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Fishing a remote lake on national forest land; how much should it cost? Photo by Bill Schneider.
Fishing a remote lake on national forest land; how much should it cost? Photo by Bill Schneider.

Congress Looks at Recreation Access Tax

The U.S. House of Representatives has decided to take a serious look at the much-criticized implementation, if not over-implementation, of the Federal Lands Recreational Enhancement Act (FLREA), This is the law that has saddled us the pandemic of new and ever-increasing recreation fees to enter and use our public lands, which is why it’s called RAT, for Recreation Access Tax, by its distracters.

Those who pay the RAT to use their own land don’t get many chances to voice their opinions, but now, our elected officials want to hear what you think.

The U.S. House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Publics Lands has scheduled a hearing for June 18 in Washington D.C to hear testimony about how the FLREA has been implemented. The Subcommittee is calling the hearing “Paying to Play: Implementation of Fee Authority on Federal Lands.”

Distracters primarily led by two nonprofits, the Western Slope No-Fee Coalition and Wild Wilderness, have repeatedly claimed federal agencies have illegally over-implemented FLREA. The agencies, mainly the Forest Service, disagree and claim to be following the letter of the law.

At this point, four anti-fee witnesses will plead their cases before the subcommittee: Kitty Benzar of the Western Slope No-Fee Coalition, Bill Wade of the Coalition of National Park Retirees, Idaho State Representative George Eskridge, who sponsored Idaho’s state resolution calling for the repeal of FLREA, and Peter Wiechers, a teacher and kayaker from Kern River, California, who has been bird-dogging fee abuses by the Sequoia National Forest.

No word yet on who will defend the government’s implementation policy.

The public can submit written testimony for the hearing record until July 2. Send testimony as email attachments to Domenick.Carroll@mail.house.gov with a cc to Laurel.Angell@mail.house.gov.

This is not a hearing on the Baucus-Crapo Bill, introduced by Senators Max Baucus (D-MT) and Mike Crapo (R-ID), which is in the Senate, not the House. “There is no House equivalent of the Baucus-Crapo bill,” Benzar told NewWest.Net. “My hope would be that by highlighting the abuses that are occurring this hearing will inspire a member or members of the House to sponsor one.”

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11 comments

  1. Is this an editorial comment or a news article?

    “RAT” is a propaganda term used in this debate. Its one thing to mention that it is what the detractors call it, another to use it in the title of the article.

  2. Tim, if you check out Bill’s chronology on the topic of public lands fees you will see it is hardly the first time he has used the term RAT in a title. Bill is a columnist, not a news reporter and he clearly has a position on this issue, which he is free to express. Besides, How the heck do you pronounce “FLREA” anyway?
    See Bill’s chronology at
    http://www.newwest.net/topic/article/recreation_fee_chronology/C41/L41/

  3. So, what’s the criticism for having the users of public land pay instead of penalizing both users and non-users? Should not the people who benefit the most, pay the most?
    Secondly, I don’t recall there being a loud voice in those that would like to repeal fees for recreation users of state parks. If they’re to have a right to charge fees to make up for budget shortfalls, why cannot the BLM or FS?
    Why cannot those same groups address the root of the problem by lobbying for an uncreased budget of the federal land agencies?
    Those who claim that the federal agencies are incorrectly applying the law may have a claim, however it should not be distorted into a case for repeal of the law.

  4. Justin,
    Let’s take your “user pays” reasoning a step farther.
    Why have free public libraries? Many people who pay taxes for them never check out a book, and hey, most people can afford to just buy books at Barnes & Noble anyway. The ones who can’t probably can’t read.
    Why have publicly funded fire departments? Let those whose houses are on fire provide the 911 operator with a credit card if they want a fire truck to come.
    Schools. If I can afford to send my kid to private school, why should I be taxed to fund public schools?
    Why make all taxpayers pay for FEMA? Let those who are hit by hurricanes, floods, tornados, and forest fires pay for disaster aid, most of us aren’t affected!
    You see where I’m going with this. The discussion should be about whether public lands are in the same category as libraries, fire departments, schools, and disaster aid: things that provide sufficient benefit to our society as a whole that they are worthy and proper recipients of public funding.
    I think that public lands are worthy of public funding even by people who seldom or never use them. You may disagree. The problem is, we’ve never been given a chance to have that discussion. Fee Demo and FLREA were both passed as midnight riders on must-pass appropriations bills. One point of view was forced on us without open discussion or a vote. That’s not the way major changes in public policy are supposed to happen.

  5. Kitty, I’m well aware of Bill’s use of RAT and I have made the comment before that using a propaganda term like that decreases the legitimacy of the column.

    I believe that less propaganda and more fact would do more to further the discussion, but I guess he disagrees. In the end, though, it is his column, so he can write whatever he wants to.

