Thursday, November 15, 2018
Breaking News
Home » Rockies » Idaho » Boise » Fees Keeping People Off Their Land
Wild Bill and grandson Alex, learning to fish in a mountain lake in the Gallatin National Forest. How long will it be free? Photo by Marnie Schneider.

Fees Keeping People Off Their Land

As noted several times in this column, visitation to our national parks has been declining for years, partly because of steep increases in entrance fees and annual passes. While reading these stories, we suffered under the misperception that the problem was confined to the national parks while visitor use of our national forests continued to increase.

Now we know the truth. The wild proliferation of new and increased recreation fees has contributed to a similar if not steeper decline in the public use of public forests. With this aggressive, if not abusive, fee-charging policy, Forest Service bosses have done a stellar job of discouraging people from using their own land, the national forests.

A front-page article in the November 17 Oregonian exploded the myth and revealed that visitation had steadily decreased since 2001, the same year the Bush Administration took charge and started implementing its doctrine of subliminally commercializing our public land.

A dollar here, a dollar there, and seven years later, we have a 13 percent decline in visitor use nationally. In the Northern Region (mostly Idaho and Montana), use went down 15 percent, and the Rocky Mountain Region (mostly Colorado and Wyoming) got off easy with only a 5 percent drop. The Pacific Northwest Region experienced the deepest decline, 27 percent, which is no surprise because that’s where it all started.

(Click here for region-by-region stats.)

Back in 1995, during the Clinton Era, the Forest Service (FS) managed to tack a “demonstration project” onto a spending bill to test the concept of charging fees to use our national forests. The so-called “fee demo” program–or “recreation access tax” (RAT) to its distracters–was initially restricted to national forests of Oregon and Washington, but after being renewed several times, all without a vote of Congress, the RAT spread to other regions. Then, in 2004, in the last hours of the 108th Congress, the Bush Administration added a rider called the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA) to another must-pass spending bill making it the law of the land with no public input or vote of Congress. FLREA formalized Fee Demo as the official policy of federal land-managing agencies.

The result was a massive, nationwide expansion of recreation fees to enter and use our public land. In the past two years alone, the agencies have increased fees on 728 sites and added 232 new fee sites.

The Forest Service’s National Visitor Use Monitoring office prepared the report on declining visitor use. In the report and the Oregonian article, the FS cited multiple causes, especially high gas prices, for the decline, even acknowledging (for the first time I know of) that recreation fees might have been a contributing factor in the decline.

But after reviewing the report, Kitty Benzar of the Western Slope No-Fee Coalition, the chief opponent of charging fees to use public land, questioned that reasoning and put more blame on aggressive fee-charging.

“Fees were already driving many families away from public lands, even while times were good,” she told NewWest.Net. “The economic crisis we’re facing now will exacerbate a very worrisome trend. Declining visitation is bad for everyone, including the Forest Service.”

Benzar said the negative impact is most severe in rural communities that are transitioning from a declining wood products economy to a recreation-based, tourism-dependent economy. “The end result is that both urban and rural residents, especially kids, will spend more time indoors playing video games or watching TV because it costs too much to take the family camping or fishing.”

“As the prices rise, the demand decreases,” Scott Silver of Wild Wilderness, another nonprofit opposing commercialization of public land, told the Oregonian. “Why should anyone have not expected that? If people are really moving away from public lands, who is going to protect them?”

Hopefully, the Blue Tide arrived in time to reverse the trend before it’s too late. I can’t see recreation fees getting much priority from President-elect Obama, who has to concentrate on preventing global economic devastation, but reversing the trend of overzealous fee-charging should definitely be a top priority for the new agency bosses he puts in place, as it should for the new, blue, 111th Congress convening in January.

Footnote: For the entire Recreation Fee Chonology, click here.

About Bill Schneider

Check Also

One Big Sky Center

Hammes Company Joins One Big Sky Center Venture in Billings

Billings, Montana is moving ahead with discussions on the One Big Sky Center proposal, which ...

