Lawsuit Against Backcountry User Fee At Great Smoky Mountains National Park Can Proceed

A lawsuit challenging the backcountry user fee assessed at Great Smoky Mountains National Park can proceed, a federal judge has ruled.

Although Judge Joseph M. Hood rejected portions of the lawsuit brought by Southern Forest Watch, Inc., against the Interior Department and the National Park Service, he kept intact the group's challenge to the $4 per night per person fee for backcountry travelers in the national park.

The backcountry fee, with a $20 per person cap per trip, took effect in February 2013. It is intended by park officials to help streamline and improve the backcountry permitting process and heighten the presence of rangers in the backcountry.

In suing to overturn the fee, Southern Forest Watch contends not only that the fee isn't merited, but draws on both Park Service history and mandates to contend the agency is precluded from charging the $4 per person per night fee.

While Judge Hood dismissed the group's challenge of the online registration system the park put in effect, saying the plaintiffs had failed to show they were injured by the system, he ruled they could challenge the nightly fees. In doing so, he rejected the government's claim that the Park Service enjoyed sovereign immunity in creating and implementing the reservation system and fee structure.

"Plaintiffs may challenge the superintendent’s decision to implement the backpacker registration fee under the APA, and this Court will have jurisdiction," Judge Hood ruled.

No date for the challenge was immediately set.

grsm-backcountry_fee_motion.pdf94.11 KB


This lawsuit will have implications for the entire NPS system and their culture of fee abuses that are rampant. The smart move for the new superintendent is to drop this hot potato before the ugliness of political patronage is raised and a lot of wealthy people get embarrassed. They lied, cheated and stole to push this fee down the throats of backcountry users to the exclusion of all other parties. It's time to make things right in the Smokies and drop Ditmanson's folly.
Agreed this fee business has gone way too far it is time to take our parks back. I just wish there was someone in the park service who disagreed with these kind of policies and stood up for that belief. I realize it might put their career on the line but sometimes standing up for what you believe is worth it in the end no matter the cost.
hikerBA - We all hope people in either the public or private sector would "do the right thing" and stand up against wrongdoing, even it it costs them their careers. That's a noble sentiment, and easy for us to say when our job (and family's livelihood) isn't the one on the line. It's a bit like the pig and chicken discussing ham and eggs for breakfast. It sounds fine to the chicken, who can easily afford to be generous. That said, your comment presumes these backcountry camping fees are an example of wrongdoing. Based on multiple comments on this site about this issue over the past year, most people would prefer not to have the fees, but not everyone agrees they the kind of "evil" deed that requires sacrificing a career to oppose. [Yes, SmokiesBackpackers, we've heard all of your complaints and charges plenty of times, so no need to repeat them again.]
It seems the NPS has a culture of loosing you job if you speak up about your beliefs. No wonder the NPS policies are so screwed up. This explains the "I don't agree with this but I'm just doing my job" I have been hearing from NPS for years.
You are probably right Mtnliving I also assume most if not all of the nps people will tow the line. I don't expect them to object after all these new fees help pay their salaries. Our national parks are changing quickly. Luckily the national forests don't charge yet so there is a place folks can still go and experience the freedom of the woods and not have to pay others to enjoy it but I expect that will someday change as well.
Congrats to SFW. Glad that someone has the guts and persistence to see this through. Was simply disgusting all the lies that NPS told in an effort to justify the fee.
While no one like added fees, I for one am happy to pay for the things I truly enjoy. I am all in favor of user fees over being forced to pay for services that I never use.
It's pathetically amusing that some folks who may on one hand decry fees for services may also be the same who are lamenting paying taxes. If we insist on Tea Party taxation, what will happen to the things and services they all seem to want at the same time? It comes down basically to one thing, "I am an American. Therefore I am entitled to anything I want as long as I don't have to pay for it." Uh, yeah. But how?
[quote] insist on Tea Party taxation, what will happen to the things and services [/quote] If by "Tea Party taxation" you mean a cut in the tax rates, what will happen is an economic bounty just as happened after Kennedy, Reagan and Bush cut taxes rates.
That economic bounty from Bush's tax cuts was only a bounty for the wealthy to whom he is beholding. Lee's point was simple. It is nuts to expect to both say "cut the taxes that fund the government" and "but of course I want what I want from that government". I hate paying taxes. I hate even more not having parks or having uneducated kids or having unfunded road repair crews or fire departments. I grumble about the taxes but pay them. And I tend to vote for education bond issues or parks funding programs or such. Please feel free to take your tea party stuff and give it the additional dietary fiber that it so badly needs.
The public comments opposing the backcountry fee in the Smokies were 18-1 AGAINST it. And that fact is well documented in this magazine. So your assertion that folks are in favor of it is just like the NPS justifications used to push it by Dale Ditmanson. Lies. And this fee is characterized by lies, like Tom mentioned, at every turn. I am thrilled that this lawsuit will expose the NPS culture of deceit. I'm most excited about seeing the ways in which they used concessionaires to promote false information about the backcountry. These concessionaires had a vested interest in doing so in the form of renewed concession contracts. It is about to get real interesting around here and I'll bet some moustaches are seriously twitching up in DC because they never expected this to see the light of day.
[b]Luckily the national forests don't charge yet so there is a place folks can still go and experience the freedom of the woods and not have to pay others to enjoy it but I expect that will someday change as well.[/b] HikerBA I don't know where you live, but it must be in La La Land. Since 1996 the National Forests have been charging fees just to go for a walk in the woods in hundreds of places. Just google Adventure Pass, Northwest Forest Pass, Red Rock Pass, White Mountains Parking Pass, for a taste. And the BLM is charging a per-night, per-person (sometimes also per-night, per-dog) fee for permits to take a private, non-commercial hike or horseback ride in designated Wilderness areas at Paria Canyon, Aravaipa Canyon, and Gunnison Gorge (at least) and is trying to get a Wilderness access fee imposed in the King Range Wilderness on the Lost Coast of California. Congratulations to Southern Forest Watch, and good luck on your lawsuit!
[quote] That economic bounty from Bush's tax cuts was only a bounty for the wealthy to whom he is beholding. [/quote] Wrong. Tax receipts went up 50% in the years immediately following the Bush tax rate cuts giving room for substantial increases in expenditures. Libs just can't get the concept that lower tax rates stimulate business activity, raise tax collections and make funding of things like the parks more possible.

