ENGLISH FOR CONGRESS POSITION PAPER (Reviewed April 2014)

Hunting, Fishing, and Camping

As a person who spends most of every summer camping and hiking on Federal lands and occasionally fishing in Federal waters in the Rocky Mountain states, I have become very familiar with the recreational management policies affecting the public users of Federal lands (National Parks, National Forests, Bureau of Land Management Lands, etc.).  Well over half of the total land area in the Mountain Time Zone is owned by the Federal government.  User fees for park admission and camping in all Federal campgrounds have escalated much more rapidly during the past thirty years than increases in the minimum wage, which severely punishes low income families desiring to take inexpensive vacations on Federal lands.  Admissions fees are now almost twice the Federal minimum wage: forty years ago they were about the same.  Some overnight Federal campground fees are almost four times the minimum wage now: they were lower than the minimum wage 40 years ago. In addition, daily trail user fees are now being imposed for many hiking trails that originate inside or at forest, park, or recreational area boundaries. 

The adverse consequences of ever increasing user fees and other restrictions have resulted in reduced visitation at many recreational areas.  Operating these areas ďas profit-oriented businessesĒ which are expected to recover an ever increasing percentage of the cost of their maintenance and/or improvements is fundamentally unethical and denies citizens the opportunity to enjoy them based upon their ability to pay the continually increasing real cost of entry and use.  Recreational fee increases should be based upon a formula that adjusts fees using the current national minimum wage rate no more than one half hourís pay for entry per vehicle per week and one hourís pay per night for each campsite used. Free recreational user permits as described below for citizens with limited incomes also should be provided.  In addition, recreational vehicles with self-contained toilets should be permitted to use designated scenic overlooks, picnic areas, and parking lots between the hours of 5:00 P. M. and 9:00 A. M. the following morning on weekends and other times when campgrounds are expected to be filled for one-half the campground fee.  The additional campsites thereby made available would provide campsites for tent and other vehicle campers that otherwise would be turned away and forced to leave the recreational area. Trail, picnic ground, and other usage fees should be banned.

Non-resident U. S. citizens who wish to hunt or fish on Federal lands in other states also are subjected to extortionate short term hunting and fishing fees imposed by state Game and Fish Departments.  A one day non-resident fishing permit in Wyoming cost $15 per person daily in 2005.  Non-resident state license fees for hunting on Federal lands are even more outrageous, often well exceeding $100 plus the substantial added cost of any special big game permit.  In situations where a lottery is held to draw a limited number of permits for hunting certain big game species, non-residents are flagrantly discriminated against and often excluded from the lottery even though the habitat of the big game species involved is solely limited to Federal lands.  These same states receive hundreds of millions of dollars from timber sales held annually on Federal lands, yet they continue to discriminate against U. S. citizens living in other states that desire to hunt or fish on these same lands.  Public support of natural resource conservation and preservation for our Federal lands ultimately depends upon widespread public benefit from access and use of these lands and waters.  As more citizens are excluded from their enjoyment by ever-increasing user fees and other restrictions, public support for these conservation programs will gradually diminish as more citizens realize that they cannot also share the benefits from the recreational use of these areas. 

I propose that the Congress pass legislation implementing the sale of Federal hunting and fishing licenses at nominal fees to all U. S. citizens.  These licenses would be used only on or within Federally-owned lands and waters.  If the states affected wish to participate in this Federal initiative, 90% of the fees collected from Federal license sales in would be remitted to the participating states' according to a formula based upon the amount of Federal land in each state and the level of state expenditures for wildlife conservation programs.  They would be designated only for funding wildlife conservation efforts with the provision that non-residents be permitted to hunt or fish anywhere in that state on the same basis as that state's residents, without discrimination or special exception.   In addition, for all citizens who file income tax returns with incomes just above or below the poverty level, the IRS would be instructed to mail a special Federal recreational user certificate valid until September 30th of the following calendar year.  These non-transferable Federal recreational certificates would provide their recipients free admission to all Federal national and historical parks and recreational facilities with a $1.00 maximum charge per night for campground occupancy.   For families with incomes between the poverty level and twice that amount, 50 % discounts for admissions and other fees would be provided using the same mechanism.  Why not give the working poor and near poor some recreation fee relief?  The wealthy continue to get preferential tax treatment for capital gains every year.

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