The U.S. Forest Service exceeded its authority in charging recreation
fees at thousands of Northwest sites during a period when Congress
allowed fee gathering at no more than 100 such sites, U.S. magistrate
Thomas Coffin ruled Dec. 7 in federal court in Eugene, Ore.
The ruling comes based on an appeal of a fine levied on a hiker cited
for not paying a fee at the Oregon Dunes National Recreation area last
June. The ruling is a bit of a hollow victory since the Congress lifted
the 100-site cap to fee collection in November.
In making the ruling, Coffin threw out several other points the hiker
and her attorney had used in her defense. She had claimed that the fee
was a parking fee not a recreation fee. She also claimed that she was
in the Dunes Monument as part of her job to observe Snowy Plovers for a
natural resources group.
U.S. Forest Service officials were quoted as saying the ruling will not
hamper their ability to collect fees at multiple locations and that it
reinforces their need not to determine what a person is pursuing on
Forest Service lands to collect a fee.
Speaking for those in opposition of fees, Scott Silver of Wild
Wilderness based in Bend, Ore., said, "The Forest Service completely
exceeded their authority. People were charged for a program that was
clearly illegal and what the judge determined to be clearly illegal.
People who were given notices of non-compliance and paid them fearing
they might have to go to court and those who paid because they thought
they had to should be reimbursed by the U.S. Forest Service. The Forest
Service now keeps 90 percent of all monies collected in fee programs
and does not pass them on to the federal general fund. Therefore the
Forest Service should pay it back."