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NEW! Listen to a 19-minute podcast about the meeting HERE.
February 2, 2010
For immediate release
PORTLAND, OR- More than 70 Forest Service recreation sites in Oregon and Washington will see new or increased user fees under proposals approved today at a teleconference meeting of a citizens advisory committee. The approvals were unanimous despite the fact that most public comment about the proposals was overwhelmingly negative.
Fourteen people took advantage of the opportunity to call in to the Tuesday afternoon teleconference to express their views about the proposals. All of them spoke against approval, which was consistent with previously documented public opposition. Nevertheless, they were all approved.
The fees will affect visitors to the Deschutes, Umpqua, and Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forests, at day-use, camping, and cabin rental sites. They include four primitive camping areas on the Okanogan-Wenatchee, seven new day-use fee sites on the Deschutes, six new fee sites on the Umpqua, and 55 increases at existing fee sites on the Umpqua.
A proposal for 17 new and increased fees on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest was withdrawn by the forest on January 22, without explanation.
This was the first meeting by teleconference of the Pacific Northwest Recreation Resource Advisory Committee (RecRAC), and despite occurring on a weekday afternoon, fourteen citizens from as far away as Pennsylvania took advantage of the opportunity to comment.
Twisp, Washington resident Kristi Laguzza-Boosman reminded the committee of their "growing reputation as a kangaroo court" while describing her experience fighting a ticket for failure to pay a fee to access undeveloped backcountry on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. As a result of her successful battle to have her charges dismissed, the Eastern Washington district of the U.S. Attorney's office has suspended prosecution of all violation notices, pending the outcome of their investigation into recreation fees on the Okanogan-Wenatchee.
Retired Forest Service recreation manager Scott Phillips from Hailey, Idaho, told the committee that "Stop-Pay Here" signs are " destructive to the quality of the mental rejuvenation experience that we all need and want in our over-mechanized society when we go into the woods."
Marlene Orchard, representing the Oregon Backcountry Horsemen, said that equestrians resent having to pay to park their rigs before performing volunteer trail maintenance work.
Bend, Oregon resident Scott Silver, Executive Director of Wild Wilderness, pointed out that the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act prohibits fees for access to dispersed backcountry and begged the committee, "Don't become the cover for the Forest Service to do that which they are not allowed to do."
Senior camper Elaine Newcomb questioned why the Pacific Northwest forests have so far "gotten away with" fees for backcountry access that are prohibited by law, and expressed concern about the Forest Service's plan to discontinue 50% discounts for senior and disabled campers. "What people need right now is to get out and sit under a tree and hear the quiet," she said.
Despite the outpouring of negative public sentiment about recreation fees, the Pacific Northwest advisory committee approved nearly every proposal on their agenda. The sole exception was a new fee at the Windy-Oldenberg Trailhead on the Deschutes National Forest. After first scuttlling the entire eight-site Deschutes fee proposal, the other seven sites were approved unanimously in a "do-over" vote on a revised motion.
"In our 2008 analysis report on the advisory commitee process we accused these committees of being rubber stamps for the Forest Service and BLM," said Western Slope No-Fee Coalition President Kitty Benzar. "Today's meeting confirms that. This so-called public participation process is an utter sham."
Benzar promised that efforts to repeal the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act, which specifies where fees may and may not be charged and under which the advisory committees are chartered, would be redoubled. Bipartisan legislation to that effect has been introduced in the U.S. Senate as S. 868, sponsored by Senators Baucus and Tester of Montana, as well as Senator Crapo of Idaho.
"It has never been clearer than today that the Recreation Enhancement Act is a complete failure," said Benzar. "It spells the end of our whole concept of public lands, and the only hope of saving them is to end it."
DESCHUTES NATIONAL FOREST asked for new fees at 8 day-use sites. The sites are all on the Crescent Ranger District, which currently does not have any day-use fee sites. All but one of the fees were approved. Only the new fee at the Windy-Oldenberg trailhead was turned down. The objections raised to the Deschutes proposal included:
OKANOGAN-WENATCHEE NATIONAL FOREST asked for new fees at 4 "dispersed recreation campsites," and they were all approved. Some of the objections raised about this proposal:
UMPQUA NATIONAL FOREST asked for new fees at 6 sites and increased fees at 55 sites, and all were approved. Some of the objections raised about this proposal:
WALLOWA-WHITMAN NATIONAL FOREST was originally proposing increased fees on 3 cabin rentals and 14 campgrounds. Or maybe at 4 cabins and one teepee, plus new fees at 5 additional campgrounds and one trailhead. The posted information was so confusing it was impossible to tell exactly what their proposal was. On January 22, 2010 the Wallowa-Whitman proposal was withdrawn by the Forest without explanation. Some objections that had been raised prior to the withdrawal: