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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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Friday — April 23, 2004

News

Sen. Craig jabs user fees for public lands

Opinions vary on Sawtooth’s
reduced fee program


"These are public lands and they should remain
open to the public."

LARRY CRAIG, U.S. Senator, R-Idaho


By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer

Idaho’s senior senator joked during a congressional committee hearing Wednesday that those in attendance would be charged a "hearing fee."

But Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, told the committee members not to worry because services would be enhanced.

Craig used the joke to emphasize a growing argument against public land recreation user fees that are charged on public lands like the Sawtooth National Forest, where a fee program targeting trailheads is scheduled for an overhaul, and overall reduction, this spring.

The senator said U.S. tax dollars support federal land management, so taxpayers should not have to pay a general fee to access lands administered by the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or Bureau of Reclamation.

Craig chaired the Wednesday hearing on the agencies’ "pay-to-play" recreation programs, which were established by congress in a 1996 appropriations bill. The program was scheduled to expire after three years, but was reauthorized several times. The most recent reauthorization is scheduled to expire on Jan. 1, 2006.

On the Sawtooth National Forest, public land managers are discontinuing fees charged at 21 of the trailheads that have been part of the local program since the summer of 1999. Fees will be retained at 17 trailheads on the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and Ketchum Ranger District.

Under a new directive that strives to make the fee program more consistent nationwide, trailheads retained in the local fee program must provide services, like restroom facilities and prepared parking logs, said Sawtooth National Forest spokesman Ed Waldapfel.

The changes, however, don’t appear to have convinced local residents to abandon their opinions on the federal fee demonstration program. Some support it, and some don’t.

"I think (cutting the local program) is a good idea," said Ketchum resident Dusty Heyrend. "It seems like a sign that they’re trying to compromise, that they’re listening to the outrage."

But Heyrend is not among the outraged.

"I don’t have a problem with having to pay for it to use it. I understand that they are under funded," he said.

Ketchum resident Seth Martin said it is important that money collected from the fees stays local, and most of it does.

"The adjustment with the program shouldn’t make a difference on whether or not someone buys one," he said.

Steve Carlson, of Ketchum, said he’s always anxious to save a few bucks, but pointed out the money spent to access public lands is worth it if the alternative is watching recreation facilities fall into disrepair.

Dave James, yet another Ketchum resident, said he is afraid the new list of applicable trailheads on the Sawtooth National Forest could complicate things. He said he does not want to go to a trailhead and discover later that he needed to pay.

"I think it’s kind of a frustrating system they have in place now," James said. "It’s not like the fee is gauging. It’s just an inconvenience."

According to Scott Silver, an Oregon-based forest fee activist, the fight over fee-demo is shifting to a debate about which fees are acceptable and which are not. He encouraged concerned citizens to write Sen. Craig about the issue.

The senator summarized his opinion on the issue:

"Most importantly, I want all to know that I will not support basic entrance fees to any National Forest, BLM district, U.S. Fish and Wildlife refuge, or Bureau of Reclamation lands, whether or not it is called an entrance fee or basic fee or by any other name. These are public lands and they should remain open to the public."


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The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.





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