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Court ruling re: Forest Service fees

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Court ruling re: Forest Service fees

Postby SteveB » Fri Sep 15, 2006 10:55 am

From another posting board:

September 14, 2006
For Immediate Release


Hiking and Parking Fees Are Not Authorized In Fee Law

A mild-mannered, churchgoing, Tucson legal secretary has pulled the legal rug out from under a major Forest Service fee program, and potentially from hundreds of similar programs nationwide. When Chris Wallace decided to fight the two tickets she received last September for backcountry hikes on Mt Lemmon without displaying a $5 access pass on her parked car, the Forest Service got more than they bargained for. With the help of California attorney Mary Ellen Barilotti, she challenged whether the Forest Service has legal authority to charge the fee.

On September 5, United States Magistrate Judge Charles R. Pyle agreed with Wallace.
He dismissed both her tickets because the Mt Lemmon fee does not meet federal requirements. The Court found that:

*** The legal prohibition on fees for certain activities
applies within a High Impact Recreation Area

*** The Forest Service does not have authority to charge
a fee for parking along roads, or for undeveloped,
minimally developed or semi-developed sites

*** The Forest Service has no authority to charge fees
for trails, trailsides, or developed trailheads

*** The agency is prohibited from charging for camping
at undeveloped sites.

Wallace's case hinged on the restrictions spelled out in the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA), which was passed by Congress as an appropriations rider in December 2004. The FLREA repealed the unpopular Fee Demo law and replaced it with a permanent, but more restrictive, fee authority. The FLREA specifically prohibits fees merely for parking, for hiking through Forest Service lands, or for access to undeveloped backcountry.
After passage of the FLREA, the Forest Service issued internal guidelines that allowed parking, hiking, and access fees in areas designated as "High Impact Recreation Areas" or HIRAs. Under these guidelines, fees are being charged nationwide for parking at undeveloped areas, trailheads, and along state highways and county roads.
Judge Pyle's ruling says, "With respect to the 20 developed trailheads [on Mt Lemmon], never in the 42 year history of fee-charging on federal lands has fee-charging for trailheads ever been contemplated by Congress. . .Of the 48 sites identified by the USFS, only nine picnic areas are appropriate for a standard amenity recreation fee, the fee at issue in this case, assuming they are in fact developed sites, and not roadside picnic tables and trash cans."

Judge Pyle's ruling concludes that "The USFS needs to abide by the constraints of Congress and allow reasonable access to dispersed areas for low impact activities." Alasdair Coyne of Keep Sespe Wild adds, "This ruling sends a clear message to the Forest Service to ensure their fee programs follow the letter of the law."

The court ruling can be found at: ... ismiss.pdf

Interesting read. I wonder if/when this will have an impact on the fee issues being discussed here lately...

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