- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 20, 2000

The Forest Service wants businesses in a California national forest to document the "perceived ethnicity" and disabilities of their patrons to determine whether they are effectively recruiting those customers.

The directive from the Shasta-Trinity National Forest agency says business owners should indicate whether they "perceive" their customers as "American Indian/ Alaskan Native, Asian or Pacific Islander, African-American, Hispanic, person with disability, or other." The survey is being conducted from June 15 to Sept. 15 and must be forwarded to the agency by Sept. 30.

"This information will be used to determine if your marketing strategy is recruiting customers that reflect the ethnic diversity of those individuals in a specific socioeconomic strata," District Ranger Kristy Cottini said in a June 6 letter sent to all forest area businesses.

Miss Cottini said the survey is necessary to comply with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which directs businesses operating in national forests to provide services free from discrimination.

"It is important we move forward with developing a process for collecting this information," Miss Cottini said.

In an interview with The Washington Times, a spokesman for the Forest Service defended the survey. However, after reviewing the letter, he said the agency's attempt to oversee marketing strategies to minorities "was probably a little overzealous on our part and not something that we will be repeating."

Matt Mathes, California press officer, said tracking minority use of national forests has been a "longtime program," but use was difficult to assess because staffers could not directly ask patrons their race or disability.

"We're simply asking [business owners] to give their best guess on a regular basis on their visual perception" of race, Mr. Mathes said.

The forest is located in Northern California in Republican Rep. Wally Herger's congressional district. Mr. Herger said the survey is "quota lunacy," and has asked the agency to abandon the "intrusive" request.

"Apparently, the Forest Service equates a low number of disabled persons and specific ethnic groups at certain forests as evidence of discrimination," Mr. Herger said.

"Clearly, it is a legitimate role of government to prevent discrimination; however, this Forest Service directive is unreasonable," Mr. Herger said.

"We cannot presume that the American people are going to vacation and recreate by the numbers," Mr. Herger said.

Roger Vanderwall, whose family has owned Lake View Terrace Resort for 34 years, said the survey "stinks" and he will not comply with it.

"I will put down American, American, American, for all of my customers," Mr. Vanderwall said.

"This country is so diverse in the people that live here, what difference does it make what their perceived ethnicity is as long as we are open to the general public and there have been no complaints about racial prejudice," Mr. Vanderwall said.

Mr. Mathes confirmed there have been no complaints of discrimination from forest users.

Hennings Berhans, owner of Wyntoon Resort, said he will also refuse to participate in the survey, which he described as "totally off the wall."

"I thought this was a free country. You don't ask questions like that or keep records of things like that," Mr. Berhans said.

"We're not requiring any sort of quota; all we're trying to do is find out if there are any barriers" to forest recreation and lodging for minorities, Mr. Mathes said.

Mr. Mathes said the Forest Service should have discussed the survey with local businesses before sending the letter.

He also said government officials would be willing to discuss concerns with business owners.

Businesses operating in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest include resorts, cabin rentals, houseboat rentals and privately run campgrounds.

Resort owners said the Forest Service first hinted it would bring pressure on businesses to increase minority attendance through adverti ing two years ago.

Mr. Vanderwall said Forest Service officials told him if they did not complete the survey, their operating permits would be suspended or they would face fines.

Mr. Mathes, speaking on behalf of Miss Cottini, said she does not remember making that threat. However, if owners discriminate against guests, Mr. Mathes said, it would be grounds for losing their operating permit.

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