For the week of May 5, 1999  thru May 11, 1999  

After the gold rush

There’s gold in them thar hills and the U.S. Forest Service is out to mine it.

The gold is in the pockets of hikers, bikers, campers, boaters and climbers who venture into national forests.

Since Congress ordered the Forest Service to fetch the money bags, the Forest Service has been trying to find a way to get the public to surrender the loot with a smile. So far, only a few are smiling.

The newest plan is not to charge users, but to charge cars. Each car that carries users to certain trailheads will have to display a pass or its owner could get slapped with a $50 fine.

The new fee plan has the same problems the old one did.

First, there is no fair way to enforce the fees, making them a tax on the willing while the unwilling skate.

Second, the Forest Service still has not shown it will not cost more to implement the fees than it can ever collect. It has offered no details on how much it will cost for printing, collection and enforcement.

Third, there is no way to stop visitor "leakage."

For example, a long time ago, when drive-in movie theaters were popular, they sometimes offered Dollar-a-Car-Night specials. Cars would roll into theaters crammed with people in seats, under seats and in trunks, which just goes to show that people are endlessly creative when it comes to avoiding almost any kind of fee. The Forest Service may find that an amazing number of people can fit—or will claim to have fit—into cars at popular nearby trailheads.

After the gold rush, Congress should take note. The best and fairest way to take care of the national forests is with the general income tax dollars of its owners, the American people.


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