Mount Shasta Herald
Wednesday, January 13, 1999
By David Manley
A Mount Shasta man who refused to pay a $15 fee to climb Mt. Shasta will be tried in federal court this month.
His non-jury trial is scheduled for January 26th. at 1:3O p.m. in Redding. If found guilty, Larry Auxter could be fined triple the $100 maximum for failing to pay a fee.
On a sunny day last fall, as Auxter sat on the mountain's summit with his nephew, he told a Forest Service ranger that he had not bought a USFS recreation fee demonstration program summit pass.
The ranger promptly reported this to headquarters and a citation was issued. Auxter refused to pay a fine and was ordered to court for a preliminary hearing.
Said Auxter, "I pled not guilty at that time because I don't believe the fee law is valid."
Auxter is no stranger to the fee demonstration program, through which the Forest Service charges fees to climb Mt. Shasta, park at certain wilderness trailheads, camp at some campgrounds, and launch a boat at McCloud Lake.
Congress approved the program in 1996, and the Shasta-Trinity National Forests instituted the fees locally on Labor Day, 1997.
Along with hundreds of area residents, he protested the new fees at crowded public hearings in Mount Shasta and McCloud. Auxter will go to court loaded down with stacks of petitions signed by those who attended the hearings.
And, although north state Congressman Wally Herger wrote Auxter a letter of support, he declined to intervene because, "The fee program is currently law and neither I nor any other federal official can responsibly support the violation of this or any other federal law."
But Auxter is supported by California and Oregon-based anti-fee groups who maintain the forest fees are illegal.
Alasdair Coyne, director of the Santa Barbara-based Keep the Sespa Wild Committee, is one of those. Coyne said a Southern California man was recently found innocent for refusing to buy an Adventure Pass to park in the Los Padres National Forest.
"Because Congress passed the Recreation Fee Demonstration Program as a voluntary program in which individual forests could choose or decline to participate, the judge in this case said the defendant had a right to park and protest without paying a fee," Coyne said.
Coyne warned, however, that the decision did not set a precedent that could be applied in other cases.
Auxter's case is also based on the fact that the fees were instituted as discretionary. Forests were not man-. dated to participate in the program.
In fact, the fee demonstration program was not even a bill but included as a provision in omnibus spending legislation which funded national parks, fire protection programs, college Pell grants, veterans benefits, prisons and the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Said Auxter, "How could a law be a volunteered law? The Shasta-Trinity Forests volunteered for the demonstration program."
Chris Hartman, a Forest Service supervisory law enforcement officer, sympathized with Auxter but said, "I know how Larry feels but the program is set now."
Wild Wilderness, a Bend, Ore., anti-fee organization, also supports Auxter.
Said director Scott Silver, "Larry is standing up to the Forest Service's attempt to create industrial-strength recreation. There are few people like Larry who, when faced with heavy fines or jail, are willing to take their case to court." Silver cites another Mt. Shasta climber from Bend who was also ticketed for failing to pay a "summit fee."
"He climbs for his health because his viral melanoma is eased at higher elevations. Since receiving his ticket he has offered to turn himself in for extradition if he can be tried in Redding," Silver said.
Herger, in 1998, cosponsored a bill to terminate participation of the Forest Service in the Fee Demonstration Program.
Instead, Congress opted to extend it until 2001. I
In his letter to Auxter Herger said he will continue to oppose the fees. "Be assured that I will continue to oppose any extension or continuation of this program and will actively work toward its repeal," he emphasized.
Two Southern California Congresswomen, Mary Bono and Lois Capps have also introduced bills to end the program.
However, declining timber harvest revenues have placed immense pressure on Forest Service fiscal planners to find alternative ways to fund forest maintenance. They point to the many improvements that fees have made possible.
A key provision of the demonstration program mandates that 80 percent of collected fees must be returned to the area in which they were collected.
This money in the Shasta-Trinity Forests have unquestionably improved maintenance programs and provided money for new facilities.
Mt. Shasta Ranger Station Recreation Officer Dave Trevisan said, "The differences since we began the program in 1997 are like night and day."
Auxter said of his upcoming trial, "I'm nervous as hell. But I feel compelled to do this on behalf of myself and citizens who climb Mt. Shasta. Because this it a test program, if we don't protest it now I believe the Forest Service will commercialize our forests."