30 comments

  1. Thanks Bill for keeping this in front of the public.
    Whatever happened to the Baucus/Crapo bill?

  2. Mr. Twister–I’m currently working on an update on the Baucus-Crapo Bill, but in short, it didn’t make it on the docket this year, but is likely to next year….Bill

  3. Hey Bill, I love the critique of the program, but what’s your solution to agencies with strapped budgets, ailing maintenance backlogs, and endless firefighting costs? There are some pros to the fee demo program right? Can’t we all agree that keeping some of the revenues generated at a given public area for reinvesting in that area is a good thing, rather than allowing congress and whatever administration is on board appropriate them as they see fit? Should we just give the USFS a bigger blank check to fight fires with while local communities capitalize on second homes at the edge of our public lands?

  4. Visitation is down because of fees?
    There’s other causes. One is the X-box generation. These people don’t go camping on the weekends.
    Another is that the recreation product offered for traditional users is vanishing. Sunday drive? Gate. Trail ride? Gate. Fishing? Gate. No access at any price in a lot of places, so why even bother?
    Then there are the fees. Didn’t need those when we logged and sold trees and subsidized multiple-use recreation infrastructure with the makings. So the USFS built up this edifice of ologists who cost money even when nothing happens with their ology. That’s a budget-buster right there, so to keep the ologists employed, there has to be a source of revenue. Fees.
    But you are right, nobody is going to give a RIP what happens to the agency if it doesn’t produce a product people find worthwhile.

  5. Basic economics say that increasing price and decreasing availability will slow demand, and in that slowing, there can develop a death spiral for the agency. I do believe that current leadership, management direction, attention at the Cabinet level, Congressional budgeting (public land access is a Western Issue in a nation that is Coastal-Centric and dominated by urban concerns for personal safety and saving the house, and having a job.

    A pit toilet, one water spigot, and a designated spot with a table and a fire pit costing upwards of $20 a night does not sit well with the paying public. Not when you can rent a motel room for twice that with a shower, towels, and a tv. I my neck of the woods, campgrounds are managed by a private company that also runs a ski area on leased USFS land. Their intent is to provide year around employment for their labor force. The USFS intent is to have someone else do their work. But they bid that job in competition, and the competition is for your dollars, and the USFS takes a cut of the bid price and some of it stays in the local county. I don’t know enough about the contract to maintain and supervise camp grounds, and if the collected fees are the sole source of money to the contractor.

    The price goes up annually, and the amenities available decrease, annually. Wildland fire is but one reason for less visitation, and fewer areas open to recreational entry. Wilderness has finite visitor numbers, as do many Wild and Scenic Rivers. The income is a set figure, as are the annual visitor days. Putting your name on a list for the lottery to be able to visit or use a public resource is not a situation that will grow visitor use. The design is too LOWER visitor use days, and limit the number of people visiting proclaimed fragile wilderness and wild areas. By design.

    Logging is no longer a viable alternative or subject for public lands. The markets have changed, the building methods, the products, the demand, all have changed or diminished. We are now building fewer homes than at any time since WWII. The ravages of WWII on European and Asian forests have been healed by new forests, and those forests are producing lumber for Europe and for export to the rest of the world. Japan is going to have to start cutting in their forests at a greater rate, as they mature. China is still hard at obtaining cheap timber from the criminal element in Asia and Africa, on the cheap, no questions asked, no regard for environmental consequences shown. So as beetles destroy forests by the millions of acres in the US and Canada, precious tropical forests continue to disappear, and habitat along with those forests. Lumber from US public lands is neither needed nor wanted. But I really do believe the public would like those forests intact, and not blackened by chronic fire, and acute funding shortages from the Congress. And I do believe the public would like more and better access, and fewer restrictions. This deal of extreme limits on commercial use of the public lands is part of the problem. More outfitters, more river guides, more active chaperoned, guided public use is better for the forests, and better for an emerging population that has not a clue how to live in and with the wildlands, and how to enjoy them, look at them, see them through others’ eyes.

    I was lucky enough to be in Scouting with a USFS Fire Administration Officer for a Scoutmaster. He had keys to gates and locks, and we used mothballed CCC buildings, lookout towers in winter, and had more fun than any kid should. We were mentored by someone who had spent countless hours hiking to one lightening struck tree just to cut it down, and fire trail around it, and put out the fire, and then hike back the way he had come, those trips sometimes taking the better part of three or four days. We learned what he had learned. And maybe, if we are lucky, we can pass that along to another generation, but only if we are allowed entry, are able to access the forests.

