Public land access in jeopardy!

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Public land access in jeopardy!

by markhyams » Sun Mar 30, 2014 10:19 pm

News from the Western Slope No Fee Coalition:


Ruling says concessionaires are exempt from the requirements and restrictions in federal recreation fee law.

In a ruling handed down March 28, 2014, Judge Rudolph Contreras of the DC District Court wrote that Forest Service concessionaires are not subject to the restrictions on recreation fees that apply at agency-managed recreation sites.

The ruling essentially means that private companies operating under permit on National Forest land can require everyone to pay a fee for doing anything, anywhere within their permit area.

The ruling concludes a lawsuit filed by several individuals and a watchdog organization, challenging the Forest Service policy of allowing concessionaires to charge fees that the agency is not allowed to charge under the limitations in the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act.

When FLREA was enacted in 2004, its authors included specific requirements and restrictions on recreation fees, in response to public concerns that the federal agencies cannot be trusted with fee authority. But they also included a clause allowing third parties to charge for goods or services "notwithstanding any other provision of law." The Forest Service interpreted that to mean that concessionaires don't have to abide by the same legal requirements as the agency must. That interpretation is what was challenged in the lawsuit, and what the court has now upheld.

Under Judge Contreras's ruling:

The Forest Service can not charge a fee solely for parking.
But a concessionaire can!

The Forest Service can not charge a fee for passing through federal land without using facilities and services.
But a concessionaire can!

The Forest Service can not charge a fee for a scenic overlook.
But a concessionaire can!

The Forest Service can not charge a fee for general access.
But a concessionaire can!

The Forest Service can not charge a fee for camping at undeveloped sites with no amenities.
But a concessionaire can!

The Forest Service can not charge a fee for picnicking along a road or trailside.
But a concessionaire can!

The Forest Service has already turned over half of all its campgrounds, including more than 80% of the most highly-developed ones, to private operation - typically at much higher rates than agency-managed campgrounds. But this decision is not limited to campgrounds. It will allow the Forest Service to stop providing any recreation at all. They can turn it all over: picnic areas, trailheads, scenic roads and overlooks - everything - to private companies to operate for profit.

If you have a federal recreation pass like the Senior or America the Beautiful Pass, this is likely to make it worthless on National Forests, because concessionaires don't have to honor those the same way the Forest Service does.

The Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act was recently extended into next year to allow Congress time to enact new legislation to replace it. That legislation must include provisions that apply consistent rules and restrictions on all public lands, regardless of whether they are agency managed or operated under permit by private entities.

The US House is holding a hearing this coming Friday, April 4th, at 9 am Eastern to consider draft fee legislation
proposed by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT). WSNFC President Kitty Benzar will be an invited witness at this hearing.
You can live-stream the hearing at the House Natural Resources website, or watch the archived video later. It will be posted after the hearing concludes.

Tell Congress you want concessionaires to play by the same rules as the federal agencies! Please take action now.

Learn more at

I'm not affiliated with WSNFC, but I am passionate about this issue too. It affects all of us climbers, hikers, and backpackers. Access to public lands is vital to our outdoor endeavors, so I hope you will contact your legislators and let them know how you feel.


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Re: Public land access in jeopardy!

by rgg » Mon Mar 31, 2014 9:32 am

Being Dutch instead of a US citizen, the US Congress will undoubtedly ignore me. Nevertheless, I'm sorry to read about this development, and hope that it will be stopped. I firmly believe that everybody should be allowed to enjoy the great outdoors, and if you don't use any of the available facilities, it should be free or at minimal cost.

I mean, some of the points I can live with, especially when there are facilities provided, but others are downright crazy. I mean, charging someone for picnicking along the trail? Come on!

For the record, it's just the basic principle involved that I'm concerned about. I have no plans to visit the USA anytime soon. But I'll say that, when I look for places to visit, if there is too much red tape or if it gets too expensive, well, there are lots of other countries where camping wild on undeveloped lands is still free, even in national parks.

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