Audiocast #1 : Washington State Plan to Abolish the FLREA

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Washington State Representative Maralyn Chase

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I'm excited to offer the first official audiocast on Park Remark today! I hope you find the topic for the first show interesting -- if you recreate on federal lands, including the National Parks, it's at least topic that your wallet is already familiar with: entrance fees. I had the opportunity to speak with Washington State Representative Maralyn Chase who has co-sponsored a House Memorial which asks that federal fees collected under the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA) be abolished in the State of Washington.

During the program, I make frequent reference to the text of House Joint Memorial 4003. Have a read of the full Memorial [pdf], the language is strong, but reflects quite well the reasons why so many people are upset with the FLREA.

Transcript

Hi, this is Jeremy Sullivan, I'm the editor of ParkRemark.com. I'd like to welcome you to the first of what I hope will be many audiocasts and videocasts available on this website. Like the blog, I will present stories about national parks and the park service from a perspective you may not find anywhere else. Please join me on this inaugural show to hear about an effort in the State of Washington to abolish the recreation fees required to visit most federal lands.

March 7, 2007

CHASE: And I of course didn't hardly believe it. I just could not believe that in this country of the Land of the Free, we would be putting people in jail, for not paying a permit they didn't know about, and that was passed in the middle of the night, that didn't have a congressional hearing or anything.

JERSU: That is state representative Maralyn Chase of Washington. Like many, she is upset with a federal process which has imposed recreation fees on our public lands. Chase is a key sponsor of House Joint Memorial 4003 which is currently making its way through the Washington State Legislature. I had a chance to speak with Representative Chase on the phone this week to ask her about the Memorial, and the message it is intended to deliver to the federal government regarding the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act.

JERSU: You're a key sponsor for the House Joint Memorial 4003. Can you describe a little bit what that Memorial is?

CHASE: Sure, we're asking the federal government to pull back on this fee, the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act, allowing the federal land agencies -- the Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife, Bureau of Reclamation -- to charge fees for recreational use of federally managed lands. We the public have already paid for these lands, and I believe that it aught to be an appropriation in the budget. Tax payers have already paid, so lets have Congress appropriate it, at least have a debate about it. We haven't even had a debate in Congress about these fees. And quite frankly, I think the jackboots of the Forest Service have come down on citizens who have unknowingly been on the National Park lands and have been arrested. There was one here in our own state, that was arrested, he was a visitor from Florida. He was arrested and put in jail, it was ridiculous. I would far rather ... I see no reason for us to be spending our tax dollars over there for Halliburton, to make billions and billions of dollars when our people can't even go and enjoy our own public parks. We need to have a public debate on these issues.

HJM 4003: Whereas, H.R. 3283 was never approved by the United States House of Representatives, was never introduced, never had hearings, and was never approved by the United States Senate, but was instead attached to omnibus spending bill H.R. 4818 as an appropriations rider ...

JERSU: Ultimately, this bill is non-binding. So, why is it important to pursue it?

CHASE: Oh, it's a Memorial to the President of the United State, Mr. Bush. And to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives and to the Senate and House of Representative of the United States in Congress. When a state legislature sends a Memorial to Congress, they pay attention to it. This is the way we communicate as from body to body, that we want ... from the state legislative body to the national legislative body, this is something we need to take a look at. There's a violation of our belief in justice and fairness here.

HJM 4003: Whereas, Federal policies regarding management of public lands have a profound impact on the well-being of the citizens of Washington State and changes to those policies should be conducted in an open public forum ...

JERSU: Have you encountered any opposition to this Memorial?

CHASE: Actually no. People are really quite surprised, the elected officials down here didn't know either. Unless our constituents bring an issue like this to our attention. we just don't know about it. There's a lot that goes on in our country that the citizens know about but the elected officials just simply don't know. We try, but we don't know everything. So we depend on the citizens to bring this stuff to us. People are outraged. This is a bipartisan issue. I don't know any other way to describe it, it's a bipartisan issue.

HJM 4003: Whereas, Recreational fees constitute double taxation and bear no relationship to the actual costs of recreation such as hiking, picnicking, observing wildlife, equestrian use, or scenic driving on state and county roads and public rights of way ...

JERSU: What are the next steps for this Memorial?

CHASE: Well, we get it ... we'll go through the House committees, and then it will go to the floor of the House, and then it'll go over to the Senate. We adjourn on April 22, so, we have until then to get it moving. To get it through the two Houses.

HJM 4003: Whereas, The concept of paying fees to use public lands is contrary to the idea that public lands belong to the American people and are places where everyone is granted access and is welcome -- a concept that has been and should remain in place ...

JERSU: I know that the Washington State Parks had a similar recreation fee in the form of a $5 daily parking pass. And that the fee ...

CHASE: Right, we took it off.

