Sept. 30 marks the scheduled end of the federal “Fee Demo” program, a bit of federal legislation that attempts to raise cash for “maintainance fees” at the country’s more popular public lands. The goal of the original two-year test program was to give at least 80 percent of collected fees back to the collecting areas, a goal land managers have failed to realize in the program’s eight-year existence.
There aren’t many Fee Demo Areas in Montana—the picnic and swimming areas at Como Lake 90 minutes south of Missoula are possibly our closest examples—but if you’ve visited the busy forested volcanoes between Portland and Seattle, you’re likely all too familiar with the drill. Forest visitors are required to provide personal information to receive a Northwest Forest Pass ($30), a Cascade Volcano Pass (an additional $30) and a Wilderness Regulation Permit, which requires personal info, but no cash.
Earlier this month, the Department of the Interior proposed to standardize fees on lands managed by the USDA (national forests), BLM and Bureau of Reclamation (mostly dams and reservoirs). That’s a significant portion of Montana’s public lands, which we currently access for free.
Scott McInnis (R-Colo.) chairs the Congressional Subcommittee on Forest and Forest Health, and during his tenure he’s renewed the Fee Demo program four times. Historically he’s been the most vigorous and vocal congressional supporter of user fees, but last week he had a change of heart, saying the Forest Service misuses the fees. His waffle comes on the heels of an August report by the General Accounting Office criticizing the Forest Service for failing to deliver the 80 percent cut to the collection areas. With $15–$20 million—about half—of the annually collected $35 million in fees going to collection costs (patrolling, ticketing, paperwork and various other “administrative costs”), the program’s inefficient use of funds has managed to increase the ever-growing ranks of anti-fee folks.
Interestingly, if you ever receive a ticket telling you that you must pay these fees, legal precedent exists for you to use the ticket to start your next campfire.
One case began in Idaho’s much-visited Sawtooth N.F., when a visitor was ticketed for not paying to park in a fee area. She then sent a letter asking the U.S. Attorney in Boise to drop the citation, reading: “I have never considered my walks on National Forest trails as ‘recreational’ in the sense the Forest Service uses the term: as an amusement. My visits to natural areas are for spiritual purposes: to restore my emotional health and to nurture my soul by getting away from the day-to-day challenges of living in a late-20th century city.” The court dismissed the ticket.
Precedent has also been set back East, where a New Hampshire judge stated from the bench that since “failure to display a decal does not constitute probable cause,” rangers have no justification for ticketing. He added that he would throw out all charges against non-payers, adding his intent to dismiss charges against defendants who remain silent on the stand. Keep that in mind if you’re interested in participating in civil disobedience as this double taxation shit drops closer to Montana’s fan.
The days are getting shorter, and to compensate, the Missoula Wednesday Night Cyclocross Series has bumped up the start time for its Fort Missoula races from 6 p.m. to 5:45 p.m.
“Big-W” wilderness is no place for humans to leave trace. That is unless the “trace” is a hard-to-find backcountry cabin designed to provide skiers, snowshoers and other wintertime backwoods explorers with a woodstove, an outhouse and a toasty place to saw some logs. The Rocky Mountaineers have maintained one such cabin in the Selway/Bitterroot Wilderness for many, many years, and every fall a posse of Ullr-worshipping ski-junkies climbs up there for a thorough round of cleaning and repairs. This year’s cleaning trek falls on either the 27th or 28th, so call Julie Warner (543-6508) to begin the process of visualizing your ski turns, even if the snow’s still a month away. (Most importantly, you’ll learn the location of an accessible, warm and dry spot with tremendous skiing out your back, side and front doors, as well as meet folks who’ve been there and done that.)
Meanwhile, the New Rocky Mountaineers are racking up and leading a Sept. 27 climbing party to The Heap near Lolo Pass, a slabby pile of bolted granite with moderate routes for all. It’s also a primo locale to sit on top and catch the sunsets. Grab your shoes and harness, then call Todd Sieb (726-2077) to get on belay.
Or, also on the 27th, join NRM-er Gerald Olbu (549-4769) on one of the most satisfying alpine routes around, the East Face of Warren Peak in the nicely under-utilized Pintler Wilderness. A five-mile on-trail trot is followed by a Class III/IV scramble to the 10,453’ summit, where views of the Flints, Bitterroots, Beaverhead and Sapphires abound. This hike/climb can be turned into an on-trail loop with only a slight mileage increase, so you won’t even have to backtrack once you’ve returned to the trail. And if the sun is shining, brave cold-water types can even get a swim in—there’s a chain of excellent lakes for dipping en route.
Lastly, fire restrictions have been lifted for Montana, so burn, baby, burn!
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