The RAT Drives the Public Away-

Fees Keeping People Off Their Land: When the public stops using public lands, who will be there to protect them? By Bill Schneider. New West.

Even many western Republicans hate these fees — the RAT (Recreation Access Tax). The new Congress should eliminate them quickly. The amount of revenue could be made up with an hour’s worth of spending in Iraq.

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About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University with specialties in natural resource politics, public opinion, interest groups, political parties, voting and elections. Aside from academic publications, he is author or co-author of three hiking/backpacking guides, and he is President of the Western Watersheds Project.

28 Responses to Fees keeping people off their lands-

  1. avatar Mike Post says:

    Eliminating the fees back in God’s country might make sense but other areas close to urban clusters get so over used and abused that some limiting factor must be in place. Try coming to California and tramping down a cement hard trail to a stream littered with disposable diapers, beer cans, and whatever that also has a bacteria count that makes it unsafe for even wading.

  2. avatar Salle says:

    Mike’s got a valid point. Some areas are way popular and to their demise, unfortunately. I have seen the some of nasty trashed-out public places in California and elsewhere, we need change in that arena without question. A good example would be Trail Creek Rd. in Pocatello, Idaho where folks take their trash into the hills and shoot it like it was a rabid dog and then leave it there. I have seen this stuff ~ TVs, washing machines, bags of kitchen trash and their contents strewn about… full of bullet holes.

    Respect for these places needs to be adopted by more visitors/citizens before the RAT fees can be eliminated without destroying the places they are to protect.

    One of the great problems in this country is a lack of respect for everything from ourselves to the other forms of life that sustain the biosphere that ultimately sustains our own ability to exist.

    Until we can master or even attempt to address this issue, I’d say we need these fees where they are implemented, and maybe even more of them. Americans have a trash problem and I see no evidence of improvement over time, so far.

  3. avatar Tilly says:

    I must disagree. The fees are in place in many remote locations where I can’t imagine that trash is a problem. E.g. Three Sisters Wilderness in Oregon, etc.

    I remember a study a few years back showing that something like half of the fees collected were used for enforcing the fees. Something about a fee for a non-consumptive use of public land just doesn’t smell right. Especially when you consider the massive subsidies the consumptive uses, like logging and grazing, receive.

    P.S. Mike, unfortunately here in God’s country we have lots of un-wadable bacterial-laden creeks too- due to livestock!

  4. avatar Salle says:

    And furthermore,

    I would challenge anyone to show me the places where these fees are not warranted or are an actual obstacle to use.

    Most of these fees go to fund things that are what the public expect in their outdoor experience such as bathrooms and their upkeep, garbage and trail maintenance, campground maintenance.

    These fees are for added services, providing all the services in developed areas. If you want non-fee camping, fishing, etc. you can go outside any day use only area on FS or BLM land and camp, fish there but mind you, there are no paved ramps for boats, level camping areas, no running water, graded roads to travel upon to get there, parking areas, groomed ski trails, picnic tables and fire pits (not to mention the personnel that perform these maintenance tasks), the fleet of vehicles and fuel and a multitude of other amenities that most week-end warrior types usually expect when they go the great outdoors.

    Just where do you think the funds for such creature comforts would originate? They are certainly not included in the budget awarded by Congress.

    Sounds like a cry for “something for nothing”. Perhaps the next outcry would be for fee-less National Parks as well ~ then how would we be able to keep them in a condition that keeps them in their relative pristine state?

    If you do travel to many of the FS and BLM lands in the west that are outside the day-use only zones, look around and see how clean and natural they appear and how pleasant it really is to camp in areas with beer cans/bottles strewn about and all the other refuse left there by others. Not very many folks are skilled in outdoor activities so this type of camping experience would serve as a deterrent as well, especially for those with children and who just want to relax.

    I do disagree with many of the new rules and policy changes that this administration has pushed through, as with NEPA rule changes and the like but this is something that doesn’t meet the criteria.

    How about: If we don’t take care of (protect) our public lands, who will want to use them?

