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Public lands fee is preposterous idea

Nevada Appeal editorial board

Nevadans, living in a state made up 87 percent by public lands, stand to lose more than most from the continuing insistence by the federal government to charge fees for the most basic uses of those lands.

The program, initially introduced as a “demonstration” to test the feasibility of charging a wide range of fees on Forest Service- and Bureau of Land Management-managed property, has been extended five times (now to January 2006) and could become permanent under legislation introduced by U.S. Rep. Ralph Regula, R-Ohio, in October.

The concept of charging for the use of public lands isn’t new and isn’t particularly onerous. Logging, mining, grazing, skiing, camping – all generate millions in revenue for federal agencies and can be justified by the impact they have on the lands.

They also tend to be private-enterprise, profit-oriented businesses, and administering public lands for those purposes creates expenses for federal agencies. Some studies conclude the federal government – i.e., taxpayers – actually loses money on most of those enterprises, but the subsidies are defended for the products they create and the jobs they provide.

But Regula bill, HR3283, goes far beyond such fees. It would charge people simply for being on many of those public lands.

It’s called a “federal recreation lands pass,” which for $5 a day (or $85 a year) would allow you to walk around on public land. In essence, a hiking fee. It would be required anywhere there is a trailhead facility, parking lot or the government has made a “substantial investment.”

The idea is preposterous, for many reasons:

n It makes trespassers out of the true owners of those lands, the taxpayers.

n Much of the revenue generated by such fees, some estimates go as high as 60 percent, would be used to administer the collection of the fees.

n Any fee for use of public lands excludes the poorest of Americans, denying them what should be a right of access to their country’s forests and deserts.

For Nevadans, who can hardly step outdoors without crossing federal land, such a fee is little more than a head tax. End the “demonstration” now, and kill Regula bill at the first opportunity.