Congressman Hansen's interest in charging fees for the recreational use of the public lands would make sense if he would follow it to its logical conclusion.
It seems reasonable that nonextractive users of the public lands, including recreational users, should be charged the actual costs of repairing any damage that they cause and the actual costs of constructing and maintaining any facilities they use. In the case of hikers, for example, this would mean charging fees in an amount sufficient to reimburse the actual costs of trail maintenance, repair of trail-caused erosion damage, ranger patrol where necessary and incidentals such as construction of trail signs.By comparison, extractive users of the public lands should be charged the fair market value of what they extract. In addition, they should be required to reimburse the owner (i.e., the taxpayers) for any expenses and for repair of any damage they cause during extraction.
The federal timber subsidy provides a good example of what needs to be changed. At present, the Forest Service makes timber sales at far below fair market value, and the taxpayers even pay to construct the logging roads that private companies then use to remove the trees. The loss to the taxpayers from selling timber at less than the cost of preparing the timber for sale, combined with the cost to the taxpayers of building logging roads, is about $122 million per year (the 1994 figure). Besides gouging the taxpayers, the below-cost federal timber subsidy harms private owners who might want to sell their timber by undercutting prices or by taking away the market entirely.
Similarly, the federal grazing program typically loses at least $50 million to $75 million per year. The current grazing fee on federal lands for a cow and a calf or six sheep is $1.35 per month, which is less than it costs to feed a pet hamster for the same period. The subsidy fleeces the taxpayers and is unfair to the majority of cattle raisers who use private lands, putting them at a competitive disadvantage because they do not receive the same federal subsidy.
From the timing, it looks as if Congressman Hansen's new campaign against what he calls "subsidies" for recreationists is simply an effort to get his revenge against the American people for the apparent defeat of the abysmal Utah anti-wilderness bill he sponsored.
Gordon J. Swenson
Salt Lake City