  6. Sen Baucus got Weyerhaeuser’s tax bill cut from 35% to 18%, and did the same for Plum Creek and others, in the Farm Bill. He has celebrated his accomplishment. It saved Weyco $172 million this year. And equal savings in percentage for other industrial timberland holders. Now, when DeFazio and the House Democrats demanded PILT be paid for by some savings or govt income, and set up the R’s to shoot themselves in the foot on the PILT bill, it was where the money would come from that was the issue. The Ds made the Rs look like Oil Baron pimps, when in fact, the Ds have been pimping for the Timber Barons. The Democrats who control Congress, both bodies, should be held responsible. But won’t be.

    The Senate and House Democrats now want to have users pay to use public lands, because they don’t want to use tax payer money. Well, all those people who voted to not log don’t live here, either. There is a cost for any action. The USFS used to not cost the Feds money. Now they do. The action had a result, and the known result is way less money in the USFS budget and huge tax cost by allowing NGOs to live like public parasites on their tax forgiven donations and tax dodge Conservation Easement schemes.

    Cowboy up, folks. The benefit was national, and the proposed use and value of not logging was presented as national. So users need not pay, in a fair world. All citizens and immigrants should pay with their taxes. Raise taxes on everyone to pay for free use of public lands. With Obama, that is going to happen anyway. That is his campaign promise.

    That Baucus, and the House, pissed away hundreds of millions in Special Interest tax breaks to the Timber Barons in the 2009 Farm Bill must be noticed and accounted for. Having users pay to ride or hike in public lands is a disgrace, and in light of the special interest tax reductions, in light of the fewer dollars to the Treasury, I guess the American people should look to their Democrat politicians for relief. Weyerhaeuser, Plum Creek Timber, all got relief. So where is the general public’s relief in public land use?

    This is not propaganda. It is facts, and the truth. Timber Barons got vast tax reductions by a Democrat Congress, and public lands are proposed to fee-to-use recreational lands. Something is very, very wrong with that concept.

  7. Justin Ziegler

    Kitty, you make a great point. Although I do believe it is fair reasoning, in the case of recreational access of public lands. I gladly pay to enter NPS land and I surely value my experiences on FS land much more than NPS.
    If FLREA was passed as you say, then I would in fact be in favor of an open debate on the floors of Congress to revise the bill. Or repeal it if decided. The more I think about it, the more this seems like the politically easiest, way to address budget shortfalls.
    Instead of a kneejerk reaction against FLREA, I’d like to see a constructive approach to resolving budget issues, through revenue-generation or taxes. Maybe the anti-FLREA folks are, but I’m not hearing much of it

  8. Justin: why not first start with NOT reducing billionaire corporate taxes to Weyerhaeuser and Plum Creek and their ilk, at a time when there is not enough money to manage public lands. Weyco is heading to being a REIT no matter, and then the taxes are 15% and paid for by the stockholders, personally. Windfalls (bad pun) for Timber Barons seems like a poor choice for lawmakers wanting to enforce a pay-to-play on public lands, which they already own in every sense. The tax relief was a gift, or a payback, who knows, for Timber Barons, who thrive while the same public eliminated small business lumber companies existing on public timber, and a couple of hundred thousand family wage jobs NOT dependent upon exports of raw material or imports of finished goods.

  9. Very funny, Bear Bait.

    Tim,

    I think if FLREA would have been passed in the light of day, with reasonable public input, actually voted on by Congress, there would not be any controversy about recreation fees, or RAT as it is, in fact, even if you might think it shouldn’t be called that. That’s why this hearing and the Bacus-Crapo bill are so important. We finally can do what the majority of people want, not what a few administration insiders want for public land users. If most people want fees to access public lands on top of their tax money, then so be it. End of story. But I doubt it.

    And Justin, I agree completely.The FS should be funded properly through normal channels instead of putting pressure on district rangers to raise money for anything they want to do or that needs to be done, like maintain campgrounds, with more and more fees.

    Bill

  10. Bill: just keep an eye on Baucus. He is a known pork larder for special interests. If what you want is in there, and then a pile of money for Glendive commercial fishermen, or Malta prairie dog ranchers, watch out. Some nasty Republicans might try to torpedo the bill, or set him up to fail. It is an election year.

  11. What exactly does “enhancement” mean? Stocking non native sportfish (at the expense of native fish) in rivers and lakes? Increasing populations of non native pheasents? More scenic pullouts alongside highways for those too lazy too hike? More benches and picnic tables for those who hate roughing it? More parking lots for RVs for those who don’t want to sleep in tents? Our public lands are being tuned into playgrounds rather than being restored to wilderness. The outdoor experience is being altered to accomidate those who really don’t want an outdoor experience but a luxury experience.