More Fees Coming to a Trail Near You

General discussions on hiking in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest
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cunningkeith
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More Fees Coming to a Trail Near You

Post by cunningkeith » October 25th, 2019, 8:35 am

Senator Wyden is proposing a new bill that allows the Forest Service to charge people for hiking in the Gorge, Mt. Hood, and numerous other places.

If you think the Central Cascades fees are bad, then buckle up for more fees at your favorite places. Wyden's bill ("Recreation Not Red Tape") has been around for a few years (thanks to Water for pointing this out on a separate thread). But there's a chance that it passes this session as part of an omnibus bill to keep the government open. Please write your House rep and our Senators (see contact info below) and tell them to fix the bill. Here is what I am saying (feel free to borrow):

You might be unaware that the legislation that you are sponsoring "Recreation Not Red Tape" (S. 1967, H.R. 3458) will lock people out of wilderness areas and harm low-income families.

The Forest Service has recently proposed an elaborate fee system for hiking in the Central Cascades. All people (hikers, fishermen, horseback riders, hunters, climbers) will be charged for overnight use across nearly ½ million acres in three wilderness areas. Nobody will be allowed to enter any part of the Three Sisters, Mt. Jefferson, or Mt. Washington Wilderness Areas for overnight use without paying a fee. For my family, a Three Sisters trip that currently costs $0 will now cost $100-$200 if the Forest Service’s plan goes through.

No forest in the country has enacted a fee system that is this elaborate (charging for all overnight use at all trails and for day use at 19 trails). There is a reason that this move is unprecedented. The proposal violates the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA), which prohibits the Forest Service from charging people who simply want to hike and camp. Congress passed the FLREA in 2004 to stop the Forest Service’s previous practice of charging people for hiking, camping, and picnicking.

Unfortunately, “Recreation Not Red Tape,” which amends the FLREA, will make things worse by discouraging outdoor recreation and harming low-income people. I support the bill’s goal of streamlining the permitting process for outfitters. But certain language buried in the bill will allow the Forest Service to begin charging ordinary users who want to take a hike. I am asking you to amend this language. The proposed legislation says that the Forest Service may charge “for specialized individual or group uses of Federal recreational lands and waters, including . . . (C) for the use of— (i) a special area.” If this language is enacted, then cash-strapped land managers will quickly declare numerous regions “special areas.” Do you want to go on a day hike on Mt. Hood or through the Gorge? Get ready to pay a fee to hike in these “special areas.” I can guarantee that many of your constituents will be outraged when the Forest Service takes these obvious next steps.

You can fix this problem in two ways. Ask the Forest Service to end its radical fee proposal (it’s still in the comment phase) and amend “Recreation Not Red Tape” to make clear that the Forest Service can charge outfitters for a permit but cannot charge ordinary folks who simply want to go on a hike.




Contact info
Senator Ron Wyden, Website: https://www.wyden.senate.gov
Senator Jeff Merkley, Website: https://www.merkley.senate.gov Webform
District 1 – Suzanne Bonamici, Website: https://bonamici.house.gov.
District 2 - Greg Walden, Website: https://walden.house.gov
District 3 - Earl Blumenauer, Website: https://blumenauer.house.gov
District 4 - Peter A. DeFazio, Website: https://defazio.house.gov
District 5 – Kurt Schrader, Website: https://schrader.house.gov

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jessbee
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Re: More Fees Coming to a Trail Near You

Post by jessbee » October 25th, 2019, 8:47 am

Thanks for sharing. Sounds like this will be an easy one to get Greg Walden on board with so I'll get a message to him ASAP.
Will break trail for beer.

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Bosterson
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Re: More Fees Coming to a Trail Near You

Post by Bosterson » October 25th, 2019, 9:32 am

Thanks for the heads up, Keith! Maybe you can help unpack this a little? The RNRTA would amend the initial "definitions" section of FLREA as follows:
(9) by inserting after paragraph (12) the following:


“(13) SPECIAL RECREATION PERMIT.—The term ‘special recreation permit’ means—

“(A) with respect to the Forest Service, an outfitting and guiding special use permit;

“(B) with respect to the National Park Service, a commercial use authorization for outfitting and guiding issued under—

“(i) this Act; or

“(ii) section 101925 of title 54, United States Code;

“(C) with respect to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, a special use permit for recreational, sport fishing, or hunting outfitting and guiding;

“(D) with respect to the Bureau of Land Management, a special recreation permit for commercial outfitting and guiding; and

“(E) with respect to the Bureau of Reclamation, a use authorization for guiding, outfitting, or other recreational services.”.
Which seems to define special rec permits as being almost exclusively limited to commercial (outfitting, guiding) or hunting type use.

