Judge Ends Fees at SoCal National Forests for Visitors

Visitors do not have to pay a fee to enter national forests in Southern California if they do not use bathrooms, picnic tables or other amenities, a federal judge determined this week.

Four hikers, including two from Ojai, filed a lawsuit in late 2012 challenging the U.S. Forest Service’s right to charge visitor fees at Los Padres, Angeles, San Bernardino and Cleveland national forests.

Senior U.S. District Court Judge Terry J. Hatter Jr. on Monday agreed that the fee, called an Adventure Pass, cannot be levied if people use the forests but not amenities such as campgrounds.

Adventure Passes are $5 for a day or $30 for a year.

“If all a person wants to do is park and have a picnic or go for a hike or camping or backpacking, they do not have to pay a fee,” said Matt Kenna, the hikers’ Colorado-based attorney. “Now if you go and use a developed campground then you will have to pay a fee, as you should.”

John Heil, U.S. Forest Service press officer for the Pacific Southwest Region, said the forest service is reviewing the decision and had nothing further to add at this time.

Alasdair Coyne, conservation director of the Keep Sespe Wild group, said he was pleased with Hatter’s ruling.

The Ojai man was ticketed a couple years ago for parking and hiking in Rose Valley. Instead of fight the ticket, he joined the lawsuit.

“The fee law that was enacted in 2004 very clearly stated that there could not be fees charged for parking (and hiking),” Coyne said. “This is a clear-cut ruling and the message couldn’t be more clear.”

The fee law is formally called the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act. It allows for fees in “high-impact” recreation areas that have amenities such as picnic tables, developed parking and security.

The lawsuit that led to Monday’s decision followed several legal challenges to the fees in recent years.

In February 2012, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with plaintiffs who sued the Forest Service over fees at Mount Lemmon in Arizona.

The Forest Service went too far in levying those fees on visitors who parked their cars to hike, picnic or camp on land that hadn’t been improved, the Arizona suit alleged.

Fees are used for improvements such as purchasing toilets or picnic tables, officials have said.

Kenna said that while the decision in the Mount Lemon case applied only to that forest, he and others expected the Forest Service to apply the ruling at other sites.

When that didn’t happen, the local lawsuit was filed. Both sides tried to hammer out a deal last year but were unable to reach consensus, Coyne said.

In light of Monday’s decision, which only applies to four Southern California forests, Kenna said he expected the federal agency to eliminate the fee at additional locations.

“If they don’t start following this in other forests, we will just keep suing them,” Kenna said.

It is the Bottom of the Ninth

Be advised small mining community, suction dredging is about to disappear permanently in California if PLP does not immediately obtain substantial additional funding.  The California outcome will reverberate throughout all of the states with suction dredge mining. If we lose, the radical environmentalists have a roadmap to replicate their success everywhere.

PLP’s preliminary injunction arguing irreparable harm to the small miner was denied by our judge despite the fact that a Siskiyou County case found in favor of irreparable harm to the miners.  Our trial is again delayed, this time until May 2014.

Our deep pocket opponents: the radical environmentalists; the Karuk Indians; and the State of California; have no financial issues.  Their combined effort to delay our case has successfully run PLP out of money.  Without additional funding, PLP will not be able to continue hiring legal representation nor pay our share of the estimated $100,000 administrative fees required by the State to compile the complete record of all the previous trials.

There are two ways for miners to never be able to suction dredge in California again: have our judge rule against us on the merit of the case, which is appealable; or PLP failing to show up for the case because we ran out of money, which is not appealable.

Folks, we need a grassroots effort here.  PLP is requesting that each club immediately become creative and initiate fund raising opportunities.  Designate the resultant funds for our collective legal fight.

PLP is calling on all clubs to immediately encourage each one of their club members to enroll as individual PLP members.  The annual individual membership is $35.00. That is only 9.6 cents per day per member. Is there any small miner who cannot afford a dime a day? A family membership for $50.00 is only 14 cents a day.  But, why stop there?  Imagine what can be done if every small miner gave 30 cents a day.  PLP could really go on the offensive and take the small miner fight to the rest of the nation.  Thirty cents is just the change that you take out of your pocket and throw into a jar at the end of your day.

Let’s be clear fellow miners, suction dredging is only the opening gambit in the admitted radical environmentalist effort to eliminate all prospecting & mining in the country, not just California.  Highbanking, sluicing, dry-washing, panning and even metal detecting are all on the chopping block. You need to look no further than Oregon to see that prediction coming true.

For this case, it is the bottom of the ninth inning.  We either open our wallets or we permanently lose prospecting and small mining in California.  Remember folks, in so many ways where California goes so goes the rest of the nation. If they beat us here, they will beat us everywhere.  Let’s give the radical environmentalists and the complicit government a legal whopping that they won’t soon forget.