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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Is the Forest Service trying to collect illegal fees?



In my post of September 21, Hiker wins suit against illegal Forest Service fees, I reported a hiker’s winning lawsuit against the Forest Service (FS) charging trailhead fees in the Red Rock area near Sedona, Arizona, that were clearly not part of the written FS policy.

This policy clearly states that fees—trailhead, parking, picnicking, etc.—cannot be charged where there are no improvements to the location.

These improvements include restrooms, trash cans, paved parking, and interpretive signs. In this particular suit the nearest restroom and trash can were miles away and there were no improvements.

The FS decided not to appeal the judgment and accordingly you might assume that the matter was resolved and that the FS would no longer try to collect fees at unimproved locations.

Au contraire. Bill Schneider writes in his blog in New West, “The FS has a new strategy for intimidating people into paying fees they have no obligation to pay. The mechanism is a new invention called a Notice of Required Fee (NRF). If you find one under your windshield wiper, there’s no reason to fill the envelope and drop it in the nearest iron ranger or mailbox. Most people do, though, because of how the FS has deviously designed it.”

“NRFs look like tickets, walk like tickets and quack like tickets, but an NRF is NOT A TICKET! Only a Violation Notice is a ticket,” wrote Kitty Benzar of the Western States No-Fee Coalition, who also fights FS illegal user fees.

It seems the FS is avoiding writing a Notice of Violation, which is an infraction that could result in a fine (and in which they seem to have no legal support to collect) for an NRF instead. Could the purpose be to confuse the public by issuing what looks like a “ticket” and that they hope the receiver will pay—even though there is no legal backing for such a fee? The FS has also installed official looking “iron rangers” at High Impact Recreation Areas (HIRA) to look more legal.

You must pay (or appeal) a Notice of Violation if you receive one, but if you receive an NRF for parking or boondocking in the forests, and you wish to contribute (voluntarily) to the FS, go ahead and fill in the form and pay the fee. But understand you are under no legal obligation to do so—though the FS would like you to think you are.

However, on Thursday, the FS announced that "pending implementation of changes to the Red Rock Pass Program, the Forest Service will not enforce recreation fees at some remote locations.

"This interim action is in response to a recent court ruling, which dismissed a citation for failure to have a Red Rock Pass at a remote location. To address the court ruling, the Forest Service will work with the public and the Arizona BLM Resource Advisory Council to determine appropriate changes to the Red Rock Pass Program. During the winter, the Forest Service will be seeking public comment on the program."

They anticipate submitting a proposal in the spring, but will continue collecting fees outside the Red Rock area.

Check out Bob Difley's eBooks, BOONDOCKING, SNOWBIRD GUIDE, and 111 Ways at RVbookstore.com



1 comment:

  1. I am glad to know about this. Didn't realize they were doing this to the public. Good information to be passed on.

    ReplyDelete