  5. avatar Mike says:

    I can speak from personal experience on this. Big Creek Campground on the North Fork of the Flathead used to be one of my favorite places to fly fish, and just stop and observe the river for eagles and otters while enjoying a picnic with friends. A couple years back they completely changed the road so it goes past a camp host, with a stop sign and a “fee required”. You cannot even park your car near the river for five minutes unless you pay. You cannot stay in the area unless you pay. This area would at least have a few cars in it all the time, and now nothing. The campground appears dead and no one is enjoying the river. It’s the easiest access too on that part of the river those who might be disabled.

    I think there’s a big difference between a site like this and a very, very popular summertime site like Lake Como over in the Bitterroots, which gets crazy crowded and you obviously have to have some kind of services like law enforcement, trash cleanup.

  6. avatar JB says:

    Look, this isn’t an argument about whether people should pay, it’s an argument about WHICH PEOPLE should pay. We can pay for public lands management (e.g. park service employee salaries, roads, bathrooms, trail & campground maintenance, etc.) through federal tax dollars–in this case the costs of maintaining these lands are evenly (or somewhat evenly) distributed across the whole population–or we can use fees collected by users, in which case the costs are disproportionately incurred by so-called “users.”

    I like the former model, but our society is so rabidly anti-taxation these days, that it just hasn’t worked (thus the need for fees).

  7. avatar Salle says:

    Look, we all have some valid complaints… this obviously illustrates how poorly this, as with other public lands policies, was implemented and sustained by our governing bodies.

    One problem is the all-mighty-dollar and another is our death-grip on our incomplete understanding of the need for sound policies that address the reality of the current status of our public lands. This lack of understanding is the attitude exploited by politicians, who have sold their souls to special interests, as an excuse for their tin ears.

    Yes, cattle grazing is a major problem on public lands and probably one, along with unrestrained forest and mineral extraction, of the major detriments to the quality of the health of these properties.

    (…and Tilly, it’s ALL “god’s country” which extends far beyond your immediate proximity.)

    However, just as everything can give you cancer, everything also costs money ~ it has to come from somewhere. Little of our tax dollars are used in ways we would approve, especially when it comes to preserving the lands we claim are set aside for public uses. We argue about multiple use, we argue about wilderness and the wildlife that inhabit these lands and seldom come to agreement or consensus.

    This policy set is one example of Congress letting us down, period. The Roadless initiative was produced in one of the most appropriate and inclusive methods prescribed by democratic due process and look what happened there. The wolf reintroduction, for all its warts and ugly hairs, was also implemented in similar due process yet we still have special interests plaguing that set of policies.

    How can we instill sanity to this process and with a favorable outcome that most of us can live with? Undoubtedly there will always be detractors but should they be allowed to continue to trump the will of the rest of us?

    I would like to see no fees for these lands as well and have, prior to understanding why these policies are needed for the present, made most of the same arguments stated above. But I will hold to my current claims until we come up with something more acceptable. I would suggest something like serious funding~from Congress~for enforcement of the laws that are often ignored by thousands who feel that “…protectionist laws are fine as long as they don’t apply to me!” is back in the budget. There is also the need for the public to lose that attitude.

    Currently, many public places wouldn’t even be comfortable to visit and access could actually be controlled by private interests for profit without these user-based fees. (They really do protect us and the land from that opportunist machine, believe it or not.) What about the non-profits who like to use these areas for day-hikes and such? They wouldn’t be able to afford access nor would most of us; we would have to get special use permits and would have to apply far in advance and at high cost including handicapped users.

    Somehow, hunters are willing to pay for tags yet they don’t seem to understand how they impact the ecological balance of their activities when they make claims of low deer/elk populations. The hunting claim of the need to cull the herds are based on unnaturally high populations that are actually resulting from manipulation by way of predator elimination that actually damages the environment they claim to be preserving ~ for the sake of a “killing sport”. Where is the logic of that coming from? I don’t buy the “It’s our heritage” argument when our heritage is actually one of unbridled manipulation for a special interest~choose your favorite.

