Have you had enough with fees to use our public lands?

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May 21, 2010

A camera crew from Idaho Public Television’s  popular Outdoor Idaho program, shooting a segment on students and conservation, was denied a permit to follow the students into the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, a part of the Salmon-Challis National Forest, on the grounds that this type of filming was commercial and therefore not allowed in the wilderness.

This is yet another example of something broken in the National Forest Service (FS). What rationale the FS could make to deny a decidedly non-commercial station (clearly evident by their fund drives to raise enough money to stay on the air) from filming a story that could only do good for the FS is beyond comprehension.

In a similar incident a few years ago I wanted to do a story of the daily working life of a typical FS ranger. I asked permission to ride with a ranger for a day to see his activities first hand. I was given such a runaround–forms to fill out, having to submit them to the regional office,  who would then forward them to Washington, fees charged if I wanted to take pictures, and I would find out whether permission was granted in about a year–when I would be on the other side of the country.

Couple this with the FS efforts to dream up every possible way to raise money, for instance: allowing concessionaires to run the campgrounds and taking a cut of fees that have more than doubled over the past few years, trying to reduce the senior discount from 50% to 10% (they lost), charging for the use of picnic grounds, charging fees for parking at trailheads and along roads (illegal), and requiring fees to drive certain scenic roads–which are against their charter–are the result of the federal agencies, with the exception of the National Park Service, in 2004 being given the authority to institute new fees and increase existing fees at campgrounds, trailheads, and other public areas. How long will it be before they start charging for boondocking in the forests?

Max Baucus, Senator from Montana, has introduced Senate bill .868, the Fee Repeal and Expanded Access Act, which would revoke that far-reaching authority. Under the Fee Repeal Act, policies that worked well for over thirty years under the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act of 1965 will be reinstated, and the decade-long failed experiment with recreation user fees will end.

You can learn more at the Western Slope No Fee Coalition Web site and send a letter to your senator urging him/her to support the bill here. If we RVers don’t let our wishes be known, if we just sit back comfortably in our camp chairs and let the FS continue to nickel and dime (more like five and ten dollars) us to the point where we can no longer afford to travel or recreate on our public lands, then we deserve what we get .

Read more about how we can currently enjoy our public lands in my eBook BOONDOCKING: Finding the Perfect Campsite on America’s Public Lands before they become public lands only for the affluent.


By Bob Difley

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  3. Geoffrey Pruett

    This runaround is the result of the cowardice that is part of surviving as a career bureaucrat. The greatest sin to be commited by a career bureaucrat is not having a signed form on file in someones file cabinet. This is a genaric part of our existing system and extendeds overseas in the embassy system. Until enough sunshine is allowed into the “system” the assigned person will continue to create “rules” that guard the back, not make sense. The number of Forest Service employees who live and work on Forest Service lands continues to shrink but the total number of employees does not. The only items in the budget that do not “exceed” funds available keep the filing cabinets full.

  4. w6pea

    I hope all of the do gooders are happy. Just remember there is away to take back our country it’s called the bllot box. The USFS is going broke but so is the USA. All they want to do is spend spend spend. I think the USFS was wrong but you will never convince them and those clowns that got elected.

  5. Ed

    They want to charge us more and more and in some places they are spending money on things that need not be done. I live south of Tucson and a mining company from Canada wants to mine copper from federal forest lands and they pay nothing for all the minerals they pull out (gold copper silver and more). This is because of a mining law from the 1800s that gives permission to mine for free but not to camp for free. The oldsters like us will fade away, but there are young people who enjoy and I hope they get to enjoy some of the wonderful parks if they don’t just dig them all up

  6. The aim of the Forrest Service doesn’t appear to be promoting the forest, but the Forrest Service. Most of our governmental agencies have become politically correct they seem to have lost sight of their original purpose.

  7. Tireman9

    Sorry I cut things short. The boss was calling me for dinner.

    BP is British Co
    Trans Ocean is Swiss (very low taxes)
    Drill platform Registered from Marshal Islands (no inspection or regulations)

    Re Royalties. Need to do some more research but found this “1995 law that waived royalties to give oil and gas companies an incentive to undertake expensive deepwater exploration”.

  8. Duffer

    Roger-Ohio, I was right with you up until the last paragraph. But I think I get your drift, and I’d agree with your view of big government being terribly inefficient at managing anything.

    You know of course that the Fed demands billions of dollars of the oil companies’ well-head dollars? Before the companies even refine it? That’s in addition to other more familiar corporate taxes. It’s kind of like a well-head drilling fee; you know, like that “egg management fee” that we see on the TV ads. They’re supposed to invest in processes, tools and methods for containing and protecting us from the inevitible risks of oil production. We’ve seen how well the Feds have done so far in the Gulf.

    Queen Janet just sits in her office and watches BP jerk us around. That’s when she’s not just sitting there watching people illegally swarm all over our borders and create social, financial and criminal mayhem for our brothers and sisters in Arizona, and elsewhere. They can’t even manage border protection…which seems like a simple principle.

  9. Debbie McMillan

    All I can say is come to Canada to camp in our parks and Walmarts. there is way too much gov’t everywhere trying to grab every cent we have leaving us little to enjoy even in the wilderness.

  10. Roger-Ohio

    So we want to complain about “Big Governemnt” taking our rights away. While at the same time we complain about the burdensome responsibilities that go along with whatever “Rights” we feel we deserve.

    We want to use land for free and of course don’t want to be responsible and pay taxes to pay for the services we feel are our right. We want clean restrooms but don’t want to pay to build or keep them clean or in good repair due to damage by our fellow citizens who constantly practice their “right” to damage public property or cover walls with graphiti.

    Why is it that so many forget that the Big Bad Government is us?

