Pin It

Paying to Play 

by Ken Fischman

If you are fortunate enough, there is one spot on Earth you can go to that makes your heart sing. For my wife and me, that place is the Aravaipa Wilderness in southeastern Arizona, where we once spent an idyllic season as wilderness rangers for the Bureau of Land Management.

A few years later, we brought some friends there to let them experience the abundant birds, perennial stream and gorgeous multi-colored sandstone cliffs. As we approached the entrance to the canyon, we noticed a sign on the boundary fence that we did not remember having seen previously. After all, this was a wilderness canyon, with no designated trail, no facilities and no markers.

The sign stated something to the effect of "Fee Demonstration Program, $5 per day per person." That was our introduction to the wonderful new world of fees for practically everything on federal land.

It is amazing to me how few people in this neck of the woods are aware of the situation, but that is about to change -- big time. What was once a small program, confined to a few sites, is about to go nationwide due to a new federal law called the Recreation Enhancement Act, dubbed by its opponents more appropriately as the Recreation Access Tax (RAT). This federal legislation authorizes a wide range of recreation fees by the Forest Service, BLM, U.S. Fish & amp; Wildlife and Bureau of Reclamation. RAT also provides for collaborations among government and "non-governmental entities." Translated, this means management of public lands by recreational corporations, like the Marriott Hotel chains, the International Association for Amusement Parks & amp; Attractions and, of course, the Walt Disney Company, all ardent supporters of this legislation. The fees will go into effect at the end of fiscal 2005.

These fees, and the areas where they will be charged, have been expanded to an even greater extent by the Forest Service in their Implementation Guidelines. They have included fees for "high-impact areas" as well as for people just "passing through" -- by car, boat, on foot or on horseback.

You say that you just will not pay the fees? You should be aware that RAT specifies non-payment is a Class A or Class B Misdemeanor, carrying penalties of up to (a) $100,000 fine and a year in jail or (b) $5,000 fine and 6 months in jail.

How did Congress ever pass such an atrocious bill? Well, it didn't, exactly. It was literally a "midnight rider," tacked on to an omnibus appropriations bill last November at the last minute. It therefore became law without any vote, debate or even public hearings.

As you can imagine, this legislation is provoking outrage wherever its provisions have become known. The Montana, Colorado, Oregon and Alaska legislatures have already passed resolutions expressing their dismay and demanding repeal of the RAT. Opposition has created strange bedfellows. For example, testimony for the Montana resolution came from the Montana Wilderness Association, Montana Logging Association, the Sierra Club and the Montana Trail Vehicle Riders Association.

George Ochenski, in a March editorial for the Missoula Independent wrote, "None of us would ever consent to pay a fee every time we wanted to enter our own home ... yet the Feds can and will start charging us every time we camp at the little BLM river pullout we've used for decades. These lands are our heritage as American citizens, and if the feds think they can charge us to use something we already own ... they are terribly mistaken."

Irate citizens in Sandpoint, Idaho, have formed a diverse alliance, including Republicans, Democrats, wilderness advocates and motorized recreation enthusiasts, demanding that their state legislature also pass a resolution against the RAT. They asked Idaho Rep. George Eskridge to sponsor the resolution. Eskridge said of our national forests' founder, "Teddy Roosevelt's intent was not to make money."

The public is invited to an informational meeting at the Sandpoint Community Hall on Wednesday, June 22, at 6 pm. Idaho state legislators Anderson, Eskridge and Keough will be present, as will some Bonner County and Sandpoint city officials.

I believe that a major shift in federal land management policy is being developed and implemented by this stealth legislation. Nature itself is being converted into a commodity instead of remaining a precious heritage that we can pass on to our children.

In explaining this fee program to people, I once joked that soon they will charge us for looking at a sunset. I was recently informed that my joke has come true. There is a cliff overlooking the Pacific in a California forest, where people gather to view the sunset. Sure enough, it has become a fee area. See you at the meeting.

Ken Fischman is a retired physician who lives in Sandpoint, Idaho.

  • Pin It

Latest in News

  • Token Democracy
  • Token Democracy

    Would letting Washington voters give taxpayer money to politicians reduce the power of interest groups — or just subsidize politicians?
    • Oct 20, 2016

    Breaking down some of the issues you'll get to vote on this year
    • Oct 20, 2016
  • Shea's World
  • Shea's World

    As Matt Shea seeks re-election, his presence may be felt more in other local races than in his own
    • Oct 20, 2016
  • More »


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Today | Sun | Mon | Tue | Wed | Thu | Fri
Lost Egypt: Ancient Secrets, Modern Science

Lost Egypt: Ancient Secrets, Modern Science @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

Tuesdays-Sundays. Continues through Jan. 6

All of today's events | Staff Picks

More by Ken Fischman

  • Paying to Play

    If you are fortunate enough, there is one spot on Earth you can go to that makes your heart sing. For my wife and me, that place is the Aravaipa Wilderness in southeastern Arizona, where we once spent an idyllic season as wilderness range
    • Jun 16, 2005
  • When a Great Man Died

    On my way to the front door of my Brooklyn apartment, I glanced at the picture perched on top of the Steinway grand piano and smiled. In the photograph, my brother-in-law Bernie looked handsome and determined in his Air Force uniform, resp
    • Apr 7, 2005
  • More »

Most Commented On

  • The Do-Over

    After failing to pass a bus service tax hike last year, Spokane Transit Authority has a plan to get you to vote for it again
    • Oct 6, 2016
  • Pants on Fire

    U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers can't see the forest for the trees when it comes to climate change
    • Oct 6, 2016
  • More »

Top Tags in
News & Comment

election 2016


green zone


trail mix

Readers also liked…

  • Patrolling While Black
  • Patrolling While Black

    Gordon Grant's nearly 30 years as a Spokane cop have been affected by race, but that's not the whole story
    • Jul 8, 2015
  • State of Play
  • State of Play

    The state auditor raises concerns about cash management at Riverfront Park and the city's golf courses
    • Mar 11, 2015

© 2016 Inlander
Website powered by Foundation