For the week of August 12 thru August 18, 1998  

This is not a test


So much for the so-called "experimental" recreational fee program. The data on the two-year-old program isn’t even in, and already Congress is trying to extend it.

The fee demonstration program had been set to expire in 1999. In late July, the House voted to extend fees for recreation on public lands in certain areas until October 2001. In June, the Senate voted to extend National Park Service fees to October 2005. The extensions await final approval.

The fee program is a ruse. It has nothing to do with "if" only with "how."

With the support of environmental groups, including the Idaho Conservation League, the program is testing just two things: What kind of sugar will make the sour medicine go down and whether public lands managers can successfully trade in their plant-colored uniforms for gray flannel suits.

A Progress Report to Congress dated Jan. 31, 1998, and produced by the U.S. Department of the Interior makes it clear that money is the primary issue. The report is available on the Internet at www.ios.doi.gov/nrl/recfees.

The report lists dozens of fees being tried including entrance, season passes, day-use, camping, picnicking, cabin, hunting, fishing, wildlife viewing, boat launch, water access, interpretative or guided tour, backcountry access, climbing, trail, parking and others.

The report reads like an Introduction to Business Practices text. It describes how price affects demand. It identifies a need for incentives for collection and payment. It outlines how fees may be used as a tool to manage crowded areas, discourage use at peak times and lower costs to taxpayers.

The report discusses the psychology of fees and how they may give payers a "sense of ‘ownership’ in the recreation site." That’s ironic considering the users—mostly American citizens—already own the land.

The report states, "Public acceptance of the programs has been generally high." Yet, it also reports that mail ran 2-1 against the fees. It diminishes the opposition by stating, "First, people who take the time to write and express their views are likely to be those holding a more extreme view on either side of the issue, particularly those who are opposed to the new fees.

The report is remarkable for what it is not. It is not an analysis of alternatives or philosophy. The sense of the report is that because the government can collect fees, it will. It is a tax collector’s document, a yes-man job for Congress.

The fee program is not a test. If it is a test of anything, it is a test of how easily Congress may take advantage of the public. So far, Congress is passing that test with flying colors.

 

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