  6. family owned timber/logging companies and many timber workers i worked with in my youth used to care about the forests they made their living in. some would volunteer to build and maintain trails in primitive areas and install picnic tables and grates in popular recreation areas. build blue bird boxes, osprey nest perches, and other wildlife enhancements but that all stopped when the 80’s brought a new “greed rules” lack of ethics to forestry. corporatations bought up most of the little guys who loved the land because they hunted and fished in the lands they worked in. boards of directors in big cities demanded steep quarterly profits at the expense of long term sustainability and when it went bust they fled with the money and left us with no jobs and lands with no sustainable means of paying for the necessary job of maintenance.

    come to think of it- the way CEO’s and corporate boards treated our forests very much resembles what corporate short term profit taking has done to the entire economy of our nation. shameful greed. “…why is the rich man dancin’ while the poor man pays the band?…”

  7. In the last five or so years, going to the local campgrounds around here is like camping in a Walmart parking lot.
    My wife got her senior pass last week and can’t wait till next summer so she can pay half price, but I still don’t want to camp in a trailer park.
    It surprises me that when we drive about twenty miles up the canyons and find some beautiful isolated places where you just pull off the road and camp, nobody seems to want to camp there, so we have them all to ourselves.
    People don’t seem to mind paying $12 to $16 a night to camp on top of each other. They start coming up on thursday night, and by saturday morning the whole campground is packed. I guess that’s how some people “get away from it all”.

  8. I am against most recreation fees, but in my opinion, using propaganda terms like “RAT” decreases the quality of this article.

  9. Remember the tragedy of the commons. ‘Free’ public resources can/will lead to over use to the detriment of the areas we’ve set aside for protection. There may be a better way than access fees but there is a great deal of logic, not to mention economic common sense, in charging people for their use/’consumption’ of public lands.

    Particularly in these economic times, tax support of public lands is not enough…budget priorities will not be high enough…to sustain and protect the parks (I would argue that it hasn’t been high enough for decades). Infrastructure is not being maintained, protection is not being enforced,… I say the public lands need all the help they can get and access fees are a help. And, yes, they reduce demand and use…but given what I see during each of my two anuual visits to Yellowstone, that is not altogether a bad thing.

  10. I am no fan of the public land fee system but, as a percentage of the cost of a visit to a national park the increased fee over last 10-15 years is relatively unimportant. Once you pack the 2.3 kids into the minivan and drop in a couple tanks of gas, the entry fee (good for seven days) simply does not enter into the equation. Changes in consumer tastes and preferences, changing demographics, substitutes, and poor quality are more likely reasons.

    People are now finding a different but desirable quality of life in the city and rural homesites will decline in value. The demographics of the US population is bimodal with respect to age – there are more older folks who find RV camping and urban amenities more comfortable than a tent; the younger crowd want thrills. Outdoor pursuits are destination oriented – park and play, motor sports are increasingly popular with twenty somethings. Significantly, the fee structure has not encouraged public lands agencies – especially the park service, to provide better quality service. They have spent more on law enforcement than interpretation and education. Not all the enforcement is needless. Public lands are increasingly under attack by slob users. ORVers are most often to blame but not exclusively.

    Less demand for public lands is not necessarily a bad thing. The problem is that the fixed costs for management must still be met. The best and most efficient way to do that is to zone some semi wild areas with no trail maintenance, a wildfire policy that acknowledges the role of large burns, less road maintenance. Fee investment should be spent in areas where impacts can be concentrated and mitigated. Where special services are needed – plowed roads for winter access, river trailheads, popular trails we should be willing to pay for those services. One final note – it is clear that outfitters, who derive income from public resources, can pay more of their fair share of impacts and management.

  11. So jdj please share with us what a fair share is with regards to outfitters. do you know what they pay now…or will pay in the future. Is it the same everywhere. What is your annual income? Mine is available for your inspection as I am an SRP holder. Who the hell do you think pays for the fees I am charged (which by the way I gladly pay). What joy do you bring to the world in your work, how much direct benifit
    does your community gain by your taking up space. Less access is a good thing? Do you work for a greenie NGO? your spiel sure sounds familiar.
    Fee demo is a jobs program.
    Your family vacation model is flawed because you left out most of the real costs once in the park. Its called fee layering. Entrance fee, lodging/food fee, transportation fee (winter), all inflated because you are paying the juice on the consession. So please tell me what you think is a fair rate.

