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For the week of Jan. 5 through Jan. 11, 2000

Trailhead fee violation thrown out before legal test

Oregon woman gets off on paying fee


By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer

A court test of the Sawtooth National Forest’s user-fee demo program was avoided after the U.S. Attorney’s office in Boise dismissed a citation issued against a woman who was ticketed in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area (SNRA) this fall.

Citing philosophical, legal and policy-related arguments in a letter, Bend, Ore., resident Marjorie Hoye successfully petitioned the U.S. Attorney’s office in Boise to dismiss her case, she claimed in an telephone interview.

Forest Service law enforcement supervisor Steve Lipus of Boise acknowledged during an interview that Hoye’s case was dropped. He said he didn’t know if his agency received Hoye’s letter, but added, "We’re not going to take anything to court and waste taxpayer money if we feel we don’t have a good case."

The prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s office in Boise who dealt with Hoye’s case was on vacation and not available for comment this week.

Hoye said she was traveling from Bend to Jackson Hole, Wyo., on Sept. 6 and stopped at the Iron Creek trailhead in the SNRA for a walk. After walking in the Sawtooth’s woods for three hours, Hoye said, she returned to her car to find a notice of noncompliance on the windshield.

A notice of noncompliance asks the ticketed person to purchase a pass within 14 days.

"I did not pay the notice, and I wrote a letter to the supervisor of the national forest (Bill LeVere) explaining my reasons of (sic) not complying," she wrote in her December letter to the U.S. Attorney’s office.

Three weeks later, Hoye said, she received notice that she was being fined $50. She said she chose not to pay the fine.

On Nov. 12, Hoye received a notice to appear in U.S. District Court in Boise. She never had to attend.

Though no one from the U.S. Attorney’s office was available to answer why Hoye’s case was dismissed, Hoye said she believes it was her letter that got her off the hook. The letter consisted of three arguments.

First, Hoye said she was not in the woods to recreate, but rather there for spiritual renewal.

"I have never considered my walks on National Forest trails as ‘recreational’ in the sense the Forest Service uses the term: as an amusement," she wrote. "My visits to natural areas are for spiritual purposes: to restore my emotional health and to nurture my soul by getting away from the day-to-day challenges of living in a late 20th century city."

Secondly, Hoye wrote, a case similar to hers was dismissed by a judge on grounds that the user fee was "discretionary."

"In the Dec. 30, 1998, trial in Los Angeles of the United States of America vs. Robert Bartsch, the judge found Mr. Bartsch to be innocent of two violations because he deemed the required pass to be ‘discretionary’ rather than ‘mandatory,’" she wrote.

In the judge’s ruling, Hoye wrote, he told Bartsch that further citations would also be dismissed unless the program became mandatory, rather than a test.

Third, Hoye’s admittedly weakest argument, she said she simply doesn’t agree with the Fee Demonstration Program, "because I believe it to be a very destructive program designed to produce revenue for the Forest Service at the cost of destroying the peace, serenity and wildness of much of our public lands.

"By not paying the violation issued to me, I am demonstrating as a citizen and as a low-impact user of our National Forests, my disapproval of this destructive and discretionary trail park fee policy: in my mind, as well as in the minds of millions of others, a seriously flawed policy."

Hoye is not the first person to have a user-fee case dismissed from a federal court. A Mt. Shasta climber had his case thrown out a day before he was scheduled to appear in court last winter, according to a local paper’s account.

"Those persons who indicate clearly that they will not be good little customers and who refuse to pay their fee-demo fines seem to be having their cases dismissed," public lands activist and Bend, Ore., resident Scott Silver wrote in an e-mail message to a reporter. "There’s no guarantee that this will invariably be the case, but it is a pattern being repeated with regularity."

According to Lipus, 175 people were issued notices of noncompliance in the Sawtooth National Forest this year. Of those, 85 percent bought user passes, he said.

He said he doesn’t know how many people have had to go to court over the matter.

(See related story on page 7 of the printed edition of the Idaho Mountain Express)

 

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