(Note: NEPFA thanks author Michael Zierhut, webmaster of "Free Our Forests," for allowing us to present his concise yet full history of fee-demo on our web site.)

FEE DEMO: THE SHIFT FROM PUBLIC TO CORPORATE TRUST

by Michael Zierhut

 

 

What Is Fee Demo? If you're like most Americans, you probably haven't heard of the Recreational Fee Demonstration Program (Fee Demo). The program began in 1996 after a rider -- an undebated and often unrelated piece of legislation -- was tacked on to the massive, Omnibus Rescissions and Appropriations Act of 1996. This rider-cum- law allows the Forest Service, Park Service, Fish & Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to "implement a fee program to demonstrate the feasibility of user- generated cost recovery for the operation and maintenance of recreation areas or sites and habitat enhancement projects on Federal lands." 80% of the collected fees are to be returned to the budgets of the areas from which they were collected.

Fee Demo was extended an additional two years through September, 2001 by another rider stuck onto the 1999 Interior Appropriations Bill. Each affected agency would like the program to be made permanent in the Fiscal Year 2001 federal appropriations legislation, to be passed this summer.

 

THE AMERICAN RECREATION COALITION

Fee Demo made its way into the 1996 appropriations bill after years of lobbying on the part of the American Recreation Coalition (ARC). The ARC is as "a well-established national federation of more than 100 private sector organizations. Its volunteer leaders run the nation's most prominent recreation companies and recreation-related associations." The ARC created a spin-off group known as the Recreation Roundtable, to further its goals of uniting the federal government and the private sector. The ARC's president, Derrick Crandall, is also the executive vice president of the Recreation Roundtable. The Recreation Roundtable takes credit for Fee Demo in a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman calling Fee Demo: "the direct result of our efforts." No member of Congress has ever claimed responsibility for Fee Demo, only the recreation industry has spoken on the issue.

The ARC and Recreation Roundtable are not only directly responsible for Fee Demo, but appear to have written the legislation that authorized it. The language and phrasing of the Fee Demo law bears close resemblance to another piece of legislation written by the ARC. The Visitor Infrastructure Improvement Act would affect the same public lands agencies as Fee Demo and allow each to "implement a public- private venture demonstration program to evaluate the feasibility of utilizing non-federal funds to construct, rehabilitate, enhance and maintain certain visitor facilities available to the public on federal lands." (The ARC shopped around for sponsors for this legislation on Capitol Hill in 1998, but found none.) Both programs are demonstrations. Fee Demo also contains provisions for public/ private partnerships "to provide visitor services, including reservations and information, and...enhance the delivery of quality customer services and resource enhancement, and provide appropriate recognition to such partners or investors."

The resemblance between Fee Demo and the Visitor Infrastructure Improvement Act should not surprise anyone who knows how lobbying often works in Congress. It is not uncommon for legislative riders that make their way into bills to be written by lobbyists who are simultaneously giving campaign contributions to key members of Congressional committees. The lobbying efforts of the ARC are no exception. The president of the ARC has given campaign contributions, in the name of the ARC and the Recreation Roundtable, to important members of public lands oversight committees in the Senate and House.

Scott Silver of Wild Wilderness, an undeveloped, non- motorized recreation activist organization, was the first to start filing Freedom of Information Act requests and sifting through hundreds of pages of government documents which linked the ARC and Fee Demo. Silver says that "the recipients of these contributions, Senator Frank Murkowski, Congressman James Hansen, Congressman Jim Oberstar and former Governor Lamar Alexander have all been most helpful in advancing Mr. Crandall's agenda."

The ARC has worked closely with important government officials beyond Congress, as well as with the media. A quote from the ARC's fact sheet tells how it "has hosted nearly one dozen Presidential and Vice Presidential visits to national forests and parks, arranged White House meetings for recreation and conservation community leaders and planned and hosted VIP trips for the Western Governors Association, individual Members of Congress and key media personnel."

So why would the ARC promote Fee Demo, which appears to give no direct benefit to itself or its corporate members? The answer can be found in the public/private partnership authorization within Fee Demo. The ARC has a significant reason to push Fee Demo: to make money.