  12. I would not mind ending user fees but I don’t buy it’s why people aren’t going to the forests. I think it’s a national malaise and laziness that people sit home and watch TV instead or play video games. Frankly not many families who would not buy a seasonal use permit also don’t rent any videos that year. It’s baloney to think the $20 a year fee which is what it is for many forests is a factor. The problem with no fee is who then pays for the necessary services attached to letting the public use these places. Maybe it’s lack of sufficient advertising that discourages people from understanding what their options are.

  13. The fee and visitation decline could be going hand in hand with that $4.50 a gallon gas. If we are lucky enough to have under $3.00 gas through next summer, maybe use will rise.

    The number of Mexican dope cartel clandestine grow operations, the incidence of armed guards, might be keeping some out of some areas. A cold winter with normal precip left the mountains with late snow last summer. The use period was short, the mosquitos fierce and numerous, and gas was pushing towards $5 a gallon. I would expect use to be lower.

    The demographic that uses the forests is more implement oriented that perhaps has been the case in the past. Too many motorized whizits, mechanical aids, an exponential rise in personal watercraft of all types, have changed how people use the resource, and the old hikers are aging and not being replaced in our more than sedentary society. Fat people are not indicative of high outdoor resource use. And we are becoming a nation of fat people. I still think “The Triplets of Belleville”, the animated movie, is the most revealing view of America and Americans from a foreign perspective out there. See that, and you will understand why public lands use is down. That is who were are, as seen by Europeans and Asians.

    Fishing, in the past a food gathering venture, is now a catch and release sport, and not all find barbless fly only fishing to their liking. Add to that the cost of boats and fuel, along with just getting there, has to limit who is using lakes and larger rivers. And there is the purist “ologist” mindset no longer allowing stocking of high lakes (the fish eat native species), so hike in fishing opportunity is now much, much less than it was 50 years ago. Fishing interested kids. Photography and the mature mind’s ability to appreciate the isolation and beauty is not quite what youngsters are all about. They want action. A creek to dam. A stick to cut. A fish to try to catch.

    Even mountain biking needs roads to access trails at elevation to heighten the experience. A grind to the top and a short ride down is for only a few. Many trips down a trail is more of a hoot for many. Road closures and no maintenance is not going to solve use declines. That mindset exacerbates the decline.

    Perhaps the whole deal is a “chicken or egg” first deal. But it did all begin when the public, not timber sales, had to finance the USFS recreation budget, fire budget, law enforcement budget. So it is up to the “changers in charge”, the old Clinton appointees, now in control, to come up with the answers. I would look for more gates, more tank traps, less public access, more fires, larger fires, and a quite diminished resource in 4 years, one that will have lost even more devotees. Change can be the acceleration of decline in a sense. Go look at the web site “The Ruins of Detroit” (www.detroityes.com) to see how change has improved (or not) America’s industrial engine. Maybe that is what our public lands are destined to look like after 4 more years of WFU and AMR. The Ruins of Public Lands: The Untended Commons.

  14. Well we hear a constant din that the ranchers aren’t paying “market price” for grazing leases, and the timber companies were being “subsidized”, so they got rid of the “subsidized” timber companies, and are eliminating livestock a little at a time and guess what suddenly with those “subsidies” gone there is less money than ever. Hmmmm. what do you suppose happened, maybe the timber and livestock industry was actually “subsidizing” the recreation? Now we have those that complained that other users aren’t paying “enough” crying because they have to pay anything. Go figure.

  15. I don’t understand what fees. My wife and I camp, hunt, fish and picnic in the national forest about every other weekend and the only fees we pay are to use the improved campsites, so we mostly camp outside the campgrounds where it doesn’t cost anything.

  16. I think that the decline in use of the Great Outdoors goes way beyond fees. Most kids I know have little interest in “going camping”, and when their parents do take them they can’t wait to get home and play video games, or they play the little hand held games all the while they are camping. Times they are a changing. In a way it is a good thing. Think about it. Even with these declines our forests and parks are vastly over used. I understand the importance of people caring about wild places, and the inclination not to care about what you don’t use; but by the same token many of these places, even now, are being loved to death.
    Regarding the forest fees, most folks I know either are not aware of them at all (perhaps like Tom) or simply choose to ignore them. I have never once been asked to prove that I had paid a fee. I, like Tom, camp in out of the way places away from the rip-off campgrounds.

