The Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newsmagazine Serving the Community since 1989


Ted Williams

Ted Williams

Fees have become a public lands shakedown

Scarcely anyone objected in 1996, when Congress authorized the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to charge the public new or increased fees for accessing its own land to fish, hunt, boat, drive, park, camp, or walk. After all, it was going to be an experiment—a three-year pilot program. Hence the name: “Fee Demonstration.”

But when it comes to federal revenue, intermittent streams have a way of becoming perennial. Fee Demo was extended in 2001, and again in 2004, when it was expanded into the Recreation Enhancement Act. RAT, for short, enabled the agencies to charge even more. The system places federal land managers in the business of attracting crowds, and it may motivate them to ignore the needs of fish and wildlife. Recreation becomes a business.

The big beneficiary of these access fees has been the motorized recreation industry to which they’ve provided standing and representation. Sponsoring Fee Demo through a cost-share partnership with the Forest Service was the powerful American Recreation Coalition, whose membership is comprised mainly of manufacturers of all-terrain vehicles, motorized trail bikes, jet skis, and recreation vehicles. And joining the coalition in lobbying aggressively for both Fee Demo and RAT have been the National Off Highway Vehicle Coalition, the National Snowmobile Manufacturers Association and consumers of all things motorized who band together as the Blue Ribbon Coalition.

With little public or congressional oversight, the Forest Service assesses recreational facilities for profitability. The ones that generate least revenue—remote campgrounds and trailheads, places to which lovers of wildness and quiet would naturally gravitate—are now first to get disappeared. Bulldozers are knocking down campgrounds, dismantling latrines, removing fire pits. You won’t even be able to park. The agency is financing the process with $93 million in fee receipts; in effect, charging you for the rope it hangs you with.

As abusive as RAT fees are in their own right, the Forest Service is abusing them further by playing fast and loose with the law. The Recreation Enhancement Act requires that fees be charged only if there has been “significant investment,” defined as six amenities: security services, meaning staffers who check to see if you’ve paid, parking, toilets, picnic tables, trash receptacles, and signs.

A site has to have all six. But the Forest Service has dreamed up a way of getting around the law by designating sections of forest as “High Impact Recreation Areas” (HIRAs). One corner of a HIRA might have a sign; another, perhaps two miles away, a trash can. Three miles from both might be a parking lot; the law makes no reference to anything like a HIRA. The Forest Service flouts even this bizarre interpretation of the law. Last year it admitted to Congress that 739 HIRAs didn’t have the six amenities. Moreover, there are at least three thousand former Fee Demo sites outside HIRAs that are still charging fees, many of them illegally.

When Christine Wallace, a Tucson legal secretary, refused to pay a fee on a Coronado National Forest HIRA in Arizona, she was prosecuted for what amounted to hiking without a license. While the law allows the Forest Service to charge all manner of fees, it specifically prohibits entrance fees. Accordingly, a court found that the agency had acted illegally.

But the Forest Service appealed, and in January 2007, won a reversal. If the ruling is not struck down by Wallace’s motion to reconsider or by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where it seems headed, case law will criminalize exiting your vehicle on your own public land without first finding a ranger station, if one is open, and coughing up money that even the motorized-recreation axis that hatched RAT fees never intended for you to pay.

RAT fees are more than just a ripoff. They’ve become a replacement for squandered wealth, an incentive for continued profligacy, and an excuse for the White House to keep slashing appropriations for public-lands management.

Summing up the whole sorry mess is district ranger Cid Morgan of the Angeles National Forest in California [now district ranger at Sandia Ranger District]: “We’re going to have to do more with less until we do everything with nothing.”

If Morgan and other forest advocates hope for relief from the Forest Service’s new director, Abigail Kimbell, who took office in February 2007, they shouldn’t. Kimbell says she wants to increase fees.

Ted Williams is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado ( He is conservation editor of FlyRod&Reel magazine and frequently leaves his home in Vermont to travel the West.

Bernalillo Farmers’ Market opens July 6

The Bernalillo Farmers’/Growers’ Market will be open every Friday from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m., beginning July 6 and continuing through late October.

Vendors will sell locally-produced fruits, vegetables, breads, and other baked goodies, jams, jellies, plants and landscape items, as well as a few assorted and unexpected surprises.

“Our ‘menu’ changes from week to week, depending on what has most recently ripened or become available,” says market manager Anthony Garcia. “The things that are sold at the Market must be locally produced. This not only helps to support the local economy, but it saves on fuel costs that are incurred when goods are shipped over long distances—sometimes even from overseas.”