The corporate members of the ARC and the Recreation Roundtable have substantial resources to invest in future public/private partnerships. Their investment in lobbying for Fee Demo is analogous to a venture capitalist's investment in an internet start-up company. The ARC's corporate members expect the investment to bring returns after Fee Demo becomes permanent and more pieces of legislation authorizing public/ private partnerships, such as the Visitor Infrastructure Improvement Act, become law.

The corporate members of the ARC include: the Coleman Company, Kampgrounds of America, Walt Disney Company, motorized recreation companies (RV, OHV, and motor boats), developed campground and resort companies, and associate members: Chevron, Exxon, and the American Petroleum Institute. The Recreation Roundtable membership consists of presidents and CEO's from prominent recreation corporations. Its leadership includes Chairman Arthur Peterson, President and CEO of Kampgrounds of America, Executive Vice President Derrick Crandall, President of the ARC, and Senior Vice President Kym Murphy, Corporate Vice President for Environmental Policy of the Walt Disney Company. Other executives of note are Judson Green, Chairman of Walt Disney Attractions and Jeremy M. Jacobs, Executive Officer of Delaware North Companies which "in addition to Yosemite, the company provides quality recreational hospitality services at such national treasures as Sequoia National Park, Niagara Falls State Park, Kennedy Space Center and a host of other major tourist attractions. It also has extended its reach to include retail operations at the U.S. Mint and Grand Canyon National Park, and foodservice operations at historic Jones Beach in Long Island." All of these companies would benefit either directly or indirectly from public/ private partnerships providing recreation facilities and services on public lands.

There are two Recreation Roundtable members who seem oddly out-of-place in the company of recreation industry presidents and CEO's. These members are David E. Hall, President of CBS Cable Inc. and Efrem Zimbalist III, President of Times Mirror Magazines. Possibly, these two members were enlisted to disseminate news about Fee Demo and other recreation industry programs to the public. However, a logical question to ask of this involvement is just how much of the media coverage from CBS Cable and Times Mirror (scant that it has been) has been influenced by their membership within the Recreation Roundtable. And, the ARC states that it has "planned and hosted VIP trips for...key media personnel." Clearly, before the horses are out of the gate, the ARC has a media advantage for promoting and selling Fee Demo to the public.

Former and current members of the Recreation Roundtable took part in designing the Forest Service's Fee Demo program in Southern California. ARC president Derrick Crandall testified to Congress that the ARC and the Recreation Roundtable have "arranged for top marketing and communications executives from Disney, REI and other companies to work with the Enterprise Forest fee team in the design and implementation of that project." Within the Enterprise Forest (which virtually encapsulates the essence of Fee Demo in its name) is the Adventure Pass - a fee program where a $5/ day or $30/year parking pass is required to park one's car in any of Southern California's four National Forests.

 

PARTNERS OUTDOORS: LOBBYING AND THE "REVOLVING DOOR"

The Recreation Roundtable has been busy gearing public lands agencies to open up to its proposals for recreation in the future. The roundtable created "an Outdoors Agenda for 1996," right after Fee Demo went into effect, "outlining recreation industry recommendations on ten key public policy areas...presented to the national political parties platform committees, to the National Governors Association and to other key forums."

Did anyone ask the ARC and the Recreation Roundtable to represent us on Capitol Hill? Of course not, they are salaried by member corporations to get out there and represent us on their own time. The Recreation Roundtable lists as one of its accomplishments: "an exciting annual program called Partners Outdoors, now in its [ninth] year, which unites carefully picked federal officials likely to rise to the highest ranks of their agencies with recreation industry officials to...craft action plans to serve our common customers." The ARC confirms this noting that "Roundtable projects have included Partners Outdoors, an important partnership-building seminar held annually in Florida." Partners Outdoors is hosted annually by the Walt Disney Company at Disneyworld.

Partners Outdoors is one of the major revolving doors between recreation executives and federal officials. Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck added a new position to his staff shortly after Fee Demo came into being. This Chief of Staff position was occupied by Francis Pandolfi, a former Recreation Roundtable chairman. He left this position to return to the private sector in 1998. He did not need to hold his post forever, only long enough for the Forest Service to move their operations to a market-driven paradigm. Dombeck recently told an activist fighting Fee Demo that the Forest Service needs the ARC to help with funding. That help would be what? How to fund operations with the approach of a for-profit business, perhaps?