  17. Frank, I think you are probably right, interests have changed for our young people, at least many of them. Far and away the majority of our population live in or around cities. People don’t miss what they have never known.
    Kids that camp and fish and hunt with their parents are probably going to stay interested, at least that seems to be the case with my family. A grandson in the Navy arranges his leave to come home and go hunting with the family, at least he has while stationed stateside.
    Folks from cities are often afraid of being out by themselves. Once I was getting a camp spot at the North rim of Grand Canyon, and got the last one. Another couple were behind me and became very upset when told they could camp in the forest anywhere outside of the park boundaries. They were terrified of being alone. I gave them my spot and I parked in the nice quiet myself. It meant an extra half hour to get to watch sunrise over the Canyon the next morning, but it was a beautiful evening and I had a beautiful place to camp. Now if I had to walk across a parking lot in a shopping center in a city at night, THAT would be scary!

  18. At least the comments here and the link to the Oregonian article contain thoughtful comments. It’s really too bad that Mr. Schneider and the No Fee Coalition have jumped on this latest survey information with their overly simplistic message that only mars what is in reality a complex mechanism of demographics, economics and societal trends leading to lower recreation use on National Forests.

    I wonder how these national surveys compare with more rigorously collected information on outfitted recreation? And it’s well known that the river permits for the limited entry rivers more than sell out annually. Finally, I agree with jdj that the site fees are a minor factor in the total recreation and travel costs. We need to keep those fees in perspective to what we are truly out of pocket every time we visit the local National Forest.

  19. In reality I am more concerned about where my fee money goes than whether or not I pay one. If it is going to a general fund somewhere I object; but if it is going to maintain the pit at the trail head, remove trash and exotic weeds, purchase and protect wildlife habitat etc., then I am happy to pay my fair share. If ranchers grazing cattle, hunters and fisherman are the only ones paying fees, then there is little motivation to maintain trails, campsites and facilities for those of us who simply enjoy hiking, camping, horse or bike riding and photography. Let’s face it: An America the Beautiful Pass is eighty bucks a year (an annual pass for most forests is 20-30 dollars). Let’s say you spend a day in your local forest a couple of times a month from May through October and visit a National Park for two weeks once a year. That’s like six bucks a visit, or three bucks a day (with the ABP). You can’t even take the kids to Mickey D’s for that. If you live really close to a park or forest and spend a lot of time there year around, you are REALLY getting a bargain! Even if you only visit once or twice you can buy the one time visit pass (5.00 in many forests or 20-25 dollars in many parks….a lot less in some smaller parks). Chances are that your budget is going to take a bigger hit paying 12-25 bucks A NIGHT to camp. And it CERTAINLY is when you buy your tent (RV), sleeping bags, camp gear, food, gas etc., etc.
    I would love to see these fees disappear, as well as all other fees
    and taxes for that matter. But I’m realistic about it. Maybe instead of crying about the existence of these fees, we should concentrate our efforts on making sure that first: the feds recognize where this money is coming from (hikers, campers, mountain bikers, photographers, wildlife watchers…..as well as hunters and fisherman), and second: that they are spending it appropriately.

  20. I think you hit the nail on the head Frank. Too many folks want someone else to pay their freight. Last spring there was an artilce in the Billings paper, an attempt was being made to try to get volunteers to come help work on trails. Apparently they got none. There is less incentive for hunters and fishermen to pick up the whole tab when they can’t access their favorite fishing hole or spot because the roads have been closed.

  21. People are using the public lands. They are doing it on ATVs to the point that I am close to advocating electified razor wire barriers to keep them out.

  22. I’m in a state of shock that I would agree with Redman on anything, but he makes a very valid point.
    I was hoping that as my wife and I get older and her artificial knee and back surgery make it harder to walk in to places, we would get a four wheeler, but I’m so against the destruction to stream beds and banks and hills and even private property and just plain lack of respect for anyone and anything, I wan’t to see them banned in the forests.

  23. Well Mr. Twister, it seems I have hit a raw nerve. On the Middle Fork of the Salmon an outfitter charging around $1800.00 for a six day trip pays 3% Forest Service land use fee and $4/person/day Forest Service fee. In return, they have been the impetus for a significant capital investment at the put in – more developed camping, improved roads, full-time rangers — and more fees for private river runners. They enjoy an oligopoly in the market – a cartel if you like, and a disproportionate number of the river user days along with other advantages.