EC, you're going to have to cite your claim. Here's how the Tax Policy Center at the Urban Institute and Brookings Institution casts the impact of the Bush cuts:

The Bush tax cuts contributed, along with underlying economic conditions, to a historic decline in federal tax revenue. In 2000 total federal tax revenue was as high in proportion to the U.S. economy as it had ever been. By 2004 federal tax revenue in proportion to the economy had fallen to its lowest level in almost fifty years.

In recent decades the federal tax take has generally fluctuated between 17 and 19 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). By 2000, however, total federal tax receipts had reached 20.9 percent of GDP, their highest level since 1970 and matched only in 1944, when the federal government collected 20.9 percent of GDP in taxes at the height of fighting World War II. By 2004, however, federal tax receipts had fallen to 16.3 percent of GDP, which is not only the lowest level since 1970, but the lowest since 1959.

Most of the decline in the ratio of federal tax revenue to GDP can be traced to the individual income tax. From 1970 to 2000 these taxes were typically in the range of 8 to 9 percent of GDP. In 2000 individual income taxes were 10.3 percent of GDP, their highest level ever. By 2004 individual income taxes had dropped to 7.0 percent of GDP, their lowest level since 1951. Total federal tax revenue declined by 4.6 percent of GDP from 2000 to 2004; of that total, 3.3 percentage points, or almost three-quarters, was due to the decline in individual income tax revenue.

Most of the remaining decline in the revenue-to-GDP ratio resulted from a drop in the share in total revenue coming from corporate income taxes, which fell by 0.5 percent of GDP from 2000 to 2004, and a drop in the share coming from the payroll taxes that finance Social Security and Medicare, which declined by 0.4 percent of GDP over that period.

And then there's this:

Economic Downturn and Legacy of Bush Policies Continue to Drive Large Deficits

Federal deficits and debt have been sharply higher under President Obama, but the evidence continues to show that the Great Recession, President Bush’s tax cuts, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq explain most of the deficits that have occurred on Obama’s watch — based on the latest Congressional Budget Office projections as well as legislation enacted since we last issued this analysis of what lies behind current deficits and debt.