Another commercialized recreation outgrowth of Partners Outdoors is an Army Corps Recreation Partnerships Initiative from Partners Outdoors VIII. The document states that "the Corps issued a Request For Proposal...to solicit bids from qualified consultants to design a methodology for evaluating Corps project lands for their potential for private sector development of public recreation facilities." This document is exactly what the ARC has been working towards at Partners Outdoors events for the last nine years.

But just how did the ARC get the Fee Demo rider introduced? It has been shown how the ARC and the Recreation Roundtable have worked to seed the federal government with people sympathetic to their goals. It has been shown that the ARC has greased the legislative wheels of Congress with campaign donations. Yet when and from where did this program come arise?

No one but the ARC and a few legislators know who tacked the Fee Demo rider onto the 1996 Interior appropriations legislation. What is known is an accomplishment of the Recreation Roundtable: "In 1995, the Roundtable joined with the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and several federal agencies in sponsoring the first Partners Outdoors Fair." Since the 1996 appropriations negotiations began in 1995, perhaps the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee worked to attach the rider to the bill for the ARC, after co-sponsoring Partners Outdoors in 1995. One can only speculate if this committee took actions on Fee Demo in the name of the ARC, however, the committee has certainly helped the ARC further its agenda.

Prominent members of this committee share the ARC's concept of "expanding recreational opportunities on our public lands." Senator Frank Murkowski (R- Alaska) said at Fee Demo oversight hearings on February 4, 1999 that "common sense dictates we collect these fees if we are going to expand America's recreational activities." Fortunately, Murkowski has recently stated in a letter to a constituent that he is "not supporting [Fee Demo] for the National Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, or the Bureau of Land Management." He cited mismanagement as his reason for withdrawing support. The senator goes on to say that "I am concerned about privatization of Forest Service facilities and will make that issue the subject of oversight hearings in the second session of the 106th Congress." Hopefully the issue will be to prevent privatization, not to make it compatible with expanding recreational opportunities in the way the ARC wants them expanded.

PRIVATE CUSTODY OF PUBLIC LANDS

The push towards privatization has been in the works for over twenty years now. In another claim of ARC responsibility for Fee Demo, Derrick Crandall gave a speech to the House Subcommittee on National Parks and Public Lands on February 2, 1998. He stated that "recreation fees on public lands were one of the issues which prompted the creation of the American Recreation Coalition in 1979." Crandall goes on to say that "the recreation community enjoys free lunches just as much as any other interest group, but we have come to understand that it is hard to demand a great menu and top food when you aren't paying." As has been noted, the menu of the ARC's members consists mostly of RV parks, marinas, off-road trails, resorts, and tourist traps; these are some expensive dishes.

When the ARC's desire to promote fees on public lands is coupled with another statement from the ARC, what recreation will look like after the completion of the privatization agenda becomes more clear. The ARC states that "since its inception, ARC has sought to catalyze public/ private partnerships to enhance and protect outdoor recreational opportunities and the resources upon which such experiences are based." When the recreation corporations become stewards, one should not expect resource and habitat preservation beyond improving the groomed surroundings of a private sector recreation facility, to enhance customer experience, increase customer satisfaction, and gain return customers. The activities of these corporations will be based on the bottom line.

The presently authorized public/private partnerships are more than just a way to find potential funding for public lands. Why would the private sector invest lobbying efforts and campaign contributions to make small profits from public/private ventures that give them only half control over a project? The answer is that this would only be the first step of an effort to privatize portions of public lands. This is the only fiscally logical end result of investing so heavily in Fee Demo on the part of the recreation industry.

The benefits of public/ private partnerships to ARC members aside, the ARC has more reasons for there to be fees on public lands. A reasonable assumption might be that if a private concessionaire charges fees in a region with a few free Forest Service campgrounds, it cannot really compete. However, if the Forest Service charges fees, and becomes dependent on them for survival, a concessionaire or resort operator can more easily justify their higher rates to potential customers. And, if you have a large entertainment company like Disney managing a campground, you can add "theme park" attractions and facilities that the Forest Service just can't offer. In fact, in an interview with Motor Home Magazine, the journal of The Good Sam Club (also a sustaining member of the ARC), Derrick Crandall, asks the question: "do we...invite the Kodaks and the General Motors or McDonald's to actively support the federal-land management agencies?" His answer: "It's a matter that we will have to experiment with because there has to be a gain for the American public. We are not doing this for the benefit of the corporations." Should we really think that a corporation's number one concern could be gain for the American public? Some may find it is cynical to think so, but when a politician or special interest says it's not about benefiting corporations, it's usually about benefiting corporations.