    If you want to reform the outfitter business such that they operate in an open market I would say fine, let outfitting compete on price like other services without the property right of the operating permit. The highly subsidized and pro industry structure now in existence seems to favor collusion among outfitters and that offers an incentive to keep fees low.

    And no, I do not work for a nonprofit. As to your virtuous place in the world because you provide some fleeting enjoyment to people using your subsidized SRP – good on you but please refrain from stating your position at my expense. It makes you appear small and petty.

  24. Well, I just got home from a hike in Yellowstone. I saw few people on the trail, but one group I did see was a man, his wife (I assume) and their boy (about ten or twelve). The boy was tripping on every rock or root or indentation of the trail. Why? His head was buried in a hand held video game. He barely glanced up. Mom and dad were ooooing and awing about the beautiful scenery, elk and bighorn sheep that were visible from the trail while the boy could care less.
    Let’s get real. We live in a world where folks don’t bat an eye about plopping down a couple of hundred bucks to go to a football game… and NFL stadiums are filled to capacity every Sunday; or shelling out three or four hundred clams for a day at Disneyland. Heck a night at the movies is easily fifty or sixty dollars with tickets, popcorn and sodas! Or forking up thirty bucks for a blue ray disk to watch at home. I just don’t believe they are drawing the line at an eighty dollar annual unlimited use America the Beautiful Pass. You can argue all day about whether it is “right” to charge fees to visit public land, but I don’t think the fees are stopping anyone from doing so.

  25. They may complain about the $80 pass, feeling they are entitled to free usage, and being able to afford it really doesn’t enter in. People complain about the price of a gallon of milk while they puff a way on cigarettes and drink the huge fountain drinks from convenience stores. Everyone has priorities, I prefer to save my money to go to Yellowstone as often as possible or to the Big Horns in between. I haven’t been to a movie for years, seldom even rent one. My sons hunt as often as possible, other folks go to night clubs, movies or whatever. All of that is fine, and none of us need a subsidy to do something else just because someone else thinks we should.

  26. As a Colorado resident who lives here full time I can attest to the fact that it is becoming harder and harder to find a place for a family to fish. I doubt campground fees are keeping campers away but in addition to the fees for licenses (steep for those out of state) there are many fishing places that now require an additional $4.00 fee for a one day use. To confuse things further these fishing spots are run by at least three different governmental agencies so it isn’t even viable to purchase a season pass (or two week pass) that would allow fishing in all the designated fee places. This means that a visitor wanting to fish probably can only stay in the spot where he pays his fee even though he would be allowed to move to a different spot during that date if he can find one run by the same agency. We don’t fish nearly as much as we used to.

    Celia Bell

  27. so jdj,
    Tell me again why the outfitted public needs to pay and you don’t.
    your rant is really about allocated use. Why didn’t you use the Grand Canyon fees as an example? I have no property right to my permit and you know it. Are you feeling a bit stung because common poll didn’t work out? I provide a service, I pay a fee to operate on public lands. How much should it be, 3%, 10%, 20%.
    You are right about my first post…it was a bit harsh. I’m sorry.

  28. Sequester Politicians!

    Campground fees seem to have been raised dramatically right around the time that operations were outsourced and campsites were surrendered to house “Campground Hosts”. In California campsites were typically $7 in the past, but now it’s no uncommon to see $17-20, even $25 tabs per night, with no corresponding increase in campgrounds, facility quality per campground, or services (water quality, sink & mirror availability, upgrading away form pit toilets, etc).

    As we displace millions of Americans by allowing companies to import lower cost foreign labor to replace us through H1-B and L-1 visas and the real unemployment rate in the country passes 13-15% (over 21 million Amerricans), of course we’re going to have fewer people able to afford even the most rudimetary and inexpensive family trip. Sure gas expense can be an additional challenge, but as someone displaced from work and struggling with family costs, the logic that high gas prices make park entrance and campground fees less significant seems stunningly insensitive.

    Like many who have responded, my attendance at campgrounds has been way down, but increasingly the Forest Service has followed the National Park Service’s lead, banning camping in many of the alternative sites nearby. This is done allegedly to minimize imapact, although some measure of both reduced campground usage and the increased impact outside of campgrounds is a direct result from the increased fees.

