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Great Fee-Demo article ! -- From Oregonian

----- Original Message -----
From: Scott Silver <ssilver@wildwilderness.org>
To: Scott Silver <ssilver@wildwilderness.org>
Sent: Sunday, February 04, 2001 3:29 PM
Subject: [swan] Great Fee-Demo article ! -- From Oregonian

Pasted below is one of the most outstanding Fee-Demo articles I have had the
pleasure to read. For perhaps the first time, several exceedingly important
issues have been raised in a newspaper article with widespread readership.

-- issues that will require some form of response from the USFS.
-- issues, for which the USFS can not have a satisfactory response.

Now would be a wonderful time to send a letter to the editor of the
Oregonian, or to your local newspaper, or Congressman, or local Forest
Service office ---  letting them know why you oppose fee-demo.

The tide really does appear to be turning in our favor. The many voices
opposing pay-to-play recreation are finally being heard. I am convinced
more than ever, that we can win the battle to keep America's public lands
wild and free ...



----------- begin quoted ---------------


Fees for park, forest use face court test

Conflicts over charges for use of public lands may heat up as enforcement
gets tougher

Sunday, February 4, 2001

By Michael Milstein of The Oregonian staff

Leeanne Siart and George Sexton knew they risked a citation when they hiked
into the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area last month without the
required $5 pass for their windshield. But the Eugene residents refused to
buy in to the federal government's test of fees for hiking on public lands.

"They have logged and developed so many places, they have left fewer and
fewer places to go hiking," Sexton said. "They should not be charging people
to use those fewer and fewer places."

He and Siart never expected to be videotaped, threatened with arrest and
fined $50, though. That's what they say happened when they returned to their
car and found two U.S. Forest Service officers waiting. They plan to contest
the fine in what could become the first key test in this region of the
notion that the public should pay to play on its own lands.

With its plan to toughen enforcement of such fees in the Northwest this
summer, the Forest Service itself will test the public's tolerance for the
confusing mishmash of land passes and fees that has evolved since 1996, when
Congress mandated an experiment in fees to help repair decaying recreation

While public land users have long accepted entrance fees at national parks
and campground fees in national forests, their willingness to pay for such
simple pleasures as day hiking is less clear.

Land agencies say the public supports the recreation fees that have raised
millions of dollars, but critics charge that poorly designed surveys distort
that support. And the Forest Service has muffled one of its scientists whose
research suggested that fees drive low-income users off national forests.

Such questions are critical because fee revenue -- totaling $6.5 million
from national forests in the Northwest last year -- has underwritten the
Forest Service's emerging image as a recreation provider. The new Bush
administration backs such a free-market approach to public lands, hoping use
of the lands can generate dollars to maintain them. Officials are expected
to favor extension of the program, set to expire in 2002.

When Congress created the Recreation Fee Demonstration Project in 1996, it
instructed the Forest Service, National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service and U.S. Bureau of Land Management to test ways of collecting new
and higher fees. For the first time, agencies could keep the money instead
of sending it to the federal treasury.

"Horribly confusing"
But the fee program never went through the normal congressional debate or
public hearings to work out details. In the Northwest, the Forest Service
enthusiastically levied nearly 20 different charges that quickly
demonstrated how not to impose fees. The system so thoroughly confused the
public that officials went back and tried again.

Last year, the agency unveiled the Northwest Forest Pass, which costs $5 a
day or $30 a year and is required for parking at many -- though not all --
trailheads in national forests and North Cascades National Park in
Washington. It is required for overnight camping at some backcountry sites
around Mount St. Helens.

Although the Northwest Forest Pass combined fees at many forests, it remains
just one of a confusing mix of more than 10 federal and state land passes
available in the region. It applies only to parts of the Mount St. Helens
region, for instance, where visitors need a special "Cascades Volcano Pass"
to hike above 4,800 feet.