Aside from making the government more competitive with the private sector, Fee Demo encourages the public lands agencies to think like for-profit businesses. This paradigm shift creates an environment for the private sector to more easily move into public lands recreation for profit in the future. Additionally, a number of GAO reports have found wide-scale fiscal mismanagement within the Forest Service. The ARC will continue to lobby and donate to Congress. Their allies in Congress might then say that the private sector can manage public lands much better than these agencies.

Much of the shift towards concessionaires running Forest Service campgrounds has already occurred. Due the cut- backs in the Forest Service's budgets in the 80's and 90's, the administration of a vast number of popular Forest Service campgrounds was moved to the private sector. Jim Lyons, Undersecretary of Agriculture for Natural Resources and Environment, said to an assembly of federal officials and the recreation industry at Outdoor Recreation Week in Washington (another ARC creation), that he sees "an expanded role for concessions. What about a profit sharing arrangement...where the taxpayer and the business benefit from the venue - in cold hard cash." In the National Parks, most campground operations are run by concessionaires already. Furthermore, some of the concessionaires are affiliated with the ARC and the Recreation Roundtable. Delaware North, the concessionaire of Yosemite National Park, is also a Recreation Roundtable member.

Members of the Senate have suggested slashing more Forest Service funds and moving more Forest Service operations to the private sector. A letter from the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to the Forest Service dated February 20, 1998, complains of rampant fiscal mismanagement within the Forest Service. This letter also requests the following of the Forest Service: "...provide the number of the employees, the salaries, and other compensation which could be saved by shifting to custodial management."

The ARC has even given a time-frame for privatization of public lands facilities. In Derrick Crandall's interview with Motor Home Magazine, Crandall sees that "the Forest Service largely will be out of the developed-site camping business within the next 10 years." He goes on to say that there is a "need to upgrade or consolidate existing campgrounds that are too small to be economically viable if they were operated by the private sector. If you have three 40-site campgrounds in a national forest district, we may well see that those are essentially closed and a new 120- site campground is built to today's standards, using private-sector dollars." The Army Corps of Engineers, which is not affected by Fee Demo (though the ARC would like to include them) has obliged this way of thinking. In its Recreation Partnerships Initiative, the Corps says of using public/private partnerships that "only Corps project lands where no recreational facilities currently exist, or where facilities previously existed but have since been closed, were considered." Clearly what the ARC has in mind for campground management and concessions is commercially developed recreation, and they have shifted our legislators to think this way as well.

But the ARC's agenda does not stop with commercialization, concessions, and privatization. Derrick Crandall has provided an explanation of the reasons for the recreation industry's strong desire to commercialize public lands. Crandall said in his interview with Motor Home Magazine that "an awful lot of the concessionaires probably could make more money by investing in the stock market rather than in our national parks." The concessionaires that they are looking for are not small, local outfitters and campground providers, but large corporations whose main goal, due to stockholder dividend and CEO salaries, is maximized profits.

 

INDUSTRIAL RECREATION

And just how do profits maximize themselves in outdoor recreation? One of the self-proclaimed tangible accomplishments of the Recreation Roundtable is "the National Scenic Byways Program, a network...for one of the nation*s top pastimes -- driving for pleasure" This program is a resounding example of a common theme in the ARC: motorized recreation. Many of the key members of the ARC are RV manufacturers and lobbyists, while another large chunk are campground providers for those RV's. Furthermore, the vast majority of ARC members are motorized recreation corporations and lobbyists. In fact, as has been stated earlier, the ARC even includes oil companies such as Chevron and Exxon as minor members. Not a single ARC member represents the interests of non-commercial, human-powered recreation such as hiking, backpacking, horse-packing, fishing, hunting, bird watching, kayaking, canoeing, rafting, hang gliding, backcountry skiing, etc. What the ARC has in mind for increased recreation on public lands is recreation which provides a high return on investment: motorized and developed campground recreation. In an era when Americans are beginning to realize that this country should treat the land thoughtfully and with respect, the ARC is suggesting vast increases in the most invasive and destructive forms of recreation on public lands.

