David_Parker Posted August 16, 2001 Share Posted August 16, 2001 Fees to use public lands could become permanent Thursday, July 26, 2001 By Environmental News Network Democratic Sens. Bob Graham of Florida and Daniel Akaka of Hawaii are hoping the bill they introduced last month, the National Parks Stewardship Act (S.1011), soon becomes law. They say it will be good for America's public lands. But many U.S. citizens feel they will be taxed twice if the bill now before a Senate committee becomes law. Under the bill, anyone wanting to enter public lands administered by the U.S. Forest Service or the National Park Service would have to pay a recreation fee of at least several dollars per person per visit or pay an annual fee. The fee has been tried on a temporary basis since 1996. It would be permanent beginning in October of 2002 if the bill passes. Sen. Graham believes the fee is needed because the nation's parks are "struggling to keep up with more visitors and aging infrastructures, and permanent fees are part of the solution." But Scott Silver of Wild Wilderness, a critic of the fee-demo program, says the fee excludes poor families who want to spent quality time with nature. It encourages partnerships with private industry to provide development dollars in lieu of federal funds, he said. Floyd Thompson, program manager for the Forest Service Office of Recreation, Heritage, and Wilderness Resources, admits, "Marketing plans and business plans are now becoming part of the Forest Service lingo." The Graham bill encourages the hiring of "professionals with expertise in areas such as business management" to work as National Park Service managers in a new "Professionals for Parks Program." "Most of the businesses that provide public services on Forest Service land are small businesses," said Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth. "This agreement creates the framework that will give the Forest Service a better understanding of how to help these businesses succeed and how to best communicate with owners." But critics say small business is not the intended beneficiary. The American Recreation Coalition, an industry group that includes corporations involved in the recreation industry such as Disney, REI, and the Coleman Company, has been working to privatize public lands, according to Silver. "By introducing the transparently bad Graham Bill, the proponents of fee demo have become overly cocky," said Silver. "In making what must be recognized as a mad dash for the end zone, they have unmasked fee-demo and exposed it as the shell game it really is." The Florida Senator pitched fee demo to President George W. Bush during the President's June visit to Everglades National Park. "The president suggests addressing these problems by simply shifting funds from one part of the National Park Service's budget to another," said Graham, who believes that approach is not sufficient. Under the Graham bill, between 60 and 80 percent of the money collected at a site would be spent to maintain the park or forest land at that location. The remaining funds could go to other projects overseen by the U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Land Management. The original fee-demo proposal earmarked at least 80 percent of fees collected at a national park or forest to be spent at that location. The Graham bill also allows the U.S. Forest Service to replace budgeted funds with income derived from fees. Graham says it "stresses the importance of ensuring that all activities in parks are compatible with the parks' mission to preserve and protect our natural heritage." The bill creates a process to ensure that federal lands adjacent to parks "are used in a manner consistent with the parks' mission." Fee demo was created in a 1996 rider to an appropriations bill. It directed land-managing agencies to begin charging fees above and beyond campground or dock maintenance fees on national lands. Fee demo was renewed in 1999. A fee-demo bill passed the House of Representatives in June. The Graham bill is currently making its way through the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Quote Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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