    Just as some argue that “it used to be a place where we could…” doesn’t answer my questions, I would ask again; if we don’t protect our public lands from the (ab)users, who will want to visit them to enjoy the wild then? You can find trash and environmental degradation just about anywhere else, so why do some come to the wild places and trash them? Maybe it’s because; no matter where YOU go, there YOU are.

    I think a major shift in public understanding concerning respect has to accompany the ideals we claim are the primary concern for that which belongs to us all. Especially before we can unleash the general public into the lands we wish to preserve for posterity without some form of consequence for using them.

    I would rather see grazing and resource extraction proponents pay for their use rather than subsidizing them. It would make a big difference.

  8. avatar jimbob says:

    Sorry Salle, I don’t agree. Here in Arizona the Tonto National Forest stretches for a hundred miles in many directions outside of the Phoenix Metro area. In most cases the Forest Service has chosen to put a bathroom or a parking area in some remote location and now I have to pay? I technically am paying for concrete for a parking area so that they can charge me to park. It used to be ridiculous enough that you had to pay at each site for a pass. Now you must patronize a local business to buy a “pass”. These businesses are only open certain hours. Plus, you might not know if you need a pass until you reach the area and see a sign—pass required. It is no different than what is probably next—the government will allow the air to get so polluted that if we want to remain healthy we will probably need to purchase oxygen from the polluting companies, all in the name of commerce. Charging for something that is or should be free! Look what happened with water!

  9. avatar Salle says:

    jimbob,

    Obviously you have misinterpreted what I stated above and, if you even read the article that heads this discussion and attached data and statements of the researchers, I suggest you re-read them and think about it on a larger scale than your immediate proximity as this applies on a national level.

    Once again, the death-grip on misunderstanding.

    Please look beyond yourself and think about this and how it applies to the trash you see in the non-fee areas.

    I don’t see where you are making a valid point.

  10. avatar jimbob says:

    Salle, that is my point—-there is no fit-all solution. JB made the point above. If there is a place where visitation needs and justifies fees to maintain it, so be it. However, in many cases the government puts in facilities where none are needed, then charges to make money “to pay for it”. Or even charges just to park and hike. Most of us leave no trace. I shouldn’t have to pay a fee to step on government land!

  11. avatar Salle says:

    Jimbob, I’ll put it more briefly…

    Like said above:

    “However, just as everything can give you cancer, everything also costs money ~ it has to come from somewhere. Little of our tax dollars are used in ways we would approve, especially when it comes to preserving the lands we claim are set aside for public uses. We argue about multiple use, we argue about wilderness and the wildlife that inhabit these lands and seldom come to agreement or consensus.

    And…

    “This policy set is one example of Congress letting us down, period.”

    So then

    http://www.wildlandscpr.org/node/123

    Which I agree with except that we have no other plan available to address the “trashing” of our public places and from ALL the (ab)users like those named in the argument at the site above. And the ranching and other extractive industries are included on my list of abusers.

  12. avatar jimbob says:

    “Everything” should not “cost money”! I cause no expense to the taxpayer by stepping foot into wilderness. Why should it “cost money”? I’m assuming you live in a highly populated area, Salle, and are generalizing based on that need. Think about what you are saying. Why should it cost money for a family or individual to hike or spend time outdoors? Are you saying the government “owns” the land so they have the right to charge for it? That is a scary proposition. I guess city parks should start charging people to walk through them. They need to be maintained more than wilderness and are more expensive!

  13. avatar Barb Rupers says:

    Family and friends, back in the 1960s before permits were required, went on rivertrips on the MF Salmon. My first 10-day trip cost $12. That did not include the gas to get there and back. My daughter, husband, and two kids didn’t go on the last trip as they would have to pay $200 for the RAT fees, which was by far more than the rest of the expenses. A fee like that limits access to people on limited incomes.

  14. avatar Salle says:

    Actually, jimbob,

    I live in a rural town with a population under 1300 which is 90 miles from the nearest Interstate and surrounded on all sides by public lands. I live with these issues right outside my front door and see very few visitors who have any clue about most of the topics we discuss here on this blog. In fact, most of the residents don’t understand them either.