 

ARC AND THE FOREST SERVICE

The public lands agencies often act as though Fee Demo was their brainchild for restoring needed funding to public lands. As has been shown, this program was not created by innovative minds within the public lands agencies, but has been continuously pushed for by the ARC through lobbying and campaign contributions. On the ARC's fact sheet, it states that it "monitors legislative and regulatory proposals that influence recreation and works with government agencies and the U.S. Congress to study public policy issues that will shape future recreational opportunities." Again, not only have they come up with this new paradigm, but they've been at it for a long time, and at the highest levels of government.

However, public lands agencies continuously act as though the recreation industry has had little to do with the program. As the Forest Service says of the public/private partnerships that it has engaged in through Fee Demo, "there has only been one national, official agreement, which expired September 30, 1998...with American Recreation Coalition...to help the Forest Service ensure that the public was aware of this program...Through the agreement, ARC agreed to perform a variety of communication and customer service activities that would be of benefit to the Forest Service and the success of the program." Disney is a prominent member of the ARC and has also been involved in implementing the Enterprise Forest project of Fee Demo. In a public debate, Supervisor Jeanine Derby of the Los Padres National Forest responded to a question about Disney's involvement in Fee Demo. She claimed that "Disney is only involved from the standpoint of helping the Forest Service make a transition into understanding what recreation is all about." The Forest Service's first Fee Demo brochure also informs the public that the "ARC's efforts will include explanation of the fee program to the recreation industry and recreation enthusiasts, as well as assistance in evaluation of the demonstration projects." It constitutes a conflict of interest for an organization pushing for fees since 1979 to be able to evaluate the program that it lobbied through Congress on an undebated rider to a massive appropriations bill.

How convenient for Disney to have the Forest Service administration wanting its advice on what recreation is all about. As has been said, the ARC only needed to be there at the start of Fee Demo, to influence the zeitgeist of public lands managers. Once the management paradigm was shifted, the ARC stepped out and public lands agencies took over after being properly trained to run their agencies like for-profit businesses with marketing and customer- service at their cores, and public/private partnerships in their policies.

 

FOREST SERVICE IN BUSINESS GEAR

The Forest Service has been moving their operations closer to the interests of their recreation "partners." Comments made by Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck to Ski Industry Week on December 3, 1997 most clearly illustrate the agency's new way of thinking. Dombeck says, "It baffles me that the Department of Agriculture tracks the value of soybeans, corn, or wheat to the penny by the day, yet, rarely is recreation and tourism on federal lands understood as a revenue generator. Instead it has been perceived as an amenity, something extra that we are privileged to enjoy. Fortunately, that's beginning to change."

Coming along hand-in- hand with the understanding of recreation as a revenue generator are plans for recreation that one would expect to find in the private sector, not the federal government. Some would call this a conflict of interest. Floyd Thompson, Program Manager for the Forest Service's Office of Recreation, Heritage and Wilderness Resources (a job Derrick Crandall applied for in 1999) says that "Marketing plans and business plans are now becoming part of the Forest Service lingo." These plans have more influence over the Forest Service than public input. In response to their own question: "Do Recreation Fee Demonstration Projects have strategic plans for public involvement?", the Forest Service says:" Business plans are in place to spell out objectives of the program, how fees were established, how revenues will be spent, and what kinds of monitoring of the project will be in place." How do business plans that spell out the program constitute public involvement?

The shift to marketing, customer-service, and business plans was achieved, in part, as the Recreation Roundtable boasts, by "a new Career Development Exchange Program for federal executives and recreation industry employees to transfer skills between the sectors and to sensitize federal officials to the realities of a for- profit business." Perhaps Jim Lyons was a post-graduate of this Career Development Exchange Program when he said to Outdoor Recreation Week in 1998: "Can you think of any other entity - private or public - that has the breadth and diversity of outdoor recreation experiences that you can find on the national forests? I doubt it! We've got a great product to sell. And, with your help, we can make it even better!"

