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A Small Price for the Welfare of the Forest

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There is almost universal agreement that the U.S. Forest Service is seriously underfunded. The money raised by the Adventure Pass program will probably not come close to solving that financial crisis. However, free parking in the forest will only add to that crisis.

Like thousands of others, I use the Los Padres National Forest for day hiking. Should I pay $30 a year for that privilege?

I want the roads and trails maintained. I want the fauna, flora and the water quality monitored and protected. I want the discarded fishing line, cigarette butts, beer cans, snack food wrappers and other trash picked up. I want the toilets cleaned. I want rangers to be in the front and back country to protect me, my car and nature from lawbreakers. I want the graffiti covered up. I want these things year-in and year-out.

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Are these things I want unreasonable? Who shall pay for them? Taxpayers generally? Shouldn’t I be willing to chip in? Wouldn’t I be a raging hypocrite to protest that logging companies, mining companies and cattle grazers underpay for their use of the forest and not also accept a modest financial charge for my use of the forest?

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Some critics of the Adventure Pass claim, on flimsy evidence, that it is a “setup engineered by the recreation industry led by Michael Eisner of Disneyland.” This argument seeks to undermine the Adventure Pass by associating it with “big business.” If there is a commercialization problem, those critics should campaign against that particular evil, not against the Adventure Pass. Paying $5 a day or $30 a year to the Forest Service does not mean turning control of the forest over to private enterprise.

Is there any evidence that the money raised by the Adventure Pass has been misspent or has gone to private corporations?

Ironically, eliminating the Adventure Pass may have the effect of driving management of the forest into the hands of commercial interests, because the Forest Service will (due to lack of funds) be unable to meet the public’s expectations. The Forest Service needs every buck it can lay its hands on.

Keep it simple: you park, you pay.

Critics of the Adventure Pass claim that it is fair to charge for camping but not for hiking. This argument overlooks the fact that most visits to the forest are not for camping. Hikers, mountain bikers, equestrians and other day users all add to the environmental pressure on the forest; why should they be exempt from fees?

Critics of the Adventure Pass claim that it infringes on our “birthright” to enter our own property. In truth, under the Adventure Pass, we can enter, but generally not park, in the forest for free. Rights? What about our environmental duties? There is an environmental cost every time we use the forest for recreation. The more the forest is used, the greater the expense of upkeep.

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The destroyers of beauty and tranquillity abound. Sometimes these malefactors make impromptu forays into the forest to tag, litter, use illegal campfire rings, poach wildlife, etc. The hassle of having to get an Adventure Pass no doubt deters many of these opportunistic raiders.

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Greed and selfishness seem to be driving the attack on the Adventure Pass. Many of the critics never spoke up about the fiscal crisis in the forest until they were asked to reach for their wallets to buy a pass. Their avowed interest in the financial security of the forest will evaporate the moment the Adventure Pass is abolished. When their purse is no longer in play, they will again be silent partners in the destruction.

When one buys an Adventure Pass, one acquires a fair financial stake in the welfare of the forest. That small financial sacrifice makes one a benefactor, involved financially in the upkeep and integrity of the forest. Purchasing an Adventure Pass increases the odds that we will exercise greater care in the forest, and we might even become more vocal about misuse of the forest by others, including Congress.

The Los Padres National Forest: It’s huge, and I love it. I display my Adventure Pass with pride. At $30 a year, the Adventure Pass is a recreational bargain.

Thomas Prindiville Higgins is a Ventura attorney.

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