    I am also highly educated on public lands issues and laws being an MPA in environmental and wildlife management policy. I spend most of my professional time working to keep private interests from taking over our public lands and manipulating our wildlife policies with their destructive practices for profit. Not to mention my federal Indian law knowledge/education and the fact that I have major connections to several Indian tribes on reservations in the region and most of the NGO’s working to protect our public lands and resources in the western states and elsewhere.

    And I do it all pro bono with occasional reimbursement for my travel expenses and phone minutes that I use for some organizations whom I give time and phone minutes to. (I fund my personal living expenses by other means and am not well to do monetarily by any stretch of the imagination.)

    From reading your posts, I have to conclude that you probably don’t like to read much background info, do you?

    Once again:

    The rules were supposed to help fund what Congress refuses to fund, though they are by law required to fund these things. The RAT fees, which are now known as FLREA, were meant to pay for specific improvements in areas where people seem to need/want them like toilets, campgrounds/fire pits, boat ramps, trail maintenance, and handicapped access but they have been misinterpreted ~ by this administration especially ~ and misused as well as expanded beyond their intended purpose, as I have tried to point out.

    And still, you aren’t getting what I am saying at all. I am certain that my articulation skills are not so lacking as you suggest, therefore, it must be that you are not willing to read carefully, enough, or you just don’t understand English very well.

  15. avatar chuck parker says:

    I’d be happy to pay an $8.04 a year user fee for access to all public lands. I think that’s a fair price because ranchers pay $1.34 per AUM for cattle. That’s $16.08 a year for a cow and her calf. People on foot on our public lands don’t do nearly as much harm as cattle. You could raise the fees for bubbleheads on snowmobiles, dirt bikes, etc. who do a fair amount of damage to the land.

    When the Forest Service gets away with charging a recreation fee to use public lands, it just means the Forest Service has more money in its budget to subsidize ranching. When the Forest Service charges ranchers what cattle grazing really costs, then we could start having talks about recreation fees.

  16. avatar Salle says:

    Chuck,

    I like your idea, I agree that such user fees are more fair and balanced. But I am also concerned with the lack of respect by many public land users who do trash even the back country. Maybe some kind of tutorial or… I don’t know what should be implemented for those who don’t appreciate what “wild” actually means and are too lazy or uninformed about how to behave in the wild places.

    Even Paul Schullery, noted YNP ranger/author said that many of the policies and changes in management, in fact management policies themselves were needed to protect the Park because, “…people just don’t know how to behave” in these places.
    (Searching for Yellowstone, Ecology and Wonder in the Last Wilderness. 1997 Mariner Books, Boston).

  17. avatar Barb Rupers says:

    I support Chuck Parkers suggestion.

  18. avatar April Clauson says:

    Sorry Salle, I don’t agree. Here in Arizona the Tonto National Forest stretches for a hundred miles in many directions outside of the Phoenix Metro area. In most cases the Forest Service has chosen to put a bathroom or a parking area in some remote location and now I have to pay? I technically am paying for concrete for a parking area so that they can charge me to park. It used to be ridiculous enough that you had to pay at each site for a pass. Now you must patronize a local business to buy a “pass”. These businesses are only open certain hours. Plus, you might not know if you need a pass until you reach the area and see a sign—pass required. It is no different than what is probably next—the government will allow the air to get so polluted that if we want to remain healthy we will probably need to purchase oxygen from the polluting companies, all in the name of commerce. Charging for something that is or should be free! Look what happened with water!

    _____

    Not totally true, the only place you have to go to a business to buy a pass is for the Apache white mtn reservation land, and some pass’s for the Tonto areas, in the low valleys, but in general if you camp in Sitgraves, Tonto or Coronado forest you get to pay the host of the camp. But I have never paid, there is dispersed camping throughout the forest, and you don’t have to pay a dime. and the spots are better, no one camped right next to you, no noise at night from other campers. Bring your own water and a shovel for a poo place and your set. And you can camp anywhere in the National forests as long as you are 1 mile away from a paid camp site and 50 feet away from water sources..and if you go on the web site for each forest area it states what places need permits and such, just a little research and your set.

