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Federal Judge Rules Fee-Demo illegally implemented

a federal judge in Oregon has just ruled that
the U.S. Forest Service FAR exceeded the authority Congress gave them with the fee-demo program and that the USFS had been demanding fee payment at MANY
more recreation sites that Congress permitted.
From:  ssilver@wildwilderness.org
Subject: Federal Judge Rules Fee-Demo illegally implemented
Date: Sat, 8 Dec 2001 11:21:30 -0800

Everyone knows the USFS is bad with numbers and can't
account for hundreds of millions of your dollars it wastes each fiscal year. But, you would have thought the Forest Service could, at least, count to 100 !

We'll, a federal judge in Oregon has just ruled that
the U.S. Forest Service FAR exceeded the authority Congress gave them with the fee-demo program and that the USFS had been demanding fee payment at MANY
more recreation sites that Congress permitted.

MANY more sites. TENS OF THOUSANDS MORE sites. This is
RIP-OFF of massive proportions!!!

So if you ever paid a recreation fee for use of Forest
Service-managed land, or if you ever received a notice of non-compliance and then paid the fee believing that you owed the USFS money --- chances are you were robbed!

It's time to DEMAND your money back.

If you don't, the Forest Service will continue to
count you as supporting the fee-demo program. If you don't demand a refund, then Congress will make recreation user fees permanent and America's public lands will never be the same again.


PS ... The USFS believes that they WON.
It's up to you to prove them wrong.

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Forest fee foes gain a hollow victory



A federal judge in Oregon has ruled that the U.S.
Forest Service far
exceeded its authority by charging recreation fees at
thousands of
trailheads, pullouts and other sites in the Northwest
when Congress allowed
fees at no more than 100 sites nationally.

Hundreds of thousands of people have paid the fees
since 1996 by buying the Northwest Forest Pass. That raised millions to maintain trails and Forest Service facilities but sparked opposition by those who say the fees price
the public off its lands.

The ruling Thursday by U.S. Magistrate Thomas Coffin
in Eugene probably will prove a hollow victory for foes of the federal Recreation Fee Demonstration
Program, however, because Congress in November lifted
the 100-site cap. Agencies now can levy fees in as many places as they want. Coffin wrote in a
footnote that his ruling "is likely to have no impact
on future enforcement actions."

It's unclear what, if anything, the decision means for
people who paid fees that Coffin found were improperly charged.

"The ruling is on a point that is moot in the future,
but it proves the Forest Service got away with murder for years," said Scott Silver of the Bend group Wild Wilderness, a leading opponent of forest fees. "The vast
majority of people who paid fees were paying at sites
where they should not legally have had to. If the Forest Service wanted to be honest, it would return that money."

Forest Service officials were pleased that the
decision will not hamper the recreation fee program, now that they can charge at unlimited locations.
They also welcomed Coffin's finding that land agencies
need not determine whether visitors are pursuing recreational activities -- rather than work,
education or other purposes -- before charging a fee.

"We see this as a clear victory," said Teri Cleeland,
head of the agency's fee program.

The ruling came in the case of Leeanne Siart of
Eugene, who was cited in June for hiking into the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area without
buying the required Northwest Forest Pass for $5 a day
or $30 a year. She and her attorney, Lauren Regan, fought the $50 citation on several points,
most of which Coffin rejected.

He ruled, for instance, that there is nothing wrong
with charging hikers for parking cars at trailheads. Siart claimed that made the levy a "parking
fee," not a "recreation fee."

Coffin also rejected Siart's claim that she need not
pay because she was visiting Oregon Dunes to observe snowy plovers for her job as a biologist with the Oregon Natural Resources Council, not for recreation.

"It is difficult to imagine that Congress intended the
various federal agencies implementing the fee demonstration program to conduct inquisitions into and prove each site user's subjective state of mind," Coffin wrote.

But he agreed with Siart that the Forest Service
violated legislation allowing each federal land agency as many as 100 experimental fee sites nationwide. While Forest Service officials claimed that the Northwest Forest
Pass was just one of the 100 fee projects allowed by
Congress, Coffin said, it forced visitors to pay at 1,349 trailheads, picnic areas and other sites
in the region.

"Thus in the Northwest alone the secretary of
agriculture (who oversees the Forest Service) appears to have exceeded the cap on fee demonstration areas
or sites by over 1,200 discrete fee stations," Coffin
wrote. "Using the government's definition, the secretary could devise a single plan for all the national forests, designating a fee site at each and every trailhead,
lake, campground, picnic area, etc., within each
forest" and leaving visitors subject to fees "at perhaps tens of thousands of access points."

Because the Forest Service "exceeded its authority" by
charging fees at more than 100 sites, Coffin dismissed Siart's citation.

"I hope this sends a strong message that the Forest
Service cannot bill the public for their own mismanagement," Siart said. "They lose millions of dollars on their timber program. If they started restoring our forests instead of destroying them, they wouldn't need my five dollars so badly."

Forest Service spokesman Rex Holloway said several
hundred people in the Northwest have received $50 citations such as Siart's for not paying fees this year. He said there are no plans to reconsider those citations in light
of Coffin's decision.

You can reach Michael Milstein
at 503-294-7689 or by e-mail at  michaelmilstein@news.oregonian.com.

Scott Silver
Wild Wilderness
248 NW Wilmington Ave.
Bend, OR 97701

phone: 541-385-5261
e-mail:  ssilver@wildwilderness.org
Internet:  http://www.wildwilderness.org

NOTICE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section
107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for research and educational purposes.

homepage: homepage: http://www.wildwilderness.org
phone: phone: 541-385-5261

more 10.Dec.2001 15:49

troy prouty*