And this:

The legacy of the Bush tax cuts, in four charts

Nice documentation, Kurt. And ec old buddy, I'm comfortable enough with myself that somehow a person shilling for the dark side online telling me that they think I'm 'wrong' doesn't really rock my ego much. Especially in cases like this where there is no uncertainty at all about my opinion.
[quote] EC, you're going to have to cite your claim. [/quote] Kurt (and Rick) you have to stop listening to the spin misters and go to the facts. Click Table1. The White House statistics show that receipts in 2003, the year the primary portion of the tax cuts were enacted were $1,782 billion. By 2007, the number had increased to $2,567 billion, an increase of 44%. Rick, you are wrong. But keep drinking the Kool Aid
OK, you're quoting numbers from the Bush White House to me to support the Bush tax cuts. Apples and oranges here. I said that the primary beneficiaries of the tax cuts were the wealthy. Are you trying to tell me that these OMB tables helped the little guy? You'll have to draw me a little closer to the little guy picture of the benefits.
Discretionary budget authority increased by 26% from $849.5B in FY03 to $1.072T in FY07. However, the Interior Department's discretionary budget authority only increased by 4% from $10.6B in FY03 to $11.05B in FY07. NPS's total BA went from $2.52B in FY03 to $2.68B in FY07. The Congressional appropriation for NPS increased from $2.24B in FY03 to $2.3B in FY07. (pg 114 discretionary BA) (Overview-71)
ecbuck according to your math if we lower taxes to zero we would have all kinds of money for gov't expenditures.
[quote]OK, you're quoting numbers from the Bush White House to me to support the Bush tax cuts. [/quote] No, the numbers are from the Office of Management and Budget - nothing to do with Bush. They are the facts. [quote] I said that the primary beneficiaries of the tax cuts were the wealthy. [/quote]. No, you said the wealthy where the only beneficiaries. The Bush tax cuts were across the board. Even the piece that Kurt cited concluded the middle class was helped. Not to mention the massive increase in tax revenues that went to fund ever increasing entitlement programs. Going back to the initial (off) point, which Lee originated with his Tea Party attack, the Bush tax rate cuts led to a huge increase in tax receipts. Similar tax rate cuts would likely generate additional gains that could be used to fund things such as the parks.
Sara - so what?
David, you need to take an economics class and learn about "diminishing returns" and "equilibriums". Economics isn't linear.
ecbuck, my point is how many times can you lower tax rates while expecting to make ends meet. Their is a point where taxes can be too low. When this happens you create a backlog of things that need attention. If you look at the history of tax rates in the last 50 years or so, you will see we are at about the lowest rates ever. Look at this chart "History of income tax rates adjusted for inflation (1913-2010)"
[quote] Their is a point where taxes can be too low [/quote] Yes there is. But there is no evidence we have reached it. [addition] Also David, if you look at that chart you will notice that the top tax rate is at or above the top rate we have seen for the last 30 years. Also, in periods before that, you had to be making in the millions (2011 dollars) to hit the top bracket. Today, you get there at the equivalent of $388k dollars. We are hardly at historical lows when it comes to tax rates.
Not true ec, 30 years ago was 1984, so look at 1982 on chart; 106,000 was top of chart paying 50% tax, equiv. to 199K in 2011 dollars and there was 14 brackets. Today you need to earn almost double to reach top bracket that is 39.6%(39.6% is less than 50) And when you go back to when the top bracket had to make millions, the rate was as high as 90%. It is no where near that now and I agree it does not need to be.
Sorry, in at least the last 27 years. 1987 38.5% was the top tax bracket. BTW go back to 1934 and you would have to have made the equivalent of $1 mil to be taxed at our current 39.6% top bracket. Now, only $400k. Again, we are nowhere near historical lows in terms of tax rates.
ecbuck that only effects a small number of people, because all other brackets are lower. And if you look at effective tax rates they are near a low since WW2
[quote] that only effects a small number of people, [/quote] The small number (1%) that pay 38% of all personal income taxes. The small number that is responsible for huge investments, massive hiring, overwhelming philanthropy. [quote] And if you look at effective tax rates they are near a low since WW2 [/quote] How do you figure?
ecbuck, if you look at the same page as the chart, and go to "effective tax rate" the top 1% average 20.6% effective tax rate.They really do not pay 39% after deductions. And this average for all tax payers combined has gone down since WW2.
ec, This article shows a good example also;
Of course they dont pay 39 percent. That is the top marginal tax rate . It is the marginal tax rate that controls incremental economic activity. The more your next dollar is taxed the less you are llikely to try to earn it. Ps please give more details on where this chart showing effective rates is located.
