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Fees for US land use extended

Hiking, picnicking charges continue for 10 more years

WASHINGTON -- Fees for such activities as picnicking, hiking, and canoeing in national forests and other public lands that were due to expire will remain for at least another 10 years.

The provision was included in a giant spending bill approved by Congress last month, angering advocacy groups for outdoor enthusiasts and lawmakers from the West, the area most affected.

The fees, typically $5, are charged for use of marked trails in wilderness areas, parking at scenic turnouts, or access to federal recreation areas. Fees also are charged to enter national parks or for such activities as boat launches and using campsites.

The fees generate about $170 million a year for the Forest Service and the Interior Department, which use the money to maintain restrooms, collect trash, and provide other amenities.

Representative Peter A. DeFazio, Democrat of Oregon, said many of the fees are unjustified.

"It's one thing to charge a modest fee for campgrounds," DeFazio said. "But to charge a fee to park a car on the side of a logging road . . . is nothing more that a stealth double tax for hikers, hunters, or anyone wishing to spend a day at the beach or in the forest with their family."

The fees were imposed in 1996 and were supposed to expire in two years. But Congress approved two-year extensions through 2004 and last month voted to extend them for at least 10 years.

DeFazio said the measure was inserted into the $388 billion spending bill at the last minute by Representative Ralph Regula, Republican of Ohio, an appropriations subcommittee chairman whose district has no public lands.

"This was a victory of pork over principle," said Robert Funkhouser, president of the Western Slope No-Fee Coalition in Colorado, which opposes the fees.

A spokesman for Regula did not return a call seeking comment.

House Resources Committee chairman Richard Pombo, Republican of California, said the bill stipulates that only developed sites, those with some type of restroom or picnic area, may charge fees.

Assistant Interior Secretary Lynn Scarlett said, "Our number one reason [for the fees] is to provide enhanced services and facilities."

Scott Silver, executive director of Oregon-based Wild Wilderness, called the fees unfair. "The forest is our birthright" and shouldn't require an admission fee, he said.

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