Sen. Craig jabs user fees for
Opinions vary on Sawtooth’s
reduced fee program
"These are public lands and
they should remain
open to the public."
— LARRY CRAIG, U.S.
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
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
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,
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
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
But Heyrend is not among the
"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
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