    We demand better services in the form of roads, firefighters, schools, libraries, parks, flood control (so we can build our vacation homes in the flood plain then complain when the Big Bad Government doesn’t prevent 100 or 500 year floods and then doesn’t compensate for our loss.

    We don’t want Big Bad Governemnt interfeering in our daily lives but are quick to complain when it is discovered lead in kids toys or when Wall Street Investors like Bernie Maddoff bilk us out of our life savings. Government isn’t supposed to make it expensive for oil companies to drill baby drill by requiring safety equipment actually work but who’s falt is it when we discover the for profit oil companies, who are selling the oil obtained from US lands is being sold at a nice profit worldwide. We don’t even complain when the drilling companies aren’t even paying taxes on their profits here in the USA.

  11. Duffer

    Bob, Bob,

    A few of your “facts” aren’t exactly stated accurately. Though I’m not trying to nit-pick. Really.

    First, Sen. Baucus is from Montana, not Idaho. That’s a pretty important fact to get right. Especially for those who are from either Idaho or Montana…or who are interested in a knowledgeable, factual summary of the bill.

    Next, he has at least three co-sponsors in the bill, which seems to have been introduced or drafted last year sometime. That all should be included in the “statement of fact”.

    And then, in your blog (maybe you just got in a hurry), you left out a few important other pertinent facts from the bill that Max and the three other fellas are sponsoring…namely that they still expect to collect fees from campgrounds, swimming sites and boat launches that have a defined minimum level of development, and for rental of cabins and lookouts. It doesn’t appear to solve your – or others’ – total frustration with fees as your overall theme implies to the average reader.

    There may be more instructional (and factual) information available on the bill by actually getting a copy of the bill, rather than just reading your opinion or your reference to another site with some other folks’ opinions on what it says.

    You’re entitled, of course, to your opinions. but you should not ignore or create facts to suit your own purpose. That’s guaranteed to lose your street cred, son.


  12. Ray from Nevada

    Folks, there is no free anything! We all pay a multiplicity of taxes, income, sales, gas, etc. Fees for trucking, property, schools, licenses of all kinds. Problem is what is the tax/fee designated for? Where is the funding for the NFS or BLM? The General fund of course. Some of our S.S. tax goes there for instance as it is now included into the General Fund too. It is spent according to the political pay off to our Pols, etc. Lets start putting pressure now this election year on these used car salespeople we call Senators. etc. to use this money as it was originally meant and not for their re-election, and get the private contractors out! They receive 75% of the fees collected. How do I know? Worked for one once.
    p.s. Max Baucus is from Montana, I lived there 30 yrs. ago. Why is he still there?

  13. Ed

    This is one more effort of Big Goverment trying to take our rights away. We should all ban together and make gov give us our land back. We would probably take better care of it.

  14. William Stanley

    IDAHO PUBLIC TELEVISION – Not radio. Hard to show video on the radio.

  15. Gary

    Boy! This time you have hit a nerve. Direct! In response to the Canadian, some of the best camping was when we took the Kamloops route thru the Okanogon and were treated so warmly by the parks people that made us ashamed of our parks here in the states. Not only was it free, but each site had free firewood and they wanted you to pick up the loose stuff on the ground to burn. Here we cannot pick up anything as “it feeds the other trees”. Now we pay to have that “stuff” cleared to prevent the spread of fire. Who tho’t of that gimmic? No we and our parents and grandparents and us have paid dearly for the “public” lands only to see them turned over to private companies who reap the profit.. Get them out. Reduce the “ricky rangers” who can’t or won’t even care about the taxpayer.

  16. Sue Tsuda

    One of my favorite Forest Service campgrounds is Horton Creek just north of Bishop, CA. They used to have potable water (no more) pit toilets (now unmaintained) and a blacktop lane connecting the spaces. Once about 25 years ago, one of the toilets had half the roof gone and my husband went into Bishop to buy ridged fiberglass to replace it. We did the work and left feeling we had done our good deed for the day. There were no fees and no one who appeared to be a “camp host”. Last June I was there with two friends and the lane was almost disappeared into potholes and rocks, the restrooms were in terrible shape and they charged $5 per night to camp. Other than being able to put down asphalt on the lane, volunteers could, with one weekend’s work, put that campground back together again. Then I suppose the Forest Service could charge us $10 per night to camp. I don’t know what they are doing with the money they collect, but they aren’t spending it on THAT campground!

  17. hoppe

    I don’t mind sharing with you if you will reciprocate! hop

  18. hoppe

    For those of us who can remember the days when there was no charge for camping unless there was at least drinking water available, they are pretty much already charging us for boondocking. In addition to that change here in Colorado at least, they post NO CAMPING signs for2-3 three miles of any established campground, forcing the use of the Pay for Play Concessions. Personally I think the Private ‘Management’ companies should be thrown out and let the Forest Service do the jobs we originally established for them to do. Add some free camping for hosts and hostesses etc… We should have our CGs back and be able to use them most of the year, snow conditions allowing.

    Currently the fall/late season hunters find the gates closed and padlocked. I personally didn’t convey title to 100 Trails or any other company for my public lands, and I want them back!


  19. GK

    The only issue I see is that foreigners like myself (I’m from Canada) will get a free ride on the US taxpayer. I don’t pay taxes in the US, but this type of thing would allow me to use these areas for nothing. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem in something being free, but it does seem to be a bit unfair that I would get to take advantage of US taxpayers. That doesn’t sit right with me.

  20. Doug Thompson

    Although I hate getting into political debates, this type of activity is a by-product of the “Government is the problem” mindset. Spending is off the charts, but things like the Forest Service and National Parks are easy targets. The really ironic part is, compared to some of the pork in the budget (bridges to nowhere, etc), the amount of money required to operate parks is chump change.