the RAT is, running a forest pass through your color copier is definitely not recommended!

The agencies are currently in the process of transitioning from fee-demo to the RAT and some interesting things are happening. On the Sawtooth National Forest in Idaho, all trailhead recreation fees have been abolished. The Forest Supervision, Ruth Monahan, ended all fees saying "We have scrutinized our existing recreation fee program on the forest and have determined that our trailhead parking pass program does not meet the intent of the new legislation or the agency's interim implementation guidelines." Contrast that to the situation on the Deschutes NF in Oregon, where I have personally surveyed 29 of the 57 current fee sites and found not one to be in compliance with the RAT. Of those sites, 15 were newly created without any public process whatsoever. As we complete our survey of the recreation fee sites on the Deschutes, it now appears that few if any sites are in compliance with the law.

Why would one forest choose to comply with the RAT while another would flagrantly break the law as if it did not exist? You'd think that with the Oregon State Legislature having passed Senate Joint Memorial 4 in which they call upon the President and Congress to repeal the RAT, forest managers in this state would make some effort to follow the law. At a minimum, you'd think they would at least try to hide their illegal actions. Could it be that while the Senators from Idaho oppose the RAT and are in a position to kill it, the Senators from Oregon have remained non-committal and do not chair any relevant committees?

I can not say what evil lurks in the minds of those who call the shots within the USFS, but I know this much. The underhanded manner in which the RAT was passed into law tainted this already unpopular legislation. The recent failures of the USFS to adhere to the law, including their cavalier charging of fees for simple access, has engendered additional opposition. States, such as Oregon, Montana, Colorado and Alaska have called for its repeal. More state legislatures are bound to follow.

Opposition to the RAT will jump by leaps and bounds in 2006, when the USFS goes beyond its initial implementation of "Standard Amenity Recreation Fees" and begins to charge "Expanded Amenity Recreation Fees", as were authorized in this legislation. Opposition will jump yet again, when the agencies begin charging "Special Recreation Permit Fees" for such things as wilderness permits, river permits, wildlife viewing permits, hot springs permits, cross country skiing permits, mountain bicycle permits, target shooting permits, snowplay permits, Christmas tree permits and recreational mining permits: all of which are stipulated in the USFS's implementation guidelines. Opposition to the RAT will leap when the agencies roll out their nightmarishly expensive "America the Beautiful Pass" in 2007 and public lands become inaccessible to any but the rich.

The good news is, the RAT has never enjoyed popular support and demands for its repeal are coming from all quarters. Congressional support for the RAT is marginal at best and the sneaky, underhanded way in which it became law did not endear this program to anyone. What's more, with land mangers flouting the law, further backlash is all but inevitable. The good news is that the RAT can, with your help, be killed.

Here are a few tips to rid our public lands of this vermin:

1) Do not buy a pass. Do not support this program.

2) Do not go to sites where fees are charged. If you go and fail to pay, you may be fined or jailed.

3) Do not spend one penny on new recreation equipment this year. The recreation industry has supported the RAT and it is time to make them pay.

4) DO write letters to the editor and to elected officials. Public opinion still counts for something in our quickly disappearing democracy.

5) Help us groundtruth RAT sites. A survey form can be found on the Wild Wilderness homepage.

To learn more, contact me.

Scott Silver, Executive Director, Wild Wilderness, 248 NW Wilmington Ave, Bend, OR 97701, ssilver@wildwilderness.org , 541-385-5261. On the web at: www.wildwilderness.org


Update Posted June 5, 2005

NEWS RELEASE
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE (June 5, 2005)

Wild Wilderness
248 NW Wilmington Avenue
Bend, Oregon 97701

Contact: Scott Silver, Executive Director
Phone: (541) 385-5261

OREGON LEGISLATURE CALLS FOR REPEAL OF UNPOPULAR FEDERAL RECREATION FEE PROGRAM

Bend, Oregon - Senate Joint Memorial No.4 cleared its final hurdle thus making Oregon the third State to declare its opposition to the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA), formerly know as 'Fee-Demo' and now disparagingly called the 'Recreation Access Tax', or RAT for short. The resolution was introduced on February 21 by Senators Ringo (D) and George (R) and was passed in the Senate by unanimous consent on March 21. The resolution was carried in the House by Congressman Roblan (D) where it passed on June 2 by a vote of 58 to 1. Montana and Colorado have passed similar resolutions.

