For forest fee critics,
a small victory
Professionals who manage America’s
federal public lands are unwittingly caught between two
pressures--criticism from the public on one side, Washington politicians
who’ve mismanaged the budget on the other.
Happily, however, public criticism
apparently is having a gradual effect.
The Forest Service is abandoning
the fee charged for trail users at 21 trailheads in the 1.9 million acre
Sawtooth National Forest, which includes the Sawtooth National
Recreation Area and the Ketchum Ranger District.
But the fee, $5 for three days, or
$15 per year, will remain in force at 17 other Sawtooth trailheads where
improved parking and sanitation facilities have been constructed with
It is also bringing a measure of
common sense to fee collection with the installation of fee tubes called
"iron rangers" at trailheads that receive heavy use. The iron rangers
will remove part of the problem for unsuspecting visitors who have been
faced with a dilemma once they arrived at a trailhead. There, they were
forced to choose between risking a citation or taking an hour or more to
drive to a distant Forest Service office to pay the fee. Of course,
coughing up cash or checks could still be a problem.
However improved the fees may be,
deliberate unfairness still persists in the so-called Recreation Fee
Demonstration Program. Western states, where most of the nation’s
largest and most spectacular public lands are located, bear an excessive
burden in the program while public attractions in Washington D.C., for
example, remain open without fees.
But even that isn’t the point:
There should be no fee. In acquiring public lands since the country’s
founding, Congress morally and contractually obligated itself to
properly preserve and maintain public property, and to guarantee public
access at no cost to lands bought with public funds.
These majestic properties are
jewels in the United States crown, but apparently not to irresponsible
members of Congress.
The Forest Service has steadily
been starved of proper funds by lawmakers who either simply loathe the
agency for petty reasons, want to destroy it for ideological reasons, or
who want Forest Service funds diverted to their pet projects.
To their everlasting credit,
steadfast critics of the fee have been unrelenting in their pressure and
can now claim a small victory in a much larger battle.
If they persist and turn up the
heat on men and women in Congress who control the budgets for the Forest
Service, odds are excellent the same pressure that has scaled back the
fee will eventually eliminate the fee everywhere.