Did anyone else hear about the recent Federal Court (9th Circuit) decision about fees in Nat’l Forest lands? (The decision relates to Coronado NF in Arizona, but would apply to: Arizona, California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Montana, Nevada, Idaho, Hawaii.)
The upshot for landscape photographers, as I understand it:
If all you do is drive into a NF, park, and hike – and don’t use site facilities – the NF can no longer charge you for doing so. (Keep in mind we’re talking Nat’l Forests – not Nat’l Parks, Nat’l Monuments, Nat’l Seashores, state forests, etc.)
As most LF-ers here know, many NF sites currently require a standard amenity fees (SAF), which in everyday language is a “parking fee.” For example, here in Washington state, we pay the typical $5/day fee for parking at many NF sites, or can purchase the annual Northwest Forest Pass for $30. I think you California LF-ers have an Adventure Pass, right?
There appear to be two key issues in this decision for LF-ers who drive to NF trailheads:
Most significantly, the Nat’l Forests can not charge a fee to people who simply park and hike at Nat’l Forest trailheads & other sites – provided they don’t use site facilities. (Apparently, these people can
use “designated, developed parking” listed below w/o a fee, for they’re still simply parking and hiking.)
More broadly, the Nat’l Forest can not charge fees for any
site, unless, among a few other requirements, the site includes all
of the following amenities:
• Designated, developed parking.
• A permanent toilet facility.
• A permanent trash receptacle.
• Interpretive materials (a sign, exhibit, or kiosk).
• Picnic tables.
• Security services (meaning the area could be patrolled by USFS or local law-enforcement personnel).
What do you think? Your first reaction might be, “Great! No more fees for my forest trips!”
But you might also believe it’s a good idea to help fund Nat’l Forests through such fees. I do, and gladly pay them. From this perspective, the decision apparently means many NF trailhead sites will have to drop fees, and experience more usage, as a likely consequence. (For how many sites that you visit, after all, actually have these six amenities?) Moreover, if one is simply parking and hiking w/o using facilities, then no NF site can charge a fee, no matter how many amenities it has. So, you might view this decision as good news, or bad news indeed.
I’m not a lawyer, so I don’t know when the decision would become active, but it seems that even though it’s being sent to district courts, it’s technically the law of the land for now, whether or not your local NF has formally caught up with it.