The means to improve the Forest Service's recreation product are already beginning to be used. A Public / Private Ventures Desk Guide published by the Forest Service recommends as "minimum standards...to compare typical private- sector developments to [Forest Service] developments:

*Availability of full hookups for water and electricity
*Availability of sewer hookups or dump station *Flush Toilets
*Telephone service
*Reservation System
*Seasonal use of 100- 150 days.
*Average income per site, per night, of $20

Other highly desirable features include:

*Store
*Laundry facilities
*Recreation hall."

 

FOREST SERVICE IGNORING OPPOSITION

The Forest Service has gotten so taken with their new business approach to recreation and the increased funds from Fee Demo receipts, that they have been pushing for permanent authorization of the program while ignoring widespread opposition within the public. The Forest Service says of the nature of Fee Demo as a demonstration that "authorizing legislation asked the agencies to test many kinds of fees -- and the Forest Service has done just that." This is the only type of test they are seriously considering. Their tests are not of public acceptance, but of ways to make the public accept it.

The Forest Service claims that "based on survey results, overall, the public accepts the fees (70 percent or more of the respondents generally favor the concept), especially if they see direct benefits to the site where they paid the fees, and if the forest provides easy methods of payment." The methodology used to obtain these figures is questionable. In the Fall 1999 issues of two academic journals on recreation, the Journal of Leisure Research (JLR) and the Journal of Park And Recreation Administration (JPRA), were devoted to Fee Demo.

Watson & Hearth, the summarizers of the research found that "a majority of fee evaluation efforts have tried to resolve this issue [of public opposition] by asking only those who have paid a fee." Further findings of the research came up with the following problems in numerous surveys which show public acceptance to be high:

*"The lack of systematic assessment of public, or even visitor, response to recreation fees found by Absher et al (JPRA) is cause for alarm."

*"First of all, with a variety of communities of interest and place, Winter et al (JLR) found a vast majority to express disapproval of fees and an additional minority who expressed only conditional acceptance."

*[Bowler et al (JPRA)] "...a national sample of the general public, the support for using taxes to provide the recreation service outweighed the support for using fees only, on 6 of 10 types of fees. In addition, 6 out of 10 of the items received more support for using taxes than a combination of taxes and user fees. We think this kind of information reopens the public debate over whether the American people 'generally support' the use of fees for public recreation access."

*"Schneider and Budruk's (JPRA) targeting of non-fee paying visitors also fuels reconsideration of the assumption that people generally support fees. More than one-half of the visitors they interviewed intentionally chose free sites when options existed."

*"By proceeding with implementation of access fee policies without the ability to anticipate how various public segments will respond or the ability to actually monitor effects illustrates a lack of concern for the intended function of public lands in the lives of the American people."

Additionally, when public lands agencies reported to Congress on the program in 1998, 1999, and 2000, not once did they mention the opposition of activist groups to the program. Nearly a dozen groups have sprung up near areas where Fee Demo projects are in place whose sole reasons for forming were to eliminate Fee Demo. Additionally, over 140 activist organizations in at least 20 states have declared their opposition to Fee Demo. 19 of these organizations are national organizations including the Sierra Club, the Bluewater Network and the John Muir Project of Earth Island Institute, Patagonia, and American Lands.

Opposition does not stop at non-governmental organizations either. The California Legislature, 5 California counties, and 2 California cities have all passed resolutions opposing Fee Demo, and have asked Congress to restore adequate funding to public lands through appropriated tax dollars.

Even in Congress, there is opposition. Three bills have been introduced over the five year lifetime of Fee Demo that would end all or portions of the program. These include Rep. Peter DeFazio's (D-OR) bill to replace Fee Demo with a 5% mining royalty on public lands, Rep. Mary Bono's (R-CA) Forest Tax Relief Act which would end Fee Demo for the Forest Service, and Rep. Lois Capps's (D-CA) Forest Access Immediate Relief Act to end Fee Demo for the Forest Service and provide recreation funding by cutting subsidies for logging roads. None of these bills have made it past committee to the floor of the House. DeFazio also made an attempt to amend the 1999 Interior Appropriations Bill to remove the rider that extended Fee Demo for two more years. Through further lobbying from the ARC, this amendment failed by a wide margin. The ARC claims that it "worked closely with program supporters, both in Congress and the Executive Branch, to defeat this effort." DeFazio introduced another amendment to remove the Forest Service from Fee Demo. This amendment failed on a voice vote. DeFazio's amendment attempts are the only moments, brief as they were, where Fee Demo was actually debated on the floor of the House.

