"Thinking about Sedona"
national forests should be free
continued from homepage..............
Congress supports the Recreation Fee Demonstration Program.
As previously mentioned, Congress renewed it and expanded it to
include Sedona and other locations around the country. Democratic
Senator Bob Graham, of Florida, has introduced legislation to
make the program permanent.
Most people I have talked with about our Red Rock Pass
portion of the Recreation Fee Demonstration Program didn’t know
much about it and had not formed an opinion. People that I talked
with, who were familiar with the program, mostly oppose it. However,
some people said to me that anyone can afford to pay $5 to park
for a day in the forest so why make a fuss about the program?
It’s a fair question and I will try to answer it here.
More than 100 years ago, President Teddy Roosevelt,
influenced by naturalist John Muir, stated that a fair portion
of our forest reserves should be set aside to afford FREE camping
grounds FOREVER for the use and benefit of people as a whole.
His administration made good on his vision by providing federally
managed national forests, open for the public to use without charge,
for hiking, camping, and for peace of mind. In America, we have
had a long tradition of free access to our national forests.
Today, most people in America live in over-populated
cities and do not have daily opportunities to be out in a natural
environment. When people can find the time, they should have the
right to play in, or find peace in, serene natural settings such
as our national forests. They should have this as a right regardless
of how little money they have, even if they don’t have $5 to spare.
The right of free access to our national forests has been our
The Red Rock Pass program takes away this right. It
requires money be paid to the Forest Service by the people who
park at trailheads. If you are a law-abiding person, this makes
it impractical to use most trails without paying for parking.
Yet $5 a day parking fee is not a cost barrier for the
vast majority of us. Why not forget about our past rights and
be quiet and just pay the $5? History shows us that what starts
out as small government fees (or taxes) usually get bigger. If
the current fee program becomes permanent, we should not count
on the fee being $5/day for long.
Fee increases could occur quickly, and with each fee
increase, more people will be economically shut out of our national
forests. Eventually, national forests could become playgrounds
for the middle and upper economic classes.
Higher fees will likely result in more people engaging
in civil disobedience, refusing to obey what they consider to
be an unjust law, which they may not be able to afford. If that
happens, our Forest Service Rangers may be ordered to become the
equivalent of meter maids (which is not the reason they became
Rangers). Then, Magistrates and Judges will be required to spend
time punishing people who refuse to pay this fee, instead of addressing
more serious matters that affect the public safety and security.
As some of you know, civil disobedience has already
begun. If you have any doubt about this, drive up to a few of
the trailheads around Sedona and check on the percentage of parked
cars that have not paid the fee.
Can’t sufficient funds to maintain our forests come
from the federal budget?
Sure, but Congressional representatives need to understand
that it is in their best interest to have all of the national
forest maintenance funds come from the federal budget.
Here is the problem
in a nutshell. The Forest Service’s economic needs are a low priority
for most members of Congress. I believe that this is so because
of the following ongoing scenario:
Members of the U.S. House of Representatives are elected
every two years. This means that they are almost always preparing
to, or are running, for reelection. Running for reelection to
Congress is expensive.
Much of the money that candidates receive to run for
Congress comes from special interest groups in various ways. In
return, special interest groups expect pay-back for their economic
aid. Often the things special interest groups expect, as pay-back
cost, money that comes out of the federal budget.
If the congressional members don’t deliver, they don’t
get the special interest groups economic support, and they may
not get enough contributions to be reelected. Therefore, members
of Congress use their power to make deals with each other that
support the “requests” of the special interests. The members of
the Senate have the same problem. True, their terms are longer,
but the cost of running for reelection is much higher.
One of the most effective techniques Congressional members
use to get special interests projects approved, completely bypasses
voting on their special-interest issues in either House of Congress.
They can do this by introducing new items into bills in joint
House conference committees. This is a little technical, but stay
Joint Conference committees are convened when similar
but not identical bills on a specific subject have been approved
by both houses of Congress and need to be reconciled with each
other. The purpose of the joint-conference committee is to select
which decisions in each of the bills, approved by the House of
Representatives and the Senate, are to be part of a single joint-committee
bill to be eventually sent to the President for his action.
use this committee proceeding as an opportunity to make their
special interest items part of the joint-conference committee’s
bill. These new items often were never discussed in any proceeding
before either House of Congress. The congressional representatives
make these new items additions to the final bill. These items
are despairingly referred to as “pork,” but they become law because
the Congress and the President have to accept them as part of
the joint- conference committee bill.
How significant is the cost of this so called “pork”?
One estimate I have read, at Senator McCain’s Web site, is that
more than $15 billion of unauthorized appropriations were approved
in this manner by December 31, 2001 for fiscal 2002. A little
of this money could have been used to fully fund the Forest Service.
It is not surprising that the programs that get approved
through the political budget process that our Congress has invented
exceed the federal government’s projected tax income. To make
room for “pork,” other programs, such as the maintenance of our
national forests, are cut to try to get the budget balanced. The
Forest Service is an easy target for budget cutting because there
are no special interest groups, representing the forests, that
contribute materially to Congressional members’ political campaigns.
Can this be changed? Yes, but it’s hard work. To change
the way Congress acts, citizens have to group together in numbers
large enough to make our Congressional representatives believe
that they may not get reelected if they do not listen to their
constituents on this issue.
The various state No Fee Coalitions have been asking
America’s towns and cities to enact resolutions opposing these
forest fees. Once enough town and city resolutions have been enacted
within a state, the state No Fee Coalition and supporting groups
approach the state legislature and ask it to enact a state resolution
opposing the forest fees. So far four states, Colorado, California,
Washington, and New Hampshire, have passed resolutions asking
Congress to abolish the Recreation Fee Demonstration Program and
to restore adequate federal appropriations for public lands, including
our national forests.
The Arizona No Fee Coalition recently approached members
of Sedona’s City Council about sponsoring such a resolution and
has presented the City Council members with information packets.
According to the Arizona No Fee Coalition, there is a possibility
that our City Council will consider such a resolution as early
as September. If Sedona’s City Council approves a resolution opposing
the Red Rock Pass Program, it could influence other city councils
around the state to oppose their own local Recreation Fee Demonstration
Programs. If enough Arizona cities adopt resolutions opposing
their local fee program, then the Arizona legislature may do the
When a state legislature
opposes the fee program, what will a member of Congress from that
state do? Will he or she risk opposing the government of his or
her state in the halls of Congress on this issue? Will he or she
want this as a campaign issue at home? Maybe, but it is our best
way I can think of to bring pressure on our Congressional representatives.
My hat is off to all the no fee coalition volunteers
who are leading this effort.