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The Access Fund's CLIMBERS ALERT


 

by Editor

December 29, 2001

Camp4 - Climbing News Archive

Congress Could Extend "Test" Use Fees Program for Four More Years!

Now is the time to speak up and oppose use fees as a substitute for full public lands funding through the federal budget.

In early September 2001, negotiators from the House of Representatives and the Senate will meet to decide whether the controversial Recreational Fee Demonstration Program ("Fee Demo") should be extended for four more years - through 2006. This program has already been extended three times - it was only supposed to last through the year 2000!

Fee Demo authorizes the federal lands agencies (National Park Service, Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, etc.) to impose new charges, and raise existing fees, for almost any use of our public lands. A direct consequence of this is that in many national forests, it now costs $5 or more simply to park your car and watch the sunset!

The Access Fund and other human powered recreation groups have asked Congress not to extend this "test" program any further until a complete and unbiased cost-benefit analysis has been performed. To date, no such examination of the program has been completed. More importantly, Congress has never offered the public an opportunity to comment on Fee Demo, and on the broader question of whether access to any part of our public lands should be free.

As you are aware, our federal lands agencies are operating under tight budgets and have not had sufficient funding in recent years to address the large backlog of infrastructure maintenance and difficulties posed by reductions in critical staff positions. But Fee Demo, or any similar "pay-to-play" program designed to raise revenue from recreational uses of the public domain, will never provide enough funds to solve these problems. The most effective - and fairest - way to fund these useful and proper functions of government is through sufficient annual appropriations.

In addition, pay-to-play schemes are inherently discriminatory against citizens of lower income. Pay-to-play is also fundamentally flawed in that it is open-ended: fees can and will continue to be raised in both type and amount, with no constraints against such escalation. And as many of our members have written us to complain, the American public is already paying for use and enjoyment of our public lands, through federal income taxes.

The GAO's reports on Fee Demo over the past three years suggest the BLM, Forest Service and Park Service need to make significant improvements in their implementation of new fee authority. The agencies should be much more cost-effective and fiscally responsible in their fee collection and use. Use fees should only be used for maintenance, rehabilitation and improvement of existing facilities -- not to develop new facilities, which widens the gap between existing maintenance needs and available funding. Under no circumstances should agencies be forced to use fee demo revenues for general operations because of a lack of general fund appropriations.

Development and management of recreation opportunities on public lands should focus on resource management, stewardship, environmental restoration, and continued access. The Access Fund is concerned that the ability of public agencies to collect user fees in some locations and from some user groups more easily than from others will drive land management and facility maintenance decisions. The mere fact that some users are more easily targeted than others should not be the basis for decisions about where to charge and spend user fees.

Tell Congress that they should not reauthorize use fees without thorough public process. Any legislation permanently authorizing use fees should be subjected to public hearings and the full committee process. The use fee issue is controversial enough (witness the legislative efforts in California and Oregon to have use fees for national forest recreation rescinded) that the public should be granted the opportunity to provide anecdotal feedback on the performance of the demonstration program and to convey their support (or antipathy) for permanent fee authorization.

We have already seen that the federal land agencies are so desperate for funding that they will act disingenuously to keep Fee Demo alive. The Forest Service, for example, has counted every visitor to national forest lands who has paid a new access or use fee as being in favor of the program. This is hardly appropriate, let alone an accurate way to measure public sentiment. The Forest Service has also pushed for making Fee Demo permanent before a thorough evaluation of the program could be completed, suggesting the agency does not want a full assessment of the program's shortcomings.

The Access Fund opposes the perpetuation of the Recreation Fee Demonstration Program. Fee Demo has proven difficult to implement as designed, has become increasingly unpopular with the public, and has provided little relief, in absolute terms, for public land agencies suffering from years of reductions in budget appropriations. Our membership is strongly opposed to use fees in general and Fee Demo in particular (only 13% said in our latest survey that they are in favor of making pay-to-play programs a permanent part of funding for public lands).