 

FAILURE TO PROVIDE 80% RETURN

The program does have one very good aspect to it where 80% of the fees collected are to be spent on the "area, site or project from which funds are collected." This supposedly eliminates the problem of the money disappearing into the treasury, never to return to the area from which it is collected. However, two independent audits of fee receipts for Fee Demo projects obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests have shown that, for these projects, the local returns were nowhere near 80%.

Keep the Sespe Wild Committee in Ojai, California, filed one of the FOIA requests for the Fee Demo project in their back yard: the Adventure Pass. For Fiscal Year 1997, KSWC found that "$239,425 is available for allocation in the entire, four Adventure Pass forests, for tangible, physical, site-specific improvements, for a three-month period after the big summer season, out of the total revenue from Adventure Pass sales of $693,850. That's a real world total of 34.5%. Hardly 80%. The brochure should be rewritten to state that '34.5% of your money will go to the restrooms, trails, trash, etc.'" KSWC also found that "'Adventure Pass' expenses (as opposed to revenues generated) ran up to $1,241,075, from March through September 1997." KSWC goes on to call the Adventure Pass program "so top heavy it's completely useless as a serious means of generating funds to maintain Forest recreation facilities." More money was spent on implementation of the program than was obtained in Adventure Pass receipts.

Riverhawks and the Northwest Rafters Association in Oregon conducted an audit on the 1997 Rogue River Business Plan, released jointly by the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service. These organizations found misuses in funds for the Fee Demo project on the Wild & Scenic Rogue River. In this case, the organizations found a disinterest on the part of the BLM to adhere to the local-return spirit of the Fee Demo law. First, says Lloyd Knapp of Riverhawks, "the BLM tried using $141,000 of the fee-demo to partially pay for a new visitor center. When my friends and I pointed out a prohibition in the Congressional Appropriations Bill language, from a document which was in BLM possession, they immediately withdrew the funds." Knapp goes on to say that the "BLM has also substituted Fee- demo funds into the salaries of federal employees in its River Program office, at least $40,000 in 1998, another estimate I have says it was closer to $86,000." Certainly, neither of these expenditures were local returns to the project. To top this off, $15,000 went to a video promoting general tourism throughout southern Oregon. The video contained only a few seconds worth of rafting and jet boat footage. The Rogue River may be in southern Oregon, but fees collected for a Fee Demo project are intended to be reinvested within the project's area.

In other areas, volunteer organizations who do trail work for the Forest Service have claimed privately that the Forest Service has taken credit for the volunteers' work. The Forest Service claims that the work was done by Forest Service personnel with Fee Demo revenues. This is a very nefarious way for the Forest Service to encourage volunteerism by taking credit for work that was done in good faith.

 

PRICING OUT THE POOR

One major concern of many Fee Demo opponents, including most of the California governments who oppose the program, is that people who cannot afford a fee will be priced out of their own public lands. Recreation on public lands will become a playground for the rich, and the urban poor in particular will be condemned to recreate in the streets and scant parks of the inner cities.

Presently, fees are on average a few dollars per day, and between $30 and $50 per year. Many claim that this is not a major hardship. However, for many poor, non-traditional public lands users, whether to recreate on public lands becomes a choice between dinner and recreation. It has been repeatedly demonstrated in independent and government studies that throughout the 1990's the gap between rich and poor has become a vast, ever-widening, and real incomes for the average American are well below what they were in the 1960's. With the ARC's plan of promoting developed, motorized recreation, the poor will have an even harder time finding a place to afford to recreate.

If the IRS is any indicator of what happens when you give a government agency the authority to tax the public, in the long run, the taxes only increase. The long-term future of a permanently authorized Fee Demo is a hefty fee for high-impact recreation which will increasingly become a privilege of the rich.