SJM4 states that "these public lands access fees have been highly controversial and are opposed by hundreds of organizations and county governments." SJM4 criticizes FLREA stating that it "fundamentally changes the way America's public lands are funded and managed" and makes special note how FLREA "includes harsh criminal penalties out of proportion to the harm caused by failing to comply with its provisions." SJM4 concludes by calling upon the Congress of the United States to repeal this unpopular program.

Long time recreation fee opponent Scott Silver, Executive Director of Wild Wilderness, could not be more delighted. According to Silver, "Fee-Demo had proved itself to be an unworkable failure. Recreation user fees would have ended, had the RAT not been sneaked onto the Omnibus Appropriations bill last November. SJM4 made note of the unorthodox way in which the RAT was enacted and calls upon Senators Wyden and Smith to end this onerous recreation access tax." Silver says, "Wild Wilderness will continue to work with the widest range of recreation, hunting, fishing and conservation organizations throughout the nation in an effort to kill the RAT or, at a minimum, to make this program less onerous to the millions of Americans who enjoy their public lands."

--- End ---

Read the text of SJM4: http://www.leg.state.or.us/05reg/measures/sjm1.dir/sjm0004.intro.html

Read Legislative History of SJM4: http://www.leg.state.or.us/05reg/pubs/senmh.html

 


Update Posted April 8, 2005

Colorado, Montana call for repeal of federal land fees

By overwhelming bipartisan majorities the state legislatures of Montana and Colorado last week called on the U.S. Congress to repeal a new federal lands fee law, and Oregon appears poised to join them in the coming weeks.

The Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act was slipped into the omnibus appropriations bill in December by U.S. Representative Ralph Regula (R-Ohio). Dubbed the RAT, or Recreational Access Tax, by its opponents, the measure allows the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, and Bureau of Reclamation to charge fees for recreational use of vast tracts of federally managed land by the general public.

Robert Funkhouser, President of the Western Slope No-Fee Coalition and a leading opponent of Fee Demo, is pleased that elected officials are taking action.

"A law that criminalizes access to public lands by the citizens who own them and pay taxes for their support would never pass muster in an open public debate. Slipping it in as an appropriations rider, by a congressman with no federal public lands in his district, was a despicable abuse of the legislative process," Funkhouser said.

San Miguel County is among six Colorado counties that have passed their own resolutions opposing fee demo programs, including Hinsdale, La Plata, Ouray, Montrose, and San Juan counties.

The Montana resolution, HJR-13, passed the state House in February by a vote of 92-8 and cleared the Senate on March 14. It was sponsored by Rep. Paul Clark and supported by a diverse spectrum of organizations including the Montana State Parks Foundation, the Montana Trail Vehicle Riders Association, Montana Wilderness Association, Montanans for Multiple Use, Montana Wood Products Association, the Sierra Club, Montana Logging Association, Citizens for Balanced Use and the Governor's Office.

In Colorado, long a hotbed of access fee opposition, Sen. Jim Isgar and Rep. Mark Larson sponsored SJR05-015. It was introduced on March 17 and put on a fast track, easily passing both the state Senate and House on March 18.

In Oregon, Senate Joint Memorial 4, sponsored by state Senator Charlie Ringo, cleared its first hurdle on March 15 when it was passed unanimously out of committee in the state Senate.

All three state measures call on Congress to repeal the FLREA.

The FLREA supersedes the Recreational Fee Demonstration Program, or Fee Demo, which was enacted via an appropriations rider as a two-year test in 1996. It was renewed and expanded for over eight years. Opposition to Fee Demo was increasingly vocal and widespread, and it was not expected to survive another attempt to renew it on its scheduled expiration at the end of 2005.

The FLREA was buried in the 3,000-plus page omnibus appropriations bill enacted in the final days of the 108th Congress. It had not been expected to pass when originally introduced by Regula in early 2004 as stand-alone legislation. Outrage at this preemption of the democratic process to enact a law that could not have survived a vote on its own merits is evident in the language of the state resolutions.