  19. avatar Salle says:

    April,

    ummm, FYI, I didn’t say that.

    You quoted jimbob, with whom I have many disagreements, it seems. He’s the one that thinks he’s paying for pavement and supporting private businesses in Tonto and other places….

  20. avatar JB says:

    I like Chuck’s suggestion. In fact, if you eliminated livestock grazing on public lands the cost savings would permit the FS to lower user fees.

    However, I would also point out that, were the Federal government actually to properly fund public lands management agencies, we wouldn’t need the added fees. I would also point out the fees and permits are used by the FS, BLM, and NPS to limit access to certain areas (those that are degraded, environmentally sensitive, or designated as wilderness, for instance).

  21. avatar Salle says:

    JB,
    Very good points! I agree that some sensitive areas need to have some mechanism to limit use due to their popularity and such. I like the fees rationale ~ I absolutely agree with you.

    If Congress would get over it and do what is right by the public, we would have little need for fees beyond our tax contributions.

    I still stand by my call for the element of respect that I see lacking in the mindset of the general public. I say that with the understanding that there are some who have outdoor skills that are in keeping with the wilderness aspect of public lands.

  22. avatar JB says:

    Jimbob said: ““Everything” should not “cost money”! I cause no expense to the taxpayer by stepping foot into wilderness.”

    Jimbob: I disagree…well, at least with the latter part of what you’ve said. Every person that steps on to public land causes some little bit of degradation. Where there are only a few, this is unnoticeable and has little effect, where there are many, damage can be considerable. We pay agencies (through taxes) to minimize damages, restore degraded areas where damage occurs, and enforce the laws/rules meant to prevent such damages.

    But soil compaction, vegetation loss, and erosion (the primary suspects where hikers/backpackers are concerned) are not the only problems caused by visitors. We also have forest fires, wilderness rescues of people who get lost or injured, purposeful damage (e.g. mutilation of trees), littering, etc. In short, the management of public lands has little to do with the actual resources, it is really about preventing and mitigating the impact of people. So-called “improvements” (e.g. bathrooms, parking lots, campgrounds, trash barrels) are almost always put in places where use (and damage) are high. Such areas are often referred to as “sacrifice” areas. We harden surfaces and add facilities in these areas in an attempt to confine/limit the overall impact.

    In my view, if you want to reduce the costs associated with public lands management, you start by eliminating or reducing activities that have the greatest impacts. Number 1 on my list would be ATV/ORV use.

  23. avatar JB says:

    Number 2 would public lands ranching.

  24. avatar Salle says:

    JB,

    Very well stated, thanks!

  25. avatar April Clauson says:

    November 25, 2008 at 4:28 pm

    April,

    ummm, FYI, I didn’t say that.

    You quoted jimbob, with whom I have many disagreements, it seems. He’s the one that thinks he’s paying for pavement and supporting private businesses in Tonto and other places….

    _____

    Sallie, I know it was jimbob, It is his response to you that says, sorry Sallie. I pasted and copied. I was responding to him, If he has been paying fees all this time, I figured he could use the information I gave, so he can save $. Happy T-day to ya!

  26. avatar jimbob says:

    Salle, I was not trying to discredit you—only give my opinion. As you pointed out the fees are misused and mismarked by the government, which really should peeve anybody who pays it—-that is all! Do you normally get so defensive?

  27. avatar Salle says:

    April, sorry, I wasn’t sure about that part but I agree with your response to him.

    Jimbob, You weren’t very clear about that as you did suggest that I probably lived in some major metropolis and hadn’t been out in the wild enough to “get it.” So I felt the need to continue to clarify and simplify my argument because your opinion doesn’t really make much sense to me, and others it appears. It really sounds like you are asking for “something for nothing”.

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Quote

‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey

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