It works at North Cascades National Park and national monuments run by the
Forest Service, but a different pass applies to other parks and monuments.
Some passes cover a car full of people in one place but admit only one
person to visitor centers in others.

The Oregon Pacific Coast Passport has proved popular because it covers all
state and federal lands on the Oregon coast -- but it does no good away from
the coast.

"They all charge different ways, for different things," said Manfred Wiesel,
a Washington County resident who visits national parks and forests. "This is
a waste of tax dollars, and it's horribly confusing."

Buying annual passes for two people to visit all federal and state land and
visitor centers in the Northwest would cost well over $100. Agencies have
discussed a discounted universal pass for the region, but though they agree
that the public wants one, they disagree about how to share the proceeds.

Consolidating fees that way would also make it tougher for agencies to
reinvest the money in the sites where people paid it, a premise of the

Those who paid willing to pay
The Forest Service reported to Congress that forest users overwhelmingly
support its recreation fees. Yet some outside researchers say that's a
skewed conclusion based largely on surveys taken at fee sites of people who
have opted to pay the fees. It overlooks those who cannot or will not pay

"Those people are simply not showing up in the studies done by the Forest
Service," said Thomas Stevens, a professor of resource economics at the
University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Stevens and Thomas More, a Forest Service researcher in Vermont, conducted
the first broad survey of the way recreation fees affect all forest
visitors. In a mail survey of households throughout Vermont and New
Hampshire, they found that while most of those who responded support fees to
maintain facilities, one of every four low-income families visited national
forests less often to avoid the fees.

The researchers concluded in a paper reviewed by peer scientists and
published last year that fees "significantly discriminate against low-income

"When agencies begin to act like entrepreneurs seeking self-funding through
fees, and low-income people are excluded, the public purpose -- the very
reason for public ownership -- is defeated," the researchers wrote.

Soon after the paper emerged, the Forest Service barred More from talking to
the press, a prohibition that continues. The agency issued "talking points"
to its spokespeople around the country dismissing the findings as
"statistically insignificant."

Stevens, More and other researchers who reviewed the paper say that claim is
false. "The Forest Service is very sensitive about this," Stevens said.
"They have staked their future on this fee program. They do not welcome
information that raises questions about it."

In perhaps the only other inclusive attempt to gauge whether fees deter
users, researchers at Arizona State University questioned beachgoers at a
free national forest lake in Arizona. The survey found that more than half
had chosen the beach because it was free. About 70 percent said they visited
the forest less often because of the $4 day fee at other sites, and about
one-third said they were surprised or angry about that charge.

"Definitely, if you have fees, there is some percentage of people who are
displaced," said Ingrid Schneider, who led the study. "There could be
implications for agencies, for recreation and for the public's support for
natural resources in general."

Visitor counts unreliable
It is unclear whether recreation fees have affected overall forest visitor
numbers, because even Forest Service officials acknowledge that their
recreation counts are inconsistent and unreliable. A University of Montana
report on recreation in the Northwest found that the Willamette National
Forest in Oregon inflated its visitor counts in 1997, the first year the
fees were charged, to warrant a larger budget.

"If you report more visitation, it can support the need for your programs,"
said Miller, an author of the report. "So there are all kinds of questions
that surround visitation figures."

And many question the service's crackdown on visitors such as Sexton and
Siart. Officials declined to discuss the pending case. In other states,
however, judges have dropped charges against many fee resisters. In Idaho,
federal attorneys have stopped prosecuting most fee violations because they
are such minor infractions.

"The whole experience lowered my opinion, not only about the fee program but
about the whole Forest Service in general," Siart said. "The point was to
assess how the public felt about fees, not to harass and videotape people."

You can reach Michael Milstein at 503-294-7689 or at


Scott Silver
Wild Wilderness
248 NW Wilmington Ave.
Bend, OR  97701

phone:       541-385-5261
e-mail:      ssilver@wildwilderness.org
Internet:    http://www.wildwilderness.org


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