Update Posted February 20, 2005

The Department of Interior, Bureau of Land Management, has published its new Interim Recreation Fee Guideline. Background information from the BLM is also available.

 


Update Posted November 20, 2004

Shenanigans, dirty politics and brutally applied abuse of raw power has, once again, trumped the Democratic process. As a result of actions taken by Congress earlier in this day, the Recreation Fee Demonstration Program is no longer a "demonstration" program and, as a result, America's public lands have become less public.

It's unfortunate that I must report that an important battle in what has already been a seven year long struggle was lost today. But the war is anything but over. Never doubt that the public will trump the special interests who are responsible for creating and forcing this program upon an unwilling and resentful public.

Pasted below are two press releases. The first is the Western Slope No Fee Coalition. They tell it like it is. The second is from those who passed legislation so unpopular that it could not have become law unless attached as a rider to 'must-pass' legislation such as the Omnibus Appropriations bill.

In the days, weeks and months ahead, I will be sharing with you increasingly aggressive strategies that, when executed, will ensure that the newly passed recreation fee program will fail. Your ongoing support and personal efforts will be even more important in the future than they have been in the past. I thank you for everything you have done. I thank you in advance for all that you will do in the future.

Scott Silver
Executive Directo, Wild Wilderness

 


WESTERN SLOPE NO-FEE COALITION
Box 403, Norwood, Colorado 81423

For more information:
Robert Funkhouser, 802/235-2299,
Kitty Benzar, 970/259-4616

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 20, 2004

OHIO CONGRESSMAN RAMS PUBLIC LAND ACCESS FEES THROUGH CONGRESS

Western Senators Try But Fail to Stop Controversial Measure

An Ohio congressman with no public lands in his district has forced a measure through Congress to implement permanent access fees for recreation on all land managed by the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Reclamation.

Ralph Regula (R-OH), the original architect of the unpopular Recreational Fee Demonstration Program (Fee Demo), succeeded in attaching his bill as a rider to the giant Omnibus Appropriations Bill recently enacted in the lame duck session of Congress. The bill was never passed by the House and was never introduced, given a hearing, or voted upon in the Senate. Omnibus bills are considered “must pass” legislation because of the potential for a government shutdown. Some members of Congress use riders attached to them as a way of getting funding for pet projects often referred to as “pork.”

Regula’s bill, HR 3283, allows the federal land management agencies to charge access fees for recreational use of public lands by the general public. The bill has been highly controversial and is opposed by hundreds of organizations, state legislatures, county governments and rural Americans.

HR 3283 passed the House Committee on Resources in September under strong pressure from Regula, who is expected to become the next Chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee. His bill is a radical change in the way public lands are funded and stands in contrast to a more moderate competing bill passed by the Senate. There, Senator Thomas (R-WY) sponsored S.1107 that would let the National Park Service retain their entrance fees for local use but would allow access fees to expire in the other agencies. Thomas’s bill passed the Senate in May by unanimous consent but never had a hearing in the House.

Early in last week’s lame duck session, Regula’s attempts to attach his rider were strongly rejected by the Chairmen of all four pertinent Senate committees. Senator Thomas of the National Parks Subcommittee, Senator Domenici (R-NM) at Energy and Natural Resources, Senator Craig (R-ID) of the Public Lands Subcommittee, and Senator Burns (R-MT), Chair of the Interior Appropriations Committee, all westerners, succeeded in forcing Regula to remove his rider on Tuesday.

By Thursday, however, Regula had reneged on the agreement. He went over the heads of the Senate’s public lands chairmen and struck a deal with Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK), Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Regula reportedly agreed to give Stevens funding for a road in a remote community in Alaska in exchange for allowing Regula’s bill to be reattached.

That left the four Senators who had negotiated the original deal hopping mad and disappointed millions of fee opponents who expected that such a seismic shift in policy would receive public hearings, not be done behind closed doors.

“This was a victory of pork over principle,” said Robert Funkhouser, President of the Western Slope No-Fee Coalition, which has worked to oppose the Fee Demo program. “Ralph Regula is responsible for the first tax increase of the Bush administration. He and Senator Stevens have sold out America’s heritage of public lands for the price of a road.”