JERSU: Yeah, it was supposed to help the parks, so why was it removed? And then, do you think there is a lesson here maybe that the Feds could learn?

CHASE: It was removed because people stopped going to the park. When you start adding costs ... You know, we've got studies that show that even in the Federal -- Forest Service study -- it showed that 23% of the lower income Americans no longer visit our public lands because of these fees. And this same study showed that 49% of all Americans, regardless of their income, use the public lands significantly less -- fewer times -- because of this fee. We know that the fee is an impediment to the enjoyment of our public lands. And why should we then deny our citizens the right to walk freely on the land? It makes no sense. The people who are really particularly hard hit are the local people who live right around there. They can't even go in their own backyards, if they live right in the communities right around there. They would ordinarily like to go up, go camping, it's something people do, it's one of the reasons they live out near the National Parks. All of the sudden you've got some outsiders coming in telling them they can't even go in their own backyard anymore? It causes a lot of problems.

HJM 4003: Whereas, The fees imposed by the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act are a regressive tax that places undue burden on the people living in rural areas adjacent to or surrounded by large areas of federal land, as well as discriminating against lower-income and working Americans by placing financial obstacles in the way of their enjoyment of publicly owned land ...

JERSU: And it really bothers me too, that at the federal level, that this sort of thing for the last 10 years -- starting with the Fee Demo program and now realized with the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act -- has just sort-of made it through under cover of night and it has such a broad impact on recreation users, in fact, all Americans across the country. So I'm really really happy that you Representative Chase and that the State of Washington are pursuing this Memorial.

CHASE: Well, thank you very much. It's good to hear that, because a lot of time, we toil away down here in our offices and in the legislature, and if we don't hear from more citizens, an atta-boy once in a while -- that they support what we're doing -- you sometimes wonder 'is anybody out there looking, is anybody listening, is anybody watching?'

JERSU: Yeah, well, the answer is 'yes', and hopefully with this little recording here, other folks will weigh in with their support for your bill.

CHASE: Well, thanks very much. You know, any help we can get to lobby this through, the more help in contacting elected officials down here in the House and the Senate the quicker we can move this thing.

HJM 4003: Now, therefore, your Memorialists respectfully pray that the FLREA, which was enacted December 8, 2004, be abolished, and that no recreational fees be imposed on federal lands within the State of Washington under the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act.

Thanks again to Representative Chase for her time and efforts with HJM 4003. I will provide links to the full text of the bill from the Park Remark website for the entry on March 7, 2007. If this is an issue you care about, please consider contacting your state and federal representatives. As Maralyn Chase suggested, they may not even know that the problem exists unless you ask them to take a look. Thank you for joining me today.

This has been show number 1.

Comments

Thank you for your insightful and timely report. As a former park ranger at two separate National Monuments and Historic Sites, I have seen visitation and park fees change dramatically over the years. The model of public funding and public service has been weakened by years of neoliberal market reforms in Washington ' and our parks (as you describe) are not immune from these changes. We deserve an open and transparent debate on the issue, and a close scrutiny of the priorities of government and national legislation when it concerns the management of our public lands. Unfortunately, excessive fees sometimes do act as a burden on people who might otherwise enjoy and learn a great deal from visiting parks and historic sites. Many thanks ' I hope to hear more on the issue, and inquire with my local representative on where he stands.
Last summer, my family came together for a quick reunion at Mt Rainier NP. Four cars came to the park from four different corners of the state -- carpooling would have been a difficult option. We met at Sunrise for a picnic, and to share photos from a recent vacation. This exact same experience at a city or state park would have been free. But because we chose to convene at Rainier, at $15 per car, our family was out $60.

We are the privileged class which can afford $60 for a Sunday afternoon picnic. Had our same picnic been in Yellowstone though, at $25 a car it would have cost us $100. Had that been the case, we probably would have been priced out of our picnic. And at that price point, only the most privileged class of Americans could afford the luxury of a large family picnic on federal land.

In a democratic country which celebrates social equality -- where all men are created equal -- this type of social class separation, created by this fee structure, is just wrong.

Ed, I appreciate your comments, and I'll be sure to post more information about this issue as I learn about them.
We need at least some of the money brought in by fees to keep up the park lands. Maybe abolish the entrance/parking fees so everyone can enjoy the parks and increase the cost of camp sights. The sights in the parks, although without hookups for rv's are much nicer than most comercial campgrounds where you are packed in right next to each other. The cost of the sites at the parks, at least in my opinion are too low for the size of the camp site that you get. I would gladly pay more for this type of camping. We love going to the National Parks and will choose them over private campgrounds any day.
We should pay taxes or user fees to park on public lands- not both. It is extremely complicated for the average person to stay in compliance with all of the jurisdictions involved.

They work for us.

When all land is private, there wont be any place to have a private picnic!
Yes it will come. Just a matter of when>