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Bill to extend fees for national parks likely to wait year

Santa Barbara News-Press 5 October 2004

Jamie Freed

WASHINGTON -- Despite the efforts of Reps. Lois Capps and Elton Gallegly, county residents may have to continue paying to hike, camp, picnic and use other public facilities in Los Padres National Forest.

The House Resources Committee recently approved legislation extending Adventure Pass fees for 10 years beyond their current Dec. 31, 2005, expiration date.

However, because Congress is set to end its session this week, the bill will likely have to be reintroduced next year.

"This is an important issue, so if it is not brought up in this Congress, it will be brought up in the next one," Resources Committee spokesman Matt Streit said.

The Senate has already passed a bill to extend the fees, but the differences between it and the House bill would have to be modified in conference.

Currently, an Adventure Pass costs $5 per day or $30 per year.

Mrs. Capps, D-Santa Barbara, has been a strong opponent of national forest fees.

She has twice introduced bills to eliminate the fees and make up the lost revenues by eliminating subsidies to timber companies, only to see the measures die.

She also testified against this bill in 2003.

"American families already pay taxes to maintain their national parks and forests," Mrs. Capps said Monday. "Our public lands must be open to the public -- every member of the public."

Mr. Gallegly, R-Simi Valley, originally was in favor of the fees, but he said he decided the program was not cost-effective.

"They're spending more money to implement the program than to collect the fees," said his spokesman, Tom Pfeifer.

Mr. Gallegly has since supported Mrs. Capps in her unsuccessful bid to discontinue the Adventure Pass program.

But Mr. Streit said the revised fee structure would put to rest some of the complaints his office has received.

Much of that protest has come from California, home of Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo, R-Stockton, who supports the bill.

"Public participation is a new, crucial section that was missing from the original bill," Mr. Pombo said at a hearing last month.

Under the new legislation, local committees would be able to make recommendations to the Department of the Interior about which services in the forest should be free.

In addition, the new legislation mandates that 80 percent of recreation fees would have to remain in the forest for expenditure in ways that would benefit visitors, which Mr. Pombo said would alleviate concerns about mismanagement of public funds.