The Regula bill will go into effect when Fee Demo expires at the beginning of fiscal year 2005 unless the new congress acts to derail it. Its key provisions include permanent recreation fee authority for all National Forests and BLM land as well as all land managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Reclamation, and the National Park Service. Failure to pay the fees will be a criminal offense punishable by up to $5,000 and/or 6 months in jail. Drivers, owners, and occupants of vehicles not displaying either a daily or annual pass will be presumed guilty of failure to pay and can all be charged, without obligation by the government to prove their guilt. The measure encourages agencies to contract with private companies and other non-governmental entities to manage public lands and to enforce fee collection. The bill also establishes a national, interagency annual pass called the America the Beautiful Pass, expected to cost $85-$100 initially.

These provisions have encountered strong opposition in the west and in rural areas nationwide. The program is considered a double tax by many and puts the burden of funding the management agencies on the backs of rural Americans. Regula’s bill failed to attract a single western sponsor but was co-sponsored by seven eastern congressmen.

“This is an abuse of position by Congressman Regula” according to Funkhouser. “Changing public land policy in the middle of the night via a rider is despicable. Once again the Congressman has proven to be hostile to rural and western values and will stop at nothing to push his agenda”.

The provisions in HR 3283 are intended to replace the former Fee Demo program, also created by Regula. Fee Demo was similarly passed as a rider on an Omnibus Appropriations bill in 1996. Originally a two-year demonstration, it was repeatedly extended and is now in its eighth year. Fee Demo has sparked protests nationwide and widespread non-compliance. Hundreds of organized groups, as well as four state legislatures and dozens of counties, opposed the program.

Contacts:
Senator Thomas’s office – 202-224-6441
Congressman Regula’s office – 202-225-3876
Senator Stevens’s office – 202-224-3004

 

-END-

 

 


 

 

From: Resources Communications [mailto:Resources.Press@mail.house.gov]
Sent: Saturday, November 20, 2004 1:00 PM
Subject: Recreation Fee Demonstration Bill Passes Congress

For Immediate Release
Saturday, November 20, 2004
Contact Brian Kennedy or Matt Streit at (202) 226-9019

Recreation Fee Demonstration Bill
Passes

Washington, DC - Today the Congress passed H.R. 3283, the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act, introduced by Rep. Ralph Regula (R-OH). The bill will improve recreational facilities and visitor opportunities on federal recreational lands by reinvesting receipts from fair and consistent recreational fees and passes.

"This legislation ensures continued access to recreational opportunites on our federal land while protecting the public's pocketbook," said House Committee on Resources Chairman Richard W. Pombo (R-CA). "We have given federal land managers the ability to assess reasonable fees for specific activities and uses. This bill will put an end to fears that fees will be misused by federal land managers since we have laid out very specific circumstances under which these fees can be collected and subsequently reinvested."

The Recreational Fee Demonstration Program (Rec Fee Demo) was originally proposed in 1996 as a tool to generate needed revenue to manage the growing occurrence of recreation on public land. The program has been both praised and assailed by federal land users. Since its inception, federal land managers have been able to actively reinvest fees assessed into the site or activities used.

After numerous concerns and reauthorizations, the House Resources Committee, the committee with authorizing jurisdiction, undertook reauthorizing the Rec Fee Program. Rep. Regula's bill will extend the program for 10 years and specifically states where and what a fee may and may not be charged for, while also establishing types of fees.

The bill also incorporates public participation by establishing Recreation Advisory Committees that will consist of members of the local government and recreation community. This group will provide recommendations to the Secretary of the Interior regarding the establishment, elimination, or adjustment of a fee. Additionally, a Federal Lands Pass will be established for all entrance and amenity fees for federal lands.

###

 

 

 


This document was prepared by Wild Wilderness. To learn more about ongoing industry-backed congressional efforts to motorize, commercialize, and privatize America's public lands, contact:

Scott Silver, Executive Director,
248 NW Wilmington Avenue,  Bend  OR 97701
Phone (541) 385-5261    E-mail: ssilver@wildwilderness.org