    In order to camp and fish in California I maintain the Federal Lands Pass (price up 60% in the past 3 years alone), a California State Park Pass (price up over 300% in the past 5 years), a myriad of fishing licenses, puch cards and stamps, and I still have to avoid county and department of water and power lands with entry or user fees. Many Federal lands such as Devil’s Postpile National Monument do not accept the Federal Lands Pass, claiming that they need my money to fund shuttle service (even if I pay for camping and cannot and will not use the shuttles).

    With the net effect of all of these various agencies competing to milk us for funds separately, in addition to the funds they take directly from our paychecks and purchases (sales tax), lower income families have effectively been banned from public lands.

    Now currently some of us may smugly consider that a benefit, but many current and future retirees will increasingly find themselves in a difficult financial situation due to diminishing Social Security funds. That situation is only going to get worse as the calculation of current cost of living numbers has been changed to under-report actual increases by 50% (already today current payments would have to be increased 100% to equal in real goods what was paid only a couple of decades ago).

    Furthermore, the current world economy is essentially broken and as a result many economists are forecasting a another Great Depression, but with one extremely worse aspect: whereas the past Great Depression involved deflation, so what dollars you had went further while times were bad, this time around the U.S. Dollar is losing ground as the world’s default currency, and hyperinflation that could effectivley wipe out most of the value of your money and assets is a real possibility.

    We pay high state and federal government income taxes (which didn’t even exist until a few decades ago), sales taxes, gasoline taxes, excise taxes, and now individual agencies decide to pay for their unnecessary overhead by taxing us more through their own redundant and skyrocketing fees. Few of us can afford this incredible multi-tiered wealth-sucking infrastructure.

    As we continue to ship manufacturing and jobs overseas then need loans from foreign countries such as China to fund the resulting trade defecit and national debt, the strength of the dolalr erodes. We still think we’re wealthy. We just haven’t seen the bill come due yet. Over the next 2-4 years we may just get a front row seat to see that day arrive.

    By the way, the comments about the “-ologitsts” are pretty far from reality. The Fish and Wildlife Service for example has been gutted over the last 8 years under the Bush Administation. A friend of mine worked there until recently and some offices have gone from 6 biologists to 1. If you’re wondering where your tax dollars are going and why agencies need to backfill with higher fees to keep operating, look to the Department of Defense. That’s what the Income Tax was made permanent to fund, and currently about 54% of your federal dollars end up there, directly or to pay interest on war debt. We outspend the rest of the world put together, and every year we still fall for the alarmist tale that a few more hundred billion are required to keep us safe (even while several trillion dollars of those funds can’t be accounted for every year, as Donald Rumsfeld admitted shortly before 9/11). So the country keeps borrowing, and politicians keep spending wildly, hoping that they’ll simply be out of office when the music stops. The current banking crisis is only a prelude to the results that this policy will deliver into our laps.

    In the meantime, it’s not a prudent strategy to have a cavalier attitude about increased government fees.

  29. Weekly I patrol my roadside property to pick up the trash Montanan’s have thrown out of their cars–beer cans, wrappers, etc. Respect for your environment would lessen the cost of access to all public areas, including the national parks. I just paid my senior fee this year, $10.00; access to every national park. That’s still among the best buys in the world, in my opinion. Maybe we old graybacks deserve a lower cost access as I won’t throw a gum wrapper out the window, and particularly not in our national parks. Lack of participation is due to lack of interest, to high fuel costs, and to lack of work. Reduce income taxes, bring back Investment Tax Credits (so private money will go into the greening of America), keep the government’s nose in national defense, national highways, and national parks, and only there and a few other chores that have to be national, and all the rest of the problems will self-solve.

  30. I am a fisherman and hunter and carry garbage bags in my pac/fishing vest and vehicle. I pic up other peoples garbage as well. Littering is something I cannot stand. When I go out to my favorite lake to fish it seems I spend an hour just picking up garbage before I fish. The garbage is on our public lands,national forest. I have picked up garbage on private lands as well where the landowner allows hunting.
    As far as fees are concerned I do not like the way the USFS has increased campground fees. TheUSFS has gone to a campground host program where a private individual bids on the campground. Some hosts have been ok others think they own the campground and treat it like a private RV park.Bad part of this is the USFS is privatizing public land.They even make reservations like a hotel.The USFS has forgotten who they work for….us!