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For the week of Oct. 6, 1999 through Oct. 12, 1999

Perils of the parking pass

Guest Opinion by DIANA FASSINO

Returning from a walk in Adam's Gulch on July 31, I found a note on the windscreen of my car. It wasn't from a friend. It was from the Forest Service, telling me something I already knew—that I didn't own one of their parking passes. (I've made a habit this summer of checking out other cars parked at trailheads. Only about one in six have had the obligatory little yellow tickets dangling from their rear-view mirrors. I haven't been alone in my small act of rebellion.)

The note on my windscreen helpfully listed several actions I could take in order to be forgiven for my noncompliance. This was followed, 10 days later, by a stern letter from the forest supervisor warning me of the dire consequences I would incur if I didn't do as I was told immediately.

I wrote back at once, explaining that my failure to buy a parking pass was not an oversight, nor was it because I have anything but the highest admiration and gratitude for the wonderful work carried out by the local Forest Service. I told the forest supervisor that I had followed the ongoing controversy in the media with close attention, and concluded that the only way of voicing my disapproval of the test program was by refusing to buy a pass ($15 for a year-round pass in the Sawtooth National Forest; $5 for a three-day pass).

It was my understanding, I went on to explain, that the national forest belongs to us, the citizens. We pay our taxes to the government who, in turn, are supposed to pay the forest service to take care of our forests, are they not? Why should we pay twice? To walk on our own lands?

I also mentioned that I failed to see how my small dog and I could have a very grave impact upon the environment compared with thousands of foraging sheep trampling down grazing rightfully belonging to the elk and deer. And what about the damage inflicted by the logging or mining industries? And where does all that money go?

Furthermore, without wishing to be rude, if the forestry service is as chronically short of money as they claim, how come they are riding around in shiny new Ford Expeditions? Is one allowed to look at their accounts? I closed by saying that if I couldn't be given reasonable answers to these questions I still didn't feel inclined to buy a parking pass. Moral and ethical principles surely shouldn't flinch from threats and bullying. I also suggested that putting a granny in prison for failure to buy a parking pass wouldn't do much for their already rather tarnished image.

On Sept. 24, I received a curt letter regretting that in the absence of any reply on my part, the Forest Service had no alternative but to put the matter into the hands of the U.S. District Court. Enclosed, I would find a violation notice. I could pay $50 at once, or present myself in court in Boise at a designated date.

I telephoned the office in Twin Falls from whence came this horrid letter. The forest supervisor was, needless to say, unavailable to speak to me. Eventually I was put through to a charming and kindly man, who can't like his job very much if he has to deal with much of this kind of thing. I explained the situation, and he went off to look for my letter. It was not to be found, and though I'm not the sort of person who keeps copies of things, or sends letters by certified mail, he didn't for one moment suggest that I'd never posted it.

It must, he supposed, have gone astray. He said he was very sorry, but things had gone too far and the matter was now out of his hands. I must pay the $50 or else. Or else what? Well, he hoped I would just pay the fine. When I asked him about going to prison instead, he laughed and said he'd never heard of anyone going to prison for this particular crime or misdemeanor.

It seemed we had reached an impasse. I explained to him that a moral and ethical principle was at stake here. He said rather unhappily that there didn't seem to be much room for moral or ethical principles any more these days. Regretfully, we said goodbye.

I await my fate.

Diana Fassino, an artist, lives in Sun Valley


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Copyright 1999 Express Publishing Inc. All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited.