There is an uproar going around the blog-o-sphere right now about proposed new rules that govern use of Public lands. I’ve had several people write me very concerned that our right to use Public Lands was at risk and we would either be kicked off the land or be charged for every use of it. My answer to them and to you in this post, is it is much ado about nothing. Don’t worry about it, it’s hysteria about nothing! It’s nothing but a FUD campaign, Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt.
The main leader of the attack on the proposed changes to the existing law is the Western Slope No-Fee Coalition, (I’m going to abbreviate them as the WSNFC because I am a lazy typists) and you can find their website here: http://westernslopenofee.org/index2.php You can find the proposed changes to the law here: http://www.westernslopenofee.org/pdfuploads/HR5204_Bishop.pdf You can find the Western Slopes interpretation of the changes here: http://www.westernslopenofee.org/pdfuploads/HR5204_WhatsInIt.pdf
Let me say first off that I don’t have any doubt that the people behind the Western Slope No-Fee Coalition (WSNFC) are good, well-meaning people who are doing what they think is right. Having said that I disagree with them totally and all the changes I saw are good and necessary. I think the difference between us is I worked as a campground host for 4 years and during that time I worked with their Arch-Enemy, the National Forest Service and two Private Concessionaires who operated their campgrounds.
Yes, I am a horrible MONSTER! I collected fees, I enforced the rules to the letter of the law, I even kicked people out of my campground. I also cleaned up the atrocious messes the good “owners” of our Public Lands left behind for me. I cleaned the indescribable filth the proud “owners” of our Public Lands left in our toilets. I could go on and on for days with stories about the horrific things I’ve seen done to our Public lands and its facilities by its noble owners!
The difference between me and the members of the WSNFC is I know beyond any shadow of a doubt that our Public Lands MUST be protected from its owners. Fortunately, 90% of the users of the land are good people who respect the land and treat it well. Unfortunately the other 10% appear to be doing everything in their power to destroy and devastate our Public lands and so the 90% are going to suffer because of that 10%’ Let me say it very clearly:
Public Lands MUST be Protected From Its “Owners.”
They Must Not be Allowed Total and Free Access to do Whatever They Want.
I’ve carefully read the proposed changes and the WSNFC interpretation of them and they boil down to two main changes:
- Allowing new Day Use fees wherever there is a toilet within ½ mile.
- Allowing the issuance of Special Recreation Permits in “special areas.”
Plain and simple, I am in favor of both of these changes. Let’s look at them separately and I’ll explain my reasoning.
1) Charging Day Use Fees at Toilets.
Currently there is a mish-mash of rules about whether a toilet facility is charged a Day Use Fee or not. For example, when I was a campground host in the Rockies of Colorado I took care of a Day Use area that had a stocked lake, toilet and parking. We charged a $5 Day Use Fee. That was totally reasonable, I went there twice a day every day and cleaned the toilet and stocked it with toilet paper. The next year I was in the Sierra National Forest of California and I had a Day Use area that was a grove of Giant Sequoia trees. It had a toilet, parking and picnic tables. It had more toilets and heavier use than the one in Colorado and I cleaned it twice a day and they were usually totally filthy both times. There wasn’t a charge for that one, it was free. Why? I spent more time cleaning it and it used more toilet paper. Every year I painted 20% of its picnic tables and both toilets while I was there. Every spring it took 5 of us a whole day to clean up the sand and mud that had flowed over its walkways and all the leaves and needles that had fallen. It’s crazy that there was no charge for all we did! Let me give you another example.
Along with the Sequoia Grove Day Use Area I also had 4 campgrounds. One of my campgrounds was free although I went to it every day and cleaned the toilets and it had all the normal amenities. I asked the Forest Service Officer in charge why it was free and she said it was because it didn’t meet all the requirements for charging. Again, I cleaned its toilets every day, painted the toilets and picnic tables and spent a LOT of time on it and the company was never paid a penny for my time. Worse, because the people who used it didn’t pay, and we had no control over them, they tore it up and left a bigger mess than any of my other campgrounds. Every time I went there it pissed me off!
