Forest fee setup splits employees of agency

Daniel B. Wheeler dwheeler at
Tue Sep 17 22:06:11 EST 2002

>From The Oregonian, Sept. 15, 2002, p A19 (Oregon & The West)

Forest fee setup splits employees of agency
An internal survey shows that not all Northwest employees of the
Forest Service support the demonstration program

By STEVE LUNDGREN, Correspondent, The Oregonian
	BEND - U.S. Forest Service employees are divided on whether they
support a fee system that affects 1,197 trailheads and recreation
sites in Oregon and Washington, according to an internal survey
released Friday.
	Forty percent of those responding approved of the program, 38 percent
opposed it, and the remainder said they were either neutral or didn't
know. More than 60 percent, however, worry that the system of charging
$5 a day or $30 a year to use certain areas of national forests is
unfair to low-income people.
	The results were based upon responses from 2,240 of the approximately
7,000 Forest Service employees in the agency's Region 6, which covers
Oregon and Washington. Researchers at the University of Florida and
Pennsylvania State University compiled the results.
	The agency sponsored the survey to find out where employees stood on
the controversial program and what information they needed about it,
said Jocelyn Biro, regional fee program coordinator.
	Often called the "fee demo program," it began six years ago as an
experiment to learn if the public would support user fees to augment
dwindling allocations for recreation. After receiving a congressional
extension in 2000, the program provides about 20 percent of the
region's recreation budget.
	Scott Silver of the Bend-based group Wild Wilderness sees the
division in employee opinion as an indication of wider discontent.
	"I view this survey of extremely supportive of our claims that the
fee demo program is not popular," Silver said. "This is an agency
where many people could easily see their jobs are dependent upon this.
There's a lot of self interest ... At best, internally, they can't
muster more than 50-50."
	Silver has been fighting the fees since their inception, seeing them
as the first step toward commercializing public lands. Regardless of
whether they support the fee system, most Forest Service employees
don't want that to happen, according to the survey.
	Seventy percent disagreed with a statement asking if corporations
should be allowed to sponsor recreation sites or faciliites on
national forests with few or no restrictions. Nearly half, however,
disagreed that charging fees would lead to over-commercialization,
compared with 27 percent who said it would and 25 percent who were
neutral or had no opinion.
	A third of employees said fees enabled the agency to improve
recreation services while 21 percent said they hadn't. More (41.5
percent) thought the fees have resulted in better recreation
facilities compared with 16.6 percent who disagree. More than 40
percent of employees did not know whether recreation services and
facilities had improved.
	This was an important finding for Biro, who is trying to market the
program internally as well as to the public.
	"There were a lot of employees who didn't even know how the money was
being spent on their forests," she said.
	About half of respondents said more information about how the money
was being spent would make them feel more supportive of the program.
About 22 percent wanted a better understanding of how the public felt
about the program; 21 percent wanted a better understanding of
Congress' intent in authorizing the program.
	Twenty percent said nothing could make them support the program. That
figure nearly corresponds with the number of employees who said they
do not enforce the forest pass law because they don't support it.

Posted as a courtesy by
Daniel B. Wheeler

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