Two things you can do to help right now:

1. Make a donation to the Access Fund - Send your contribution to The Access Fund, Use Fees Campaign, PO Box 17010, Boulder, CO 80308

2. Convince Congress to do two things - Reject the proposed four-year extension of Fee Demo through 2006, and complete the required evaluation of the program's strengths and weaknesses. - Move the consideration of Fee Demo to the Authorizing Committees of the House and Senate, instead of making the program permanent by continued inclusion in annual spending (appropriations) bills. The public should be offered formal opportunities to comment on any permanent authority to raise and impose recreational use fees on the public lands.

SAMPLE LETTER (for best results, re-write in your own words)

1 September 2001

The Hon. Joe Skeen
Chair, House Subcommittee on Interior Appropriations
B308 Rayburn HOB
Washington, DC 20515-6023

The Hon. Robert Byrd
Chair, Senate Subcommittee on
Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Re: Extension of Recreation Fee Demonstration Program beyond 2002

Dear Congressman Skeen and Senator Byrd,

I am writing to oppose a four-year extension of the Recreation Fee Demonstration Program through the 2002 Appropriations bill.

Fee Demo has been in "demonstration" phase since 1996. It is inappropriate to continue to extend the program through the appropriations process without completing the required cost-benefit analysis, and without offering the public opportunities to comment on the program.

If use fees are to become a permanent part of the recreational experience on our public lands, an evaluation of Fee Demo and of the broader issue of public lands funding is necessary. For this reason, I strongly urge Appropriations Committees conferees to reject the proposed fourth extension of Fee Demo and to turn over consideration of Fee Demo and permanent fee authority to the authorizing committees, so that they may hold public hearings and determine the fate of the program more democratically.

I believe all core programs of the federal land management agencies should be fully funded out of the general budget. For both practical and philosophical reasons, access and use fees should not be institutionalized to replace or even supplement annual appropriations. There has not been a complete and honest enough evaluation of the Fee Demo program to date to justify its extension, and there certainly has not been enough cost-benefit analysis of the program to warrant the establishment of a permanent fee authorization.

I also respectfully suggest that the public should not be asked to pay for the privilege of enjoying our public lands as long as the government continues to provide generous subsidies to the timber, mining, and grazing industries. Ending or merely reducing these subsidies would provide more than enough "extra" funds to pay for the administrative needs of our public lands.

I urge you to act in accordance with the convictions of a growing majority of the public and not to support permanent recreational use fee authority. The demonstration program should be honestly and thoroughly evaluated before it is extended further. We applaud your commitment to providing sufficient resources to the federal lands agencies and urge you to do all in your power to boost and maintain funding levels through the fairest and most effective mechanism: annual budget appropriations.

Thank you again for your leadership in protecting and providing for recreational use of our marvelous public lands.

Sincerely,

Your name and address.

The following senators and members of the House of Representatives are on appropriations (spending) committees and should also be contacted if they represent your state or district:

House Subcommittee on Interior Appropriations
Joe Skeen, New Mexico (Chair)
Norm Dicks, Washington
Ralph Regula, Ohio
John Murtha, Pennsylvania
Jim Kolbe, Arizona
James Moran, Virginia
Charles Taylor, North Carolina
Maurice Hinchey, New York
George Nethercutt, Washington
Martin Olav Sabo, Minnesota
Zach Wamp, Tennessee
Jack Kingston, Georgia
John Peterson, Pennsylvania

Senate Subcommittee on Interior Appropriations
Robert Byrd, West Virginia (Chair)
Patrick Leahy, Vermont
Ernest Hollings, South Carolina
Harry Reid, Nevada
Byron Dorgan, North Dakota
Patty Murray, Washington
Dianne Feinstein, California
Conrad Burns, Montana
Ted Stevens, Alaska
Thad Cochran, Mississippi
Pete Domenici, New Mexico
Robert Bennett, Utah
Judd Gregg, New Hampshire
Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Colorado

Check out http://www.visi.com/juan/congress/ to find contact information for your Senator or Representative.

We're at a crucial moment in the Fee Demo battle. Congress heads back to Washington the week after Labor Day, and will approve some form of the Interior Appropriations bill shortly thereafter. Contact your Senators and Representatives now and voice your opposition to the Fee Demo program.

Sincerely,

SAM DAVIDSON
Executive Director

For more information, contact Jason Keith, Access Fund Policy Analyst, at 303-545-6772, ext. 102 or at jason@accessfund.org.



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