I can already hear what you are thinking, “My taxes pay for those toilets, I shouldn’t have to pay again!”
No they don’t! Not one penny of taxpayer dollars went to cover those costs. Not only doesn’t the Forest Service pay my company anything, just the opposite, part of the contract is that my company has to pay the Forest Service a percentage of all the money it brings in by running the campgrounds and Day Use Areas. All those facilities are paid for totally by the people who use them. What could be more fair? If you use it, you pay. If you don’t use it, you don’t pay! Where did we get the idea that it’s okay to use an expensive facility but not pay a penny for it? Why are we outraged if we are asked to pay for it?
And make no mistake, it is expensive!
- I made $9.25 an hour, and the companies cost was more than double or triple that.
- I used a gallon of cleaner every week,
- 48 rolls of toilet paper every week,
- 10 rolls of paper towel every week,
- and because my 4 campgrounds and 1 Day Use area was scattered over 40 miles of the Sierras, the company paid $200 a week for gas.
And yet 40% of that was free, the company got nothing in return. That’s not good business. Would you work 40% of your time for free? The 10-Year contract for that area was up and the company I worked for told the Forest Service that they would not bid on the contract if it included free areas. How weird, they wanted to be paid for the work they did!
How many of you reading this want to be paid for the work you do? I do!! The company paid me to do the work but 2 of the 5 things I took care of they never collected a penny for! Under the proposed new changes in the law, they both would have been fee areas just like they should have been. The changes to this bill just lay it out plain and simple, if there is a toilet within a half mile of the Day Use Area, there will be a day use fee. I totally support that. If I don’t want to pay, I won’t use the toilet or I’ll park a half mile away and walk to the area. It’s my choice. If I use it, I pay. If I don’t use it, I don’t pay. What’s wrong with that?
2) Special Recreation Permits
This is the big issue for the WSNFC. They claim that because there is no clear definition of what constitutes a “Special” Area, we are giving them a blank check to call every inch of Public Lands to be a “Special” area and either require a Permit or charge a fee. I am fairly convinced they have totally misunderstood the language and it has nothing to do with the designation of the land itself (at the bottom of the post I have the section of the proposed changes they object to). It is strictly a Permit to an individual or group to use the land. Here is how the BLM currently defines Special Recreation Permits: (emphasis added)
Special Recreation Permits (SRPs) are authorizations which allow specified recreational uses of the public lands and related waters. They are issued as a means to manage visitor use, protect natural and cultural resources, and provide a mechanism to accommodate commercial recreational uses.
Authorized by the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act, there are five types of uses for which these permits are required: commercial, competitive, vending, individual or group use in special areas, and organized group activity and event use. http://www.blm.gov/nm/st/en/prog/recreation/special_recreation.html
In other words if you want to hold a motorcycle race on BLM land you need to get a Special Recreation Permit for that activity and it has nothing whatsoever to do with the designation of the land, just your use of it for a commercial venture. Every year Burning Man has to get a Special Recreation Permit because it is a commercial event. The Permit does not change the designation of the land under Burning Man in any way. If you want to run River Raft trips through a National Park, that is a “special area” and you need to get a Special Recreation Permit for that special area. the Permit doesn’t make it a special area, it already was one.
In some way that I can’t understand, the WSNFC has twisted those two words “special areas” and warped it to mean that the BLM and Forest Service can start requiring a Special Recreation Permit for every human in America and for every inch of Public Land. I can’t imagine the logic that allows them to reach that level of hysteria over nothing. It’s so bizarre it makes me question their integrity!
I’m familiar with Special Recreation Permits because the RTR has grown large enough that soon I will be required to get one because of its size. I studied the subject and found that any activity that has more than 75 people requires a Special Recreation Permit. Do you see anything wrong with that? I don’t!
That’s enough people to have a significant impact on Public Land so it’s reasonable they want to control it. I even applied for a Special Recreation Permit for a East Coast RTR but the Permit Officer said that there was a hunting season going on at the same time so the conflict would be too much for the land. I agreed and withdrew the application. If you go camping and have less than 75 people, you don’t need a Special Recreation Permit and the WSNFC hysteria is nonsense!!