But then the RNRTA additionally amends the "Special recreation permit and fee" section of FLREA:
“(h) Special Recreation Permit And Fee.—

“(1) SPECIAL RECREATION PERMIT.—The Secretary may issue a special recreation permit for specialized individual or group uses of Federal recreational lands and waters, including—

“(A) outfitting, guiding, or other recreation services;

“(B) recreation or competitive events, which may include incidental sales;

“(C) for the use of—

“(i) a special area; or

“(ii) an area in which use is allocated;


“(D) motorized recreational vehicle use; and

“(E) a group activity or event.
Which seems to imply the FS can create "special areas" in which "use is allocated" (ie, limited entry/etc) and then charge fees at will. Basically, this would codify the FS's ability to charge limited use fees via a special rec permit, which otherwise is not explicitly authorized by FLREA, by my reading.

How do we reconcile these two provisions? I guess maybe the thing to do will simply be to call Wyden's office and ask WTF...

Additionally:

It should be noted that the RNRTA would permanently authorize 1) the "definitions" section as amended by RNRTA, 2) the restriction on having to pay highway/road fees if you have paid for the special rec permit, and 3) the entire section authorizing the special rec permit. In other words, RNRTA makes it so the FS never needs special use permits to be reauthorized!! :shock:
Will hike off trail for fun.

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Bosterson
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Re: More Fees Coming to a Trail Near You

Post by Bosterson » October 25th, 2019, 7:47 pm

And here's what I just spammed to 2 senators and my congressman (feel free to borrow and make your own):
I am writing to voice my serious concerns regarding the "Recreation Not Red Tape Act" (S. 1967, H.R. 3458).

I am an active outdoor recreationist in the Pacific Northwest, and care deeply about both protecting wilderness, but also preserving access to public lands. I am extremely concerned by amendments to the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA) proposed in HR 3458. I support the goal of reducing red tape for various guiding and outfitting permits. However, HR 3458 appears to authorize the Forest Service to create a “special area” in which they are allowed to charge fees for “specialized individual” use.

Land managers in the Deschutes and Willamette National Forests have recently enacted a broad permit and fee program for public lands in Central Oregon. This fee program is unprecedented in its scope, and is opposed by many recreationists and outdoor organizations in the Pacific Northwest. (I was involved in the Forest Service’s comment and objection process for this program in the past year.) I am extremely concerned that the “special area” provision of HR 3458 for “individual” use will allow the Forest Service to authorize even more fee areas as a way to mitigate shrinking budgets coupled with increase outdoor recreation. It appears that HR 3458 will give the Forest Service carte blanche to designate any area they want as “special” and then charge fees for recreation, despite FLREA’s clear prohibition on “entrance” fees.

As HR 3458 notes, outdoor recreation is important to both the public and the economy, in both urban and rural areas. The imposition of backdoor entrance fees hurts outdoor recreation by limiting the public’s access to our public lands. Furthermore, any “pay to play” system (such as the permit system the Forest Service is implementing in the Central Cascades) inherently causes disproportionate injury to lower income and historically marginalized groups. This is not the right direction to be taking if we want to create a policy of inclusion and access rather than one that creates socioeconomic shackles.

I urge you to revise HR 3458 and remove the authorization for permits for individual use and for the creation of “special areas.” I applaud the goal of reducing red tape for outfitters and other commercial endeavors, however this cannot come at the cost of causing ordinary citizens (and only those who can afford it!) to have to pay to enter our public lands just to hike or camp.
Will hike off trail for fun.

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cunningkeith
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Re: More Fees Coming to a Trail Near You

Post by cunningkeith » October 26th, 2019, 3:29 pm

You're right that the "definitions" of the bill look fine. They just say that a "'special recreation permit' means (A) with respect to the Forest Service, an outfitting and guiding special use permit"

Now that sounds fine b/c it's just a permit for outfitters.

But, as you point out, the bill then amends the FLREA and vastly expands "special recreation permit and fee" to include "specialized individual use . . . (C) for the use of . . . (i) a special area." This must mean what it says: permits and fees for individual hikers b/c there are separate examples listed such as "(A) outfitting, guiding" and "(B) recreation or competitive events"

If the bill were supposed to just empower the FS to charge for outfitting, then subjection (B) and (C) would be unnecessary.

So, the bill needs to be amended. If passed, the FS will have legal authority to do what so far they've been doing illegally with the Central Cascades fees.

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Guy
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Re: More Fees Coming to a Trail Near You

Post by Guy » October 27th, 2019, 6:01 pm

Messages sent & I shared this thread on the Portland Hikers Facebook group where it seems that almost every week people are just now finding out about the central cascades!
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jessbee
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Re: More Fees Coming to a Trail Near You

Post by jessbee » October 28th, 2019, 8:30 am

Ok, I just crafted my message for my lovely rep Greg Walden. Thanks to a few of you who shared your letters that offered inspiration for my own.

