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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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Wednesday — February 18, 2004


Fie on forest fees

The Recreation Fee Demonstration Program, paying to hike in the woods on public lands, was a bad idea when it began. It is still a bad idea, one that needs to be scrapped.

Last week, The U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee delivered a welcome blow to the fees when it voted an astonishing 23-0 to make them permanent only in national parks.

Idaho Sen. Larry Craig is on the committee and deserves credit for opposing the fees and recognizing that Congress had failed to devise a way to levy the fees fairly—or cost-effectively.

In the Sawtooth Forest, fee collection has been sporadic and created a kind of cat and mouse relationship between the Forest Service and the very people it serves.

The General Accounting Office recently estimated that public land agencies spent up to 50 percent of fee revenues just to collect the fees from users of the nation’s outback. That’s excessive.

"Fee demo" was the bad idea of Rep. Ralph Regula, R-Ohio, but is now supported by no less a champion of bad ideas than Interior Secretary Gale Norton. The two have another bad idea for fixing the collection problem.

Regula and Norton are pushing to make "fee demo" permanent and to force citizens to purchase an "America the Beautiful" pass in order to visit all public lands, including those managed by the Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management and Fish and Wildlife Service.

Norton recently bypassed Congress with an "administrative decision" to punish non-compliance on BLM lands with six months in jail and a $5000 fine. This outrage is slated to begin in April.

We can see the jail conversations now:

"Whatcha in for?"

"Hiking without a license."

"Hard time for hiking? For trail-mix munching? Man, talk about getting tough on crime. Did they confiscate your boots as evidence?"

It’s true federal land agencies don’t have enough money to properly administer and care for the land. Congress has starved agencies’ budgets in order to stuff other agendas.

But there are better ideas for raising money than hit-or-miss fees.

For instance, the Forest Service and the BLM could save nearly $2 billion a year by cutting unnecessary road building and maintenance, below-cost timber sales and cutting grazing subsidies.

Fee demo earned $35 million last year. Cutting $2 billion in pork is a better program.

The committee vote was a slap at Norton and Regula’s plans, and it was delivered none too soon.

If Regula and Norton push through their agenda, the Woody Guthrie song will have to be re-written in the past tense: "This land was your land, this land was my land … ."


City of Ketchum

Formula Sports


Edmark GM Superstore : Nampa, Idaho

Premier Resorts Sun Valley

High Country Property Rentals

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.