Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Senators want to end unfair US public lands fees

Sens. Tester and Baucus of Montana want to end unfair public lands recreation fees.

WASHINGTON -- As a steadfast advocate of America’s outdoor heritage, Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) introduced legislation that would block the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and other federal agencies from charging Americans higher fees to access their public lands.

Forest and BLM fees have been very controversial and abused by bureaucrats in places such as Mt. Lemmon AZ, on the Coronado National Forest near Tucson, and on other lands across the west and nation.

Baucus introduced the Fee Repeal and Expanded Access Act of 2009. Joining him as the lead cosponsor is Sen. Mike Crapo (R) of Idaho.

The bill would revoke authority given to the Forest Service in 2004 to institute new fees and increase existing fees at campgrounds, trailheads, and other public areas.

Specifically, the bill repeals the 2004-passed Federal Lands Recreational Enhancement Act, sometimes called the recreational access tax, and reinstates legislation dating back to 1965 that limits the use of fees on public lands.

Baucus, a long-time critic of the fees, said the current system amounts to double taxation.

"Every tax day we pay to use our public lands, we shouldn’t be taxed twice to go fishing, hiking, or camping on OUR public lands,” Baucus said. “Paying twice just doesn’t make any sense.”

Montana Senator Jon Tester (D) also cosponsored the legislation.

“Raising fees on hardworking families who want to enjoy their public land isn’t a card we should be playing,” said Tester, who serves as vice chairman of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus. “Americans already pay their share for our national forests every April 15. This bill is just common sense.”

Kitty Benzar, president of the Western Slope No-Fee Coalition, hailed the bill.

"This is an exciting step toward restoring access to public lands for all Americans, and not just access for those who can afford to pay extra,” Benzar said. “I’m pleased and grateful for Senator Baucus’s support and we will work hard to get this bill passed and signed into law.”

Baucus’ bill would:

• Repeal the FLREA
• Reinstate the fee authorities established by the 1965 Land and Water Conservation Act
• Reinstate the National Parks Pass system
• Cap the amount that can be charged for entrance to national parks.

Baucus and Crapo introduced similar legislation in 2007.

"As a state leader from the west, I urge congress and the Obama administration to support economic justice by passing this bipartisan bill, to give people a break when they visit and respect their public lands," said Arizona State Rep. Daniel Patterson (D-Tucson), an ecologist and hunter who formerly worked with BLM.

- adapted from Sen. Baucus

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