- The Washington Times - Friday, August 30, 2002

Rep. Jim Kolbe announced a bill yesterday to prevent organizations that run youth camps from being priced out of the market for using campsites on Forest Service land.

Recent appraisals of national forest system land in some cases the first since the mid-1970s led the Forest Service to bump up the use fees for organizations such as the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and church groups that often use the property for summer camps for youth and the disabled. In some cases, fees would jump many times over under the new appraisals.

"Suddenly some of these organizations were faced with a rental fee going from $1,800 a year to $28,000 a year," Mr. Kolbe, Arizona Republican, said in a telephone interview after announcing his bill in Tucson yesterday. "These are Boy Scouts, these are church groups doing things for kids to hit them with this kind of rental fee makes no sense at all."

There are 375 camps in the country, spread across 26 states. California has the most camps, with 143, followed by Idaho with 36, Oregon with 30 and Arizona with 27. Locally, there are three camps in Virginia, though there are none in Maryland or the District.

The fees for one of the Boy Scout camps near Tucson would jump from $4,500 to $71,000 if the increases occur as scheduled, according to news reports from Arizona.

The Forest Service, which is part of the Department of Agriculture, oversees the nation's national forests and grasslands. The problem with the fees, according to the service, is that in some cases land hasn't been appraised for many years and some of the land values have risen drastically since then.

Mr. Kolbe's plan would make the fee 5 percent of the land value based on agricultural land values. The fee would not be based on developable land values, which are much higher. The figure used in the 5 percent fee would also be based on previous land sales, rather than projected probable sale values.

"It should be a modest fee these are public lands, and they're doing a public good," he said.

Mr. Kolbe said prior attempts to get the service to change its policy didn't work because the service said the law had to be changed. Mr. Kolbe said Forest Service staff helped with suggestions for his legislation this year.

Dick Paterson, deputy director of recreation for the service, said he hasn't seen the text of the legislation and couldn't comment on the specific proposal, but he said he understands the intent.

"We like working with those groups, and we are happy to have them use the forest as bases there, and so anything that is good for those groups in general is good for the country and good for the public interest," he said. "At the same time, there are lots of groups who would like to use the forest like that so one needs to think that out."

Mr. Paterson said he believes it is important to charge fair market rates. But he also said creating a way to prevent sudden spikes in fees is important to help the scouting and church organizations maintain their programs.

Mr. Kolbe said he expects the bill to move swiftly through the House and that he hopes to have it passed and signed into law by the end of the year.

Some of the camps that would be affected by the fee increase had to close their doors this year after wildfires burned the locations they normally use.

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