This week, the California Assembly passed the attractively named Assembly Joint Resolution 21, which would ask Washington, D.C. to repeal the 2004 law that authorized entrance and use fees for federal land. The bill now moves to the California Senate. Similar resolutions have already passed in other Western states, like Idaho, Colorado, Montana, Oregon, and halfway through Alaska (still has to get ratified by Alaskan Senate).

John Karevoll, of the Western Slope No Fee Coalition, said:

If I drive my son to a basketball game at our high school and pull to the side of the road to check out the view, I can be ticketed, ultimately fined $5,000 or get six months jail. We’re not talking about a developed scenic turnout, just the side of State Highway 18. So the Adventure Pass is clearly a barrier, it keeps people away. I can tell you that forest visitation has dropped the past few years despite the Inland Empire’s growth. In fact, half the time I see nobody. Even on major holidays.

I think these guys are on the right side, but there’s more than a fair share of hyperbole in that statement. You’d have to catch a ranger on a very bad day to get a $5000 fine for pulling over on the side of the road. And these passes are by no means expensive. Here in the Angeles, Cleveland, or Los Padres National Forests, a day use pass will run you five bucks. If you’re caught without one, you even have the option to just pay the fiver by mail. Or you can also pick up an annual pass for $30 – which, if you go hiking about once a week like I do, works out to a bank-breaking 58 cents per trip.

At first, I wasn’t exactly sure what the ultimate aim of these measures was. To force the government’s hand to fund federal parks and recreation areas the way they’re supposed to? To bolster public interest and attendance in these areas? Or is it to stop the Forest Service from double-charging for access and collecting money instead of spending what it already has responsibly?

Scott at Wild Wilderness reposted an article originally appearing in Fly Rod & Reel magazine that tackles the issue with clarity and depth. They mention the original law was written by Enemy of the Environment Richard Pombo, and was designed to increase vehicular access to wilderness areas, gut the Forest Service of federal funds, and force privatization of the parks.

That wasn’t my first instinct when I read about this program, but given Pombo’s abysmal track record, it’s certainly well within the realm of possibility.

Either way, it’s definitely an issue worth keeping tabs on. Lucky for us, Wild Wilderness is doing a great job of posting lots of updates, information, and analysis on the Recreation Access Tax. Or, as it is now becoming known on the interweb – the RAT.

I like the ring of that.