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For the week of July 17 - 23, 2002

News

Craig comes out against recreation fee program


By ASSOCIATED PRESS

Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, has reversed his stand and joined fellow GOP Sen. Mike Crapo in opposing continuation of the recreation fee program in the nation's national forests.

"The grades are in, and the recreation fee demonstration project has flunked in Idaho," Craig wrote in an op-ed piece issued last week, and appears in this issue of the Mountain Express. "We have seen the Forest Service aggressively grow the user fees beyond the original intent of the program."

But Craig conceded that if the fee program that has generated more than $750 million nationwide is not extended, Congress must find a way to deal with the increasing use of the nation's forests and rivers and the impact that has on the resource.

"First we need to properly fund recreation activities on public lands," the stateís senior senator said. He also called for end of litigation over land management decisions and programs to control overuse of popular recreation sites.

Craig had recently voiced support for the fee program that was implemented on a trial basis in 1997. The Sawtooth National Recreation Area was among the first places affected. A general access fee was quickly replaced by a $5 per day or $15 annual parking fee.

Scott Phillips of Hailey, a retired U.S. Forest Service recreation specialist who has actively opposed the fees, said Craig "should have gotten it right two years ago, but he should still be commended."

Critics claim the fees are essentially a second tax on resource users who have already paid taxes to support public land management.

Craig said that his decision to oppose extension because fee revenue has provided the Forest Service the cash flow needed to finance fire suppression rather than recreational facility improvements. He also complained about some forests imposing separate fees at individual recreational sites instead of one fee to take advantage of a general area.

"Administrative expansions like this have only undermined the public's trust in this program and provided reason for change,'' Craig said.

In an informal survey this month, trail users were almost evenly split on the user fees.

"I think itís becoming necessary, because there are so many people coming up here now," said Brent Haleen of Ketchum.

Ketchum artist Will Caldwell, a vocal fee opponent, expressed fear that the program is the first step toward privatizing and commercializing forest lands.

Dianne Johns of Hailey said the program does not appear to be managed well.

"I feel like the money spent on implementing it is money wasted," she said. "I feel like already pay for it with my taxes."

 


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.