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Are User Fees on Public Lands Endangered?


    There's a story making the rounds that Montana's senior U.S. senator, Max Baucus, is seriously thinking of introducing legislation to repeal the Recreation Enhancement Act, aka the Recreation Access Tax, aka, Fee Demo, aka the RAT tax.
    Given life by Bill Schneider of the New West network, the story quotes Mr. Baucus as saying, essentially, that the fees that are sweeping public lands are un-American.
    “It’s all wrong,” the senator said. “These are public lands, and public lands are for the public. People pay for them with their taxes. They shouldn’t have to pay for them twice.”
    Of course, saying he's considering a bid to repeal the fee legislation is one thing. Introducing a bill and getting Congress and the president to sign off on it is something entirely else. But the fact that more and more people are speaking out against the fees is encouraging.

    Earlier this year Representative Peter DeFazio said the Park Service was wrong to push for higher entrance fees to Crater Lake National Park.
    And later this week the California legislature is expected to vote on a resolution calling on Congress to repeal the fee programs, which seem to be spreading across the public landscape like kudzu.
    While opposition seems to be mounting against these fees, what Congress will have to do if it's serious about repealing them is find money elsewhere in the budget to offset the loss of fee revenues. As I pointed out earlier this month, the National Park Service pulls in $150 million a year in entrance fees and uses that money on everything from patching potholes to trail improvements. I don't know how much revenue the U.S. Forest Service and other land-management agencies receive from fees they've instituted, but it's got to be substantial.

    Can Congress do that? Does it have the will? This will be a story worth watching.
    To let Senator Baucus know you support his fight against ever-increasing fees for access to public lands, drop him a line.

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