EXTRACTIVE INDUSTRIES

Many Fee Demo opponents also ask, what about loggers and miners who strip public lands bare and get subsidies and tax breaks to do so? The Forest Service has said that they have no control over the activities of these users. Average citizens should not worry about them, after all, according to the Forest Service, the public causes lots of damage itself. The Forest Service has argued on this issue that "whether on foot, on horseback, off-highway vehicle or snowmobile, whether rockclimbing or whitewater rafting, all of these activities create some impact or damage to the land. Those who make impacts carry a special responsibility." It's almost as if the Forest Service is saying that tax-paying citizens should be ashamed of how much they hurt the land, but subsidized beef, logging, and mining interests pillaging resources is a fact of life. Congress writes the tax and fee laws for the extractive industries, and they also wrote Fee Demo. They can, if they have the will, implement fair public lands policy for all interested parties, from hikers to miners. And a fee to hike a trail in the forest, while one's tax dollars go to a multi-million dollar compensation for a clear-cutter to cut only half of his old growth holdings (as happened with Headwaters in California), seems utterly absurd.

 

LAND ETHIC

To be fair, there is merit to the ARC's concerns for increasing America's recreational opportunities. Too many people are so attached to cities, that they seldom venture into undeveloped areas of the natural world. We need to expand the access of Americans to outdoor activities that will sensitize them to the intricate connection of their lives and nature so that they will understand the importance of maintaining the freedom of wild places for ourselves and our posterity.

The Recreation Roundtable claims to do this with a program "to keep America*s urban kids in touch with the outdoors called WOW -- Wonderful Outdoor World, led nationally by Disney, Coleman and Chevy and based around weekend camping adventures staged in the neighborhood parks of America's biggest cities." Parks in urban areas are hardly the unadulterated natural world that urban youth so rarely see. This initiative seems more like a thinly veiled attempt by the recreation industry to get the opportunity to tell kids exactly what wilderness is, and get them geared up to purchase the recreation industry's brand of outdoor recreation. Teaching children about the natural world should not be done through commercialized recreation. Children will learn to seek short- term fulfillment through consumption of recreation products. This will not only worsen the already heavy strain of commercialism's resource dependency on the environment, but developing a respect for the land requires looking beyond one's immediate desires and view the world with consideration for generations yet to come.

Throughout this country's history, private interests have stood in the way of appreciating the unadulterated beauty of nature-in-the-raw; However, what cities are made of cannot provide the ecological network and even oxygen that we require to exist on this planet. With Fee Demo made permanent, many poor children and adults alike, often oblivious to the world outside of cities, may never set foot in wilderness. To not know the source of your life is to not know life itself.

 

CONCLUSION

Commercialization and privatization of public lands will come about through Fee Demo by way of shifting public lands agencies towards emphasizing public/ private partnerships as allowed in the Fee Demo legislation. Many supporters of Fee Demo believe that fees are necessary to prop up public lands budgets. This view overlooks the new authority of public lands agencies to enter into public/private partnerships to implement the program. These partnerships are the real danger of failing to oppose the program; Americans will lose control of their own public lands to private business. Furthermore, it is defeatist to say that since public lands budgets have been slashed instead of getting proper appropriations, we now have to use Fee Demo to provide the funding.

Americans expect many services for the public good paid for by tax dollars such as highways, schools, police and fire departments, and social security. Why should public lands held in the public trust not also be considered a public good and be funded by tax dollars?

Fee Demo should be rejected by any right- thinking American. Concerned citizens should demand that the recreation-industrial complex be put to an end. This program needs to terminated and put on permanent "do-not- resuscitate" orders lest we unleash a recreational demon that will move America closer to the inevitable collapse from overtaxing our habitat.

 

 

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Addendum:

Further information can be found at:
ARC website: www.funoutdoors.com
Wild Wilderness website: www.wildwilderness.org
Keep the Sespe Wild Committee website: www.igc.org/sespewild
Free Our Forests website: www.freeourforests.org
Forest Service website: www.fs.fed.us

 

 

Bio:
Michael Zierhut holds a BA in Evolutionary Psychology from Kenyon College. He currently tutors and works in the outdoor education program at the Happy Valley School in Ojai, California. During the summer he works for a commercial rafting outfitter. He is also a member of, and webmaster for, Free Our Forests based in Southern California.

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