December 10, 2007


Montana, Idaho Sens. Team Up To Repeal Recreation Access Tax

Washington, DC -- The U.S. Forest Service and other federal agencies would be blocked from charging Americans higher fees to access their public lands under legislation introduced today by two prominent Western lawmakers.

Idaho Senator Mike Crapo today joined Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Montana) in introducing the much-anticipated Fee Repeal and Expanded Access Act of 2007 (S. 2438).

The bill would revoke authority given federal agencies, with the exception of the National Park Service, in 2004 to institute new fees and increase existing fees at campgrounds, trailheads, and other public areas.

Specifically, the bill repeals the 2004-passed Federal Lands Recreational Enhancement Act, sometimes called the recreational access tax, and reinstates legislation dating back to 1965 that limits the use of fees on public lands.

Baucus, a long-time critic of the fees, said the current system amounts to double taxation.

"Americans already pay to use their public lands on April 15," Baucus said. "We shouldn't be taxed twice to go fishing, hiking, or camping on OUR public lands. It just doesn't make any sense. That's why Mike and I are going to fight like the dickens to get this bill passed."

The senators noted that both the Montana and Idaho State Legislatures passed resolutions to repeal FLREA.

Crapo said, "As an outdoorsman and legislator, I have always supported fair and reasonable access to our nation's public lands. Mandatory user fees for access to many of those lands limits accessibility to those who can afford the cost and results in a "pay-to-play" system that is unacceptable. I also fully recognize that we need to adequately fund recreation activities on federal lands and will continue to fight in Congress to make sure the funding needs of our public lands management agencies are met."

Debates have flared up in communities across the West as fees began to rise after the 2004 bill was passed. Baucus said he hopes his bill will help resolve those disputes.

Kitty Benzar, president of the Western Slope No-Fee Coalition, hailed the bill. Baucus worked closely with Benzar as well as the late Robert Funkhouser, who recently passed away, in crafting the legislation.

"This bill will bring an end to a failed experiment that has for 10 years burdened Americans with a double tax and kept them away from public lands they have always enjoyed, Benzar said. "I applaud this bipartisan effort."

The Baucus-Crapo bill would:

• Repeal the FLREA

• Reinstate the fee authorities established by the 1965 Land and Water Conservation Act

• Reinstate the National Parks Pass system

• Cap the amount that can be charged for entrance to national parks.