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Opinion Column
For the week of June 21 through June 27, 2000

"Recreation Summit"
in Sun Valley:
The selling of nature

Commentary by WILL CALDWELL

This past May, the Forest Service hosted in Sun Valley a National Forest "Recreation Summit," one of a dozen meetings held nationally for public exposure to the new Forest Service recreation agenda. Fears of the commercialization of nature are now fully confirmed.

In a nutshell, the new vision defines outdoor recreation as a marketable commodity or product which the Forest Service, as a vender in partnership with private recreation corporations, will sell to the public, its paying customers.

The following quotes are directly from the new agenda:

  • "The Forest Service will join commercial ventures, non-governmental organizations and trade organizations in forming viable and sustainable nature-based tourism industries."

  • "The Forest Service will rely on strong relationships with the recreation industry, travel and tourism providers."

  • "We will train Forest Service personnel in business parameters such as marketing research, profit and loss"; and "expand training of staff in market analysis for a ‘customer’ focused Recreation Technology and Development Unit."

This is a blueprint for an alarming transformation of the Forest Service from public service land management to a commercial business venture. This is government running amuck!

A federal agency would exploit public land as its own business asset while fleecing the public in order to sustain and grow itself. And to that end it would partner up with profit seeking corporations to develop their business interests in the American public's most precious natural playgrounds.

The Forest Service would, in its words, "use a ‘toolbox’ of investment techniques for long-term financial sustainability," including expanded user fees; cost sharing leverage of dollars with private sectors; and private sector investment in development.

The reference here to "long- term sustainability" discloses the true Forest Service agenda of sustaining itself. This huge aging federal bureaucracy which has lost its lifeblood of cutting down our National Forests, now would attempt to survive and reinvent itself by preying on the American public's recreation dollars. There is no more classic con game than selling someone that which they already own, and it's a textbook example of big government getting bigger.

Make no mistake, "public service" is not the motivation here. Clearly, the familiar money hungry triangle of industry, politicians and federal agency is rearing its ugly head again to feed on the American public's resources.

People who hunt, fish, hike, camp or go boating in the national forests don't need massive new commercial development to accommodate their uses. More likely it would degrade the outdoor experience for most users while pandering to product offerings by the motorized recreation Industry .

Remember, the entire concept of a commercialized Forest Service was conceived in partnership with the "American Recreation Coalition" (and their front men in Congress), comprised of America's biggest recreation oriented corporations who hope to expand markets for their products.

The Walt Disney company is a leading member of the coalition and continues to host many meetings with Forest Service staff at Disney facilities. Francis Pandolfi, former chief operating officer of the Forest Service and a leader in the coalition, has asked, "Have we fully explored our gold mine of recreation opportunities and managed it as if it were consumer product brands? Selling a product is very different than giving it away."

An example of how corporate partnerships with the Forest Service would work can be found in the American Recreation Coalition's recently announced "National Recreation Lakes Act, HR 4299." Highlights of the bill include: 20 National Forest lakes to be "managed" by a council of government and private interests; provide $1 million per lake of federal funding for marketing; encourage private sector development around the lake; expand recreation user fees.

This June, the Sierra Club, Oregon's Wild Wilderness and The Idaho Sporting Congress will be protesting the commercialization of our national forests and its most overt arm, the recreation user fee. You can participate by refusing to buy a user fee pass. Remember, if you buy one you are counted as supporting the idea.

Wisely, Idaho courts have refused to enforce fines against we who voice our vote by not buying a pass. Let your voice be heard.

Will Caldwell, a Ketchum artist, is president of the Idaho Sporting Congress.


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