Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best solutions

  Congress has heard, loud and clear, that the Recreational Fee Demonstration Program hasn’t worked. But it still can’t quite bring itself to call an end to it.

Sen. Larry Craig supports fees only for developed campgrounds and boat ramps. Those fees have never been controversial. What he fails to address is the extra wrinkle that fee retention brings to the picture. What fee retention actually does is to subsidize the mentality of "build it and they will pay." It puts the land-management agencies into the empire-building business.

The General Accounting Office has repeatedly identified a scandalous level of fiscal mismanagement and irresponsibility by the land-management agencies. It has called on Congress for years for more oversight.

Sen. Craig’s solution? Appoint "recreation fee advisory committees" to decide where and what fees should be charged. How could substituting nonelected committees (appointed by the very agencies they are supposed to advise) for nonelected bureaucrats be considered an improvement?

If Sen. Craig truly believes in a limited permanent fee program and if he supports fees for campgrounds and other direct services only, then any fee legislation should allow only those services. There should be no gray areas that would require politically influenced, agency-appointed advisory committees.

If any fee legislation is needed at all, it should offer real solutions to the problems facing our land-management agencies. Congress should provide a direct avenue for appropriated funds to reach our local land managers, address agency accountability, and mandate that agency priorities put maintenance and operations first. Otherwise, just end it. Simple.

Robert Funkhouser
Norwood, Colorado

The author is president of the Western Slope No-Fee Coalition.
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