The market grounds are located at the north end of Bernalillo, about a block and a half south of the US 550 intersection with Highway 313 (Camino del Pueblo), which is Bernalillo’s main street. To describe it another way, you can find the market between Our Lady of Sorrows church and the Family Dollar Store. Parking is available either inside the market grounds or on the street.

The market location is made available by property owner, Zia Pueblo. The Bernalillo Market is a member of the New Mexico Farmers’ Market Association and is also supported by the New Mexico Economic Development Department. The market accepts vouchers in lieu of cash from the New Mexico WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) program of the state’s health department for home-produced fresh fruits and vegetables.

The Bernalillo Market has grown in number and variety of vendors since its inception several years ago. A popular free feature is a booth staffed by the Sandoval Master Gardeners Program, under the auspices of the local Agricultural Extension Office. These volunteers give planting and growing advice to market attendees and have available a number of publications for distribution.

The Bernalillo Market is one of three in Sandoval County; the other two are in Corrales and at San Felipe Pueblo’s Casino area. The Market Team invites shoppers to stop in and visit, meet neighbors, learn about some of New Mexico’s special products, and “Taste the Tradition.”

The other side of recycling

The Placitas Recycling Association is often asked why the Recycling Center does not take certain items, for example, glass. The center can only take materials for which there is a market. Even if that market does not pay much or at all, there has to be a vendor willing to take the materials and recycle them. There are several factors that determine whether there is a market for specific items, including the weight of the material and distance to the nearest user. Many of those factors are not controllable by either the association or the people in the community who recycle.

One factor recyclers can influence, however, is the consumer market for goods made from recycled materials. Many residents show their support for solid waste reduction by taking their recyclables to recycling centers, but how many also make a point of purchasing goods that include post-consumer recycled materials? There are a surprising number of every-day products with recycled content available, from printer paper, to pens and pencils, to clothing and accessories. And they are available in many stores, not just specialty shops and online sources. Some large retail companies have made a commitment to recycling, both by accepting materials for recycling and by stocking items with recycled content. Other stores are anxious to respond to consumer requests and can be influenced to offer products with recycled content if asked.

Government agencies are a major generator of waste and can be a major consumer of recycled products. Some agencies require documents to be printed on recycled paper, for example. Although it has not yet adopted recycled plastic or glass for road surfacing, the New Mexico Department of Transportation uses composted mulch for roadside erosion control, and the New Mexico Recycling Coalition has received a grant to educate forest professionals about the benefits of using waste from tree-thinning for erosion control applications rather than burning it.

Products with recycled content are generally clearly labeled with the percent of post-consumer recycled material. Even a partial percentage helps; it need not always be one-hundred-percent-recycled to make a difference. The more demand consumers create for products with recycled materials, the better the market will be for those materials.

Reuse consumes even less resources and energy than recycling. The Placitas Recycling Center, for example, encourages people to collect boxes and packing material from the center for reuse. Computer Reruns in Albuquerque takes computers and other related equipment. Reconditioned equipment is donated to schools and nonprofit organizations. Other parts are taken to rehab schools where people are taught to repair them. Parts that are hazardous are recycled by certified personnel. Computer Reruns’ drop-off location is at 5445 Edith NE, Suite D, on the corner of Edith and Montaño. Cell phones can be taken to Verizon to be programmed to only call 911 and given to domestic violence shelters. With a little thought, waste materials can find a second life in many different ways.

The all-volunteer Placitas Recycling Center is located on Highway 165 just east of I-25, and is open every Saturday between 8:00 and 11:00 a.m. The center accepts cardboard, all types of paper, aluminum, No. 1 and No. 2 plastics, bagged polystyrene peanuts, and inkjet cartridges. More information about the center can be found at

Middle Rio Grande Water Assembly hosts eleventh Annual Water Assembly

On Saturday, June 9, the Middle Rio Grande Water Assembly will host the eleventh Annual Water Assembly at Dane Smith Hall at the University of New Mexico from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

The Water Assembly has always initiated dialogues on difficult subjects. After completing the Regional Water Plan, recent annual gatherings tackled tough topics such as the “Urgent Shortfall Reality,” over-allocation of our water, and adjudication as a curse or salvation. This year the assembly will consider what it really takes to tighten our belts enough to balance the water budget.

One of the Assembly’s first products was the Water Budget, published in 1999. A concurrence among numerous hydrologists showed a substantial gap—about twenty percent— between renewable supply and demands in Sandoval, Bernalillo, and Valencia Counties. With an extensive public process, the budget guided the development of the alternatives contained in the Regional Water Plan, accepted by the local governments and the state of New Mexico.

While conservation actions have been taken, there is still a gap. Since 1