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While you were sleeping

Tom Boyd

Ever heard of Ralph Regula?No?Neither had I, but now I know.Regula, a Republican out of Ohio who has no public lands in his district, recently forced a measure through Congress that will make the very controversial fee-demo program permanent. The fee-demo program, instituted temporarily in 1996 (by Regula, via riders) and extended five times (by Regula, via riders) has angered thousands of people who want simple access their public lands up on Vail Pass.Although it is a nation-wide issue, it has tremendous and immediate impact here in the valley.People on both sides of the aisle and people who are normally on opposite sides of the land-use debate (motorized vs non-motorized) have come out vehemently against the fee-demo program as it exists now.But Regula forced it through Nov. 19 as a rider to an omnibus bill.What’s even more upsetting than the fact that the fee-demo program has become permanent is the way it became permanent. Although the idea has limited support, and could never pass through Congress as a bill of its own, Regula attached it as a rider during a lame-duck session of Congress.And get this: Robert Funkhouser, leader of the Western Slope No-Fee Coalition, was informed late Nov. 18 that Regula had backed off the idea of attaching the no-fee rider. Regula’s office had been flooded with faxes and phone calls from around the nation begging him not to make the program permanent, and Funkhouser’s group was asked to call off the dogs.But Regula’s promise was a lie.Late at night, while most of us were sleeping, Regula flexed his big-gun political muscle and attached the rider anyway, ensuring the very unpopular fee-demo program would survive (yet again).Once the bill was on, senators were forced to accept it or face political suicide: an omnibus bill is like a freight train it can’t be stopped once it gets rolling through congress, and if you get in its way because of a little rider SPLAT! Bye-bye political career.Attaching the Fee-Demo rider to this kind of bill was, frankly, despicable.And yet Regula may become the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee in January, probably the most powerful committee in government.In the meantime the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Reclamation are now permanently able to charge fees for you to access your own public lands.If the organizations aren’t able to pay for the “maintenance” of public lands, they are empowered to shut them down. Your lands now, in essence, belong to someone else.And your tax money, which is supposed to already be paying for “maintenance” of public lands, is being siphoned into unknown areas. Government officials aren’t required to tell us where it’s going. And here’s what really gets me fired up: Thanks to Regula, now you’re being charged again when you get to the borders of your public land. The money you give to the government is then used to pay rangers, who spend most of their time patrolling and ticketing users of public land. Some citizens are being charged THREE TIMES by public land managers.Sounds like a cartel to me.Mr. Regula, we object. VTTom Boyd can be reached at tboyd@vailtrail.com


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