Thank you Kurt for the commentary. I am not an economist, certainly not an expert, but I do know the neo-liberal economic philosophy really took hold with President Reagan, Milton Friedman ( a pupil of Friedrick Hydeck) was his top economic advisor, gained tremendous traction with President Clinton with his appointment of Alan Greenspan to head the Fed and Robert Rubin as Treasury Secretary, and was put on steroids by President Bush (2). It is an interesting debate, and quite complicated involving the free trade agreements, historically low tax rates, loss of the manufacturing base of the country which supported good paying jobs to many people, etc. There are those economists that claim the boom and bust cycles of the 1890s. 1920s, and 2007 were primarily caused by these low tax rates, resulting in the real estate and wall street financial manipulations that are causing so many problems right now. Many predict another bubble burst in the near future. In the 1960s, manufacturing accounted for about 1/3 of GNP, now it is 1/10th. Financial Institutions accounted for a 1/10, now it is over 50%. I know many have bought into this free wheeling capitalistic "Free Market" theory, and some of them are doing very well, thank you. They do not have to be concerned with the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, the Tillman Act, the Glass-Steagall Act and so many other legislative safeguards built in by both Presidents Teddy Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt. In any case, for the median income groups, the majority of us, we are not doing to well, we can see it daily in the concentration of wealth of the country, the corporate monopolies, the amazing amounts of money being poured into political campaigns, the for profit medical community, the homeless on all our street corners, well at least you can it here in California. We can also see it in our public infrastructure, roads falling apart, schools in disrepair, local, state and federal agencies being underfunded, freeways clogged, etc. . History will judge, but I do not buy any of the neo-liberal economic agenda, it simply does not work for the benefit of the majority of citizens. In fact even Alan Greenspan is having second thoughts. It is a sad state of affairs when the only governing philosophy the last 30 years for our country is the President Calvin Coolidge motto, "what is good for business is good for America".
Getting back to the issue at hand here, the Smokies backcountry fee, I would like to say that when the portion of the lawsuit that deals with political patronage is raised, there is going to be a lot of squirming by some well connected politicos in the region. There is going to be one prominent US Senator who will have his drawers in a serious wad when connections are made between him and a private resort that is allowed to own their own trail system within the park. Wonder why this resort was allowed to do so and park users are excluded from it? Yes, its going to be very fun. Fun times ahead. The NPS culture is going to be on trial and it will be like the Ranger Danno thing all over again. This is all your doing, Jarvis. To my knowledge, you never returned any one of the hundreds of emails from folks here who had questions about this fee. You were too important to be bothered with it. This bird has come home to roost. I predict a run on moustache wax.
Ron, are you sure you don't mean neo-conservative instead of neo-liberal? Otherwise, your comment is spot on.
Agreed, Lee, unless a college professor somewhere has redefined terms for us.
Lee, RickB, check out wikipedia for the most current meaning of the term neo-liberalism, where it started, why and its chief economic spokesperson Friedman Hydeck. Hydeck actually received a Nobel Prize in economics and was a friend of John Maynard Keynes, they were air raid wardens together in London during the second world war. Milton Friedman picked it up at the University of Chicago (the reason for the term Chicago Boys) and it became accepted economic policy starting with the President Reagan administration, that is if I have my history right. The term is now used frequently by writers like Naomi Kline, Thom Hartman, Amy Goodman, etc. The term is used on alternative (left of center) talk and cable channels. EC, agree or not and with your years of experience in the financial world, I think you would find it interesting also, as it deals with terms used frequently now on mainstream media TV about free markets, taxation, governmental regulations, etc. and the reaction to said by many citizens. Enough from this less than an expert on the subject, but Lee, check this weeks "Naioin Magazine" (March 31st) on a very informative article on pesticide pollution issues. Very applicable to discussions of parks, wildlands, agriculture, etc.
Thanks, Ron. You always were one to educate the rest of us. I recall your steady, calm wisdom back in the wild days of pot and pills and Yosemite. I'll check it out -- tomorrow.
Just read up on neo-liberalism. It makes what's happening around us even more frightening. Thanks, Ron.