Legislation introduced to Congress this week by senators from Montana and Idaho would limit the fees land managers could charge for recreation on public lands. However, the measure would have little impact on units of the national park system.
The bill, introduced Monday by Sens. Max Baucus, D-Montana, and Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, would block the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Bureau of Land Management from charging "higher" fees for recreation on their lands.
"Americans already pay to use their public lands on April 15,” Senator Baucus said in announcing the Fee Repeal and Expanded Access Act of 2007. “We shouldn’t be taxed twice to go fishing, hiking, or camping on OUR public lands. It just doesn’t make any sense. That’s why Mike and I are going to fight like the dickens to get this bill passed."
Here's what Senator Crapo had to say:
“As an outdoorsman and legislator, I have always supported fair and reasonable access to our nation’s public lands. Mandatory user fees for access to many of those lands limits accessibility to those who can afford the cost and results in a “pay-to-play” system that is unacceptable. I also fully recognize that we need to adequately fund recreation activities on federal lands and will continue to fight in Congress to make sure the funding needs of our public lands management agencies are met.”
However, the senators' rhetoric is left at the door of the national park system. As I understand it, the measure would simply cap park entrance fees at $25.
The bill does, though, call for the return of the $50 National Parks Pass, which died an ignoble death on December 31, 2006, when it was replaced by the $80 America the Beautiful Pass. And the Golden Eagle Pass would return for $65.
"Much as I might have personally liked to see park entrance fees repealed as well, there is simply no political support for that," one person close to the matter told me when I asked why the parks were left out of the proposal's most significant aspects. "They bring in too much money."
It's so late in the year that this bill might not move at all in the immediate future. But when it does gain traction, it will be interesting to watch its evolution.
Since the measure caps park entrance fees at $25 per car, if the measure passes and is signed into law will we see the Park Service rush to raise all of its entrance fees to $25, a level only a handful, such as Yellowstone and Yosemite, currently charge?
Will there be more "amenity" fees in the national parks?
In effect, will the park system be turned into a cash cow to pay for the costs of recreation on other public lands?