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The lame-duck Congress approved the permanent extension of the so-called Fee Demo program that allows public land managers to charge fees for access and services, according to a report in the Bend (Ore.) Bugle.
“We have given federal land managers the ability to assess reasonable fees for specific activities and uses,” said Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., chairman of the House Resources Committee. “We have laid out very specific circumstances under which these fees can be collected and subsequently reinvested.”
The newspaper said approval of the controversial measure was included in an amendment to the omnibus $388 billion budget appropriations bill approved by the House and Senate over the weekend.
The Bend Bugle said a version of the approved bill was backed by U.S. Rep. Ralph Regula, R-Ohio, who is expected to become chairman of the Appropriations Committee in the new Congress.
Its key provisions include permanent recreation fee authority on land overseen by the U.S. Forest Service, Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Reclamation. The bill also establishes a national interagency annual pass called the “America the Beautiful” pass that is expected to cost $85 to $100 annually.
Bend resident and Wild Wilderness founder Scott Silver said the bill marks a radical change in the way public lands are paid for.
“In the long term, the agencies may come to regret ever going down this path,” said Silver, who said the fight over the bill has generated “extraordinary animosity” among some key legislators.
Robert Funkhouser, president of the Western Slope No-Fee Coalition, termed the bill “double taxation” and complained about the way the bill was approved.
“Changing public land policy in the middle of the night via a rider is despicable,” Funkhouser said.
The original two-year fee demo program was approved in 1996 and has been extended several times since.