Mt. Shasta Herald, Wednesday, January 27, 1999
By David Manley
In a surprising move last week, The U.S. Forest Service dismissed its case against a Mt. Shasta climber who refused to pay a "summit fee" and entered a not guilty plea after he was cited.
Larry Auxter was notified by letter late last week that his January 26th court appearance had been canceled "in the interest of justice."
Also dismissed was a similar case scheduled to be tried earlier in the day against a disabled Oregon man who requested a trial in Redding federal court.
Although the Forest Service declined comment on the Auxter decision, the implications are immense.
Said Auxter, who has opposed the Forest Service's recreation fee program since in was implemented locally on Labor Day weekend, 1998, "I see this as a big time victory for people all over the country, not just for me."
Duane Lyons, a public affairs officer for the Shasta-Trinity National Forests, said the case was technically still active and so he could make no comment on the reasons for its dismissal.
"Since the case was dismissed "without prejudice" the Forest Service can refile it at any time," said, Lyons. "I can't go much beyond that because it is still an active case."
Lyons referred further questions to Frank Packwood, the Forest Service's prosecuting officer.
Packwood had not responded to repeated calls by press time.
Auxter was originally cited for failure to pay the $15 summit climbing fee last fall. He was ordered to court for a preliminary hearing at which he pleaded not guilty.
If convicted at a trial, Auxter faced a fine equal to triple the $100 maximum for failing to pay the fee.
Though admitting to nervousness, Auxter said he was prepared to present his case in court He claimed to have copies of petitions signed by 2,600 people who attended 1998 meetings in McCloud and Mount Shasta to overwhelmingly oppose fees.
Other fee-opposed organizations in California and Oregon supported Auxter and said they were watching the outcome of his case with interest
Said Auxter, "I really got off the hook because if the fees are legal, they had a good case against me. I never said I didn't climb the mountain; I wasn't going to dispute that."
He pointed out that several other court cases were based on technicalities. For instance, some wilderness preservation groups argue that the summit fee to climb beyond 10,000 feet is unenforceable.
They maintain that you would have to provide each climber with an altimeter and erect a fence around the mountain at the l0,000 foot level," Auxter said.
"But that wasn't my angle," he emphasized. "I wanted to share with the court how wrong I thought the law was."
The protester said he believes the Forest Service is intent on starting a new industry because their old industries me in decline.
"My case was important because I think the Forest Service wants to start this new recreation industry on our public lands;" he said.
Auxterr said he was surprised by the letter; which was addressed to U.S. District Court Judge Kellison and signed by USFS Region 5 law enforcement and, investigations officer Susan Walding.
"Actually a reporter from the San Francisco Examiner called to tell me he had heard the case was dismissed," Auxter said. "When I went out to check my mailbox, the letter was there."
North State Congressman Wally Herger, who last year sponsored legislation to end Forest Service recreation fees, recently wrote to Auxter saying he would continue to oppose the feet
Herger was out of town yesterday, according to his press secretary, and was unavailable to comment on the case's outcome.
The fees were approved by Congress in l996 as a temporary demonstration program in which national forests could choose or decline to participate.
After Herger's bill was defeated last year, Congress extended the program until 2001.
Lyons pointed out that the program has provided many solid benefits to recreationists who use services when enjoying Mt. Shasta
The program has achieved very positive results - from a better capacity for mountain rescues to better cleaning and maintenance of facilities," Lyons said
By David Manley
Horse Camp manager Rich Renouf said the Forest Service's decision not to prosecute a climber who refused to pay a recreation fee may have widespread ramifications.
"Speaking for myself, I believe it will definitely cause other people not to pay the user fees," Renouf said.
"In my opinion, until the Forest Service takes a stand and has some sort of court adjudication on the legality of fees, they will be putting out a mixed message."
Renouf was referring to the Forest Service's last-minute decision to dismiss its case against Larry Auxter who climbed Mt. Shasta last fall without purchasing a $15 Forest Service "summit" fee.
Late last week the Forest Service dismissed the case "In the interests of justice."
Renouf, who manages the 720-acre Horse Camp on Mt Shasta's south slope for the Sierra Club Foundation, said revenues have dwindled at the traditional base camp for climbers.
"Since the Faust Service implemented recreation user fees last year, people resent paying a camping fee - no matter how small - to stay overnight at Horse Camp," said Renouf.
Suggested overnight camping fees are nominal, ranging from $3 for a simple "bivvy" to a $5 campsite. But the manager says fees are down by nearly 50 percent
Though Renouf declined to estimate how many campers on average use the camp each year, he said about 10,000 climbers cross the property annually in an attempt to reach the summit