However, let’s assume they are right and it allows the BLM and Forest Service to create “Special Areas,” I’m totally in favor of that! To me, there is no doubt that there must be certain areas that are set aside as “Special” because they are! In fact there are many such areas right now and all of them I have been to I agreed totally that they are “Special’ and they must be set aside and protected either by requiring a Permit, a fee, or both. Why?
Without Special Protection we will Love the Special Areas to Death!
Again, the land must be protected from its current owners, so it will be here for future owners!
This is not something new, we’ve been doing it for a long time now. Let me give you some examples of “Special” areas. The National Parks are the oldest example. They were recognized as very special and we set them aside and wrote special regulation and required fees for their use. Is there anyone who thinks that was a bad idea? Of course not, special areas must be set aside and protected!!
National Monuments are another good example. They aren’t as special as the National Parks, but we can all recognize that that they are special enough to merit special protection. So we designate them as National Monuments and write special rules and charge fees.
There are many other areas we recognize as special such as National Wildlife Refuges, National Recreation Areas, Wild and Scenic Rivers, National Seashores and others. There is something about those areas that make them special and require that they be protected from mass use. I have no argument with that!
So far, I don’t think there is any debate, they are special and should be treated special so that they will still be available for the owners who are here in seven generations. But what about small, local areas that don’t quite meet those other ideas of special? I’m thinking especially of the Wave on BLM land in Arizona. It is a very small area but probably the most hauntingly beautiful thing I have ever seen. It is also by far the most fragile place I have ever seen. So the BLM treats it totally differently than any other piece of Public Land. You can only go to it by Permit and only 20 Permits are issued per day and there is a fee for the Permit. I am in total, 100% agreement with that policy! No one could ever go there without seeing how Special it is and that it is so fragile that severe rules must be instituted to protect it. Without them, a 1000 people would go there every day and in a few years it would be destroyed and lost forever. That is a tragedy that must not be allowed to happen.
One last Special Area that I want to bring up are those that are both beautiful and very close to very large population centers. One that comes to mind is the Red Rock Pass that is required in the Special Area around Sedona, Arizona. Because it is so close to metro Phoenix, it is swamped with people and in very great danger of being loved to death. This is what the Forest Service says about it: (emphasis added)
The Red Rock Pass program is a conservation tool designed to protect, enhance, and maintain Sedona’s awe-inspiring red rock landscape for the American public today and into the future.
The level of care and maintenance required for the Red Rock landscape exceeds that needed in other National Forest areas due to the large amount of visitors and use each year. Revenue from the pass program is making a difference providing improved visitor information, environmental protection and lasting memorable experiences! http://www.fs.usda.gov/main/coconino/passes-permits/recreation
Notice those words “today and into the future.” That’s the difference between me and the WSNFC. They are only thinking about themselves today. They want to go anywhere and everywhere without any limits or fees or thought of its impact on the future. I can’t help but wonder if they are part of the 10%.
At every level I total disagree with them and urge you not to fall into their hysteria over nothing.
= = = = = = = = = = = =
If you are interested, here is the actual law they want you to protest and the specific clause about “special areas.” It’s not easy to fully understand, but if you take the time to study it fully you’ll see they are totally miss-interpreting it. Their conclusions are so bizarre I can’t help but wonder if they aren’t deliberately deceiving people for their own selfish reasons. Emphasis added.
‘(2) SPECIAL RECREATION PERMITS.—The
14 Secretary may issue special recreation permits in the
15 following circumstances:
16 ‘‘(A) For specialized individual and group
17 use of Federal facilities and Federal rec-
18 reational lands and waters, such as, but not
19 limited to, use of special areas or areas where
20 use is allocated, motorized recreational vehicle
21 use, and group activities or events.
22 ‘ ‘(B) To recreation service providers who
23 conduct outfitting, guiding, and other recre-
24 ation services on Federal recreational lands