Wilderness and recreation hurt by Fee Demo
February 24, 2004
Kudos to Pitkin County for taking a stand against the U.S. Forest Service’s Fee Demo program.
You might expect the county to support the program, since user fees help pay for summertime bus service to the Maroon Bells, as well as maintenance of tourist facilities at Maroon Lake. But the drawbacks of this “pay to play” funding system far outweigh its meager benefits.
In effect, Washington is starving the Forest Service of funding and then telling it to make up the difference by collecting user fees. This is a slippery slope that will inexorably lead to the commercialization, privatization and commoditization of our public lands ” to the serious detriment of the public and of the ecological health of the lands themselves.
Public lands belong to everyone. The Forest Service can’t justify charging us to use our own undeveloped lands ” its own surveys show this ” so, if it is under pressure to raise money through fees, it will have a strong incentive to develop its lands with otherwise unnecessary facilities and activities that it can charge for. And with their budgets tied to fee income, local districts will be motivated to produce more recreation “product” to earn more fees.
Short-term revenue decisions will eclipse long-term management of the forest. Next stop: Disneyland.
Sound unlikely? The fee demonstration program was created by legislation drafted by an organization called the American Recreation Coalition, whose members include snowmobile and RV manufacturers, hotel and motel associations, and yes, the Walt Disney Company. These companies see big profit potential in public lands.
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User fees don’t even solve the Forest Service’s financial problems, and they may make them worse. The more facilities the agency builds, the more reliant it becomes on fees to cover their maintenance. That’s exactly what we’re already seeing in the Maroon Valley. Having built its fancy “Flintstone toilets” at Maroon Lake, the Forest Service now claims it needs user fees to clean them.
The Wilderness Workshop has long maintained that the solution to this problem is for Washington to fund the Forest Service adequately so that local managers don’t have to hold a bake sale, in effect, to clean the toilets.