I'll note this: I've heard the Forest Service say a variation on this a few times now: "we received xx comments, BUT -- of those were FORM LETTERS." It is clear to me that no matter how many of the same form letter they receive, they pool them all and count them as one comment. That's pretty lame, as far as I'm concerned, because if they receive 1,000 objections via some outdoor organization that all say the same thing, they're like meh that's 1 objection.

So I've been careful to make my comments my own, using my own language as much as possible, instead of just cut and paste. I implore you to do the same, to the best of your ability.

Hope this helps you put your own words together:

"Mr. Walden,

I am writing today to express my concerns about the "Recreation Not Red Tape Act" (S. 1967, H.R. 3458).

I hike, climb, ski, camp and explore federal public lands, both in and out of Oregon, in every month of the year. Preserving public access to outdoor spaces is a huge priority to me. My ability to get out and enjoy these lands plays a huge role in my physical and mental health, gives me a sense of responsibility in my community, helps me connect with fellow outdoorspeople and makes me grateful to live in a country that provides its citizens so much freedom and beauty.

That is why the proposed changes to HR 3458 are concerning. They appear to authorize the Forest Service to create a “special area” in which they are allowed to charge fees for “specialized individual” use. This hits especially hard as we in Central Oregon are looking at a massive permit and quota system coming to broad swaths of three wilderness areas in our backyard beginning in May, 2020. The future is permits and limited access for ordinary individuals, and I don’t like what this means for the outdoor recreation community.

The managers of the Deschutes and Willamette National Forests are in the middle of hammering out logistics and fees for both day and overnight access in Central Oregon. This fee program is unprecedented in its scope. There is not broad public support for this program, despite the talking points that the forest spokespeople are sharing with the media, as many outdoor organizations and individuals have expressed their objections on this project (including myself).

I understand that the Forest Service is trying to make up for a lack of budget by charging users access to public lands, but I do not believe permits are the answer to this crisis. As HR 3458 notes, outdoor recreation is important to both the public and the economy, in urban and rural areas. In fact, many rural Oregon communities serve as important entry points into Oregon’s wilderness areas.

The imposition of what are essentially “entrance fees” (which are specifically prohibited in the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act-FLREA) hurts outdoor recreation by limiting the public’s access to our public lands. This strategy especially hurts low income and marginalized communities by erecting another financial and logistical barrier to simply taking a walk on federal public lands. This blatantly goes against the Forest Service’s mission to be more inclusive to underserved populations.

I implore you to fix the loophole built into HR 3458, creating the “special area” provision for “individual” use, which will almost certainly lead to keeping members of the public out of their beloved public lands. Our wilderness areas are not being “loved to death,” rather, we need to encourage even more people to get out into nature so as to inspire better advocacy for keeping public lands open to the public.

And in closing, consider this alternative: support larger budgets for the Forest Service to allow them to do their job in managing the impacts of increased recreational use! They need finances to hire more rangers, support larger volunteer crews, develop educational programs and reach out to underserved communities. Each one of us deserves unfettered access to walk and camp on the lands that make this country great. Thank you for hearing my concerns and I trust that you will do what’s best for everyone who wishes to tread upon public lands."
Will break trail for beer.

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drm
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Re: More Fees Coming to a Trail Near You

Post by drm » October 28th, 2019, 9:17 am

jessbee wrote:
October 28th, 2019, 8:30 am
Ok, I just crafted my message for my lovely rep Greg Walden.
Walden just announced that he is retiring, will not seek reelection next year.

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jessbee
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Re: More Fees Coming to a Trail Near You

Post by jessbee » October 28th, 2019, 10:22 am

drm wrote:
October 28th, 2019, 9:17 am
jessbee wrote:
October 28th, 2019, 8:30 am
Ok, I just crafted my message for my lovely rep Greg Walden.
Walden just announced that he is retiring, will not seek reelection next year.
Oh great well that is good news.
Will break trail for beer.

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cunningkeith
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Re: More Fees Coming to a Trail Near You

Post by cunningkeith » October 30th, 2019, 5:52 am

If anyone can explain how the language for charging "individuals" snuck in this legislation, I would love to know.

Here's one theory (and it's just a theory): Lobbyists who stand to gain from the legislation put this language in the bill. Think that's far-fetched? Look at the facts:

The website recreation.gov could make millions from charging people for hiking permits across the country.

So let's follow the money. recreation.gov is not run by the government despite the ".gov" domain name. The website is operated by Booz Allen Hamilton, a huge government contractor. The parent company of Booz Allen is the Carlyle Group, a private equity firm.

Sen. Ron Wyden has been a lead sponsor of this legislation. According to opensecrets.org, the Carlyle Group paid Sen. Wyden $51,800 over the last five years. So it appears that the Carlyle Group contributed to Sen. Wyden and now he supports legislation that will benefit his donor.
Last edited by cunningkeith on October 31st, 2019, 6:05 am, edited 1 time in total.

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