If there's a basic flaw in the government's Recreation Fee Demonstration Program, or "fee demo," it's that it represents a form of regressive taxes, or double taxation. We, the people, already pay taxes for the management of public lands, and now, under fee demo, we are required to pay again for their use.
That strikes me as unfair, conferring advantage
to the wealthy and imposing disproportionate negative impact upon
working people and lower-income persons.
Officials of the Forest Service and National
Park Service claim fees are necessary to raise funds to protect
natural resources. Consequently they place the burden on local
administrators to serve as fee collectors and marketers of
recreation as a commodity. Although stewardship of public lands,
especially wilderness, often requires limitation of use, fee demo
provides a powerful incentive for managers to avoid anything that
will limit use. It's a bad incentive, thoroughly incompatible with
principles of conservation.
forestry pioneer and public lands apostle, early in the last
century repeatedly defined equality of opportunity for every
citizen as the real object of laws and institutions. The rightful
use and purpose of our natural resources, as he saw them, are to
make all the people strong and well, able and wise, well taught,
well fed, well clothed, full of knowledge and initiative, with
equal opportunity for all and special privilege for none.
Public recreation, in fact, exists to enable
people to participate who could not do so otherwise. But when
agencies act like entrepreneurs seeking self-funding through fees,
and low-income people are excluded, the public purpose "- the very
reason for public ownership "- is defeated.
fee demonstration program was approved by Congress in1996, as an
experiment after lobbying by the American Recreation Coalition, an
organization for the mechanized and mass recreation industry "- all
eager to share in commercializing, motorizing and Disneyfying the
Yes, outdoor recreation spans a
variety of interests, tastes and goals. Commercial resorts and
campgrounds bring the conveniences of urban living into outdoor
life away from home. Disneyland and other profit-making theme parks
provide mass entertainment just as television and movie theaters
But recreation areas on publicly owned lands
are like art galleries, museums and libraries, meant to enrich
society by enlightening and elevating individuals who come to them.
Parks and forests provide an antidote to urbanized living, a return
to pioneer pathways, a chance to exercise the body and mind in
harmony with the great outdoors.
We should not
allow the mismanagement of our public lands, for public lands are
the heart and body of the West, and maybe soul, too. Take away the
public lands and there wouldn't be much to the economy either.
Public lands are the last open spaces, last wilderness, last
lands, the West would be an impoverished province.
Money is not the simple answer, but Congress
must provide the funding for administration necessary to maintain
these national treasures for future generations. It should not
order administrators to merchandise the resource in order to pay
their salaries. Like any object of beauty, a park requires
protection, with high standards of care and conservation, to
sustain the qualities that make it special. And the very same goes
for state legislatures in providing for state parks.
I believe the travel industry and citizen
conservationist organizations can work together for the long-range
good. In Jackson, Wyo., several years ago, I learned of a tourism
survey commissioned by the chamber of commerce. It determined that
visitors were attracted most by the following assets: Grand Teton
National Park; Yellowstone National Park; big game, visible and
legendary (moose, elk, deer, coyote, bighorn sheep); outdoor
recreation, adventuresome and tranquil; mountain setting and
scenery, uncrowded open country; and hospitable, friendly people.
The emphasis needs to be on protecting and
enhancing natural quality and character, letting dollar values
follow. Robert Giersdorf, a past president of the Travel Industry
Association of America, has said: "Our very existence and success
depend on making sure that pristine and unimpaired wilderness
experiences are preserved for tomorrow, next week, next year, and
for the next generation of visitors to enjoy." That makes a sound
Meanwhile, the fee demo program has
proven so distasteful that even three of its original Republican
supporters in the Senate, Ben Nighthorse Campbell and Wayne Allard
of Colorado and Larry Craig of Idaho, have given up on it. It is
scheduled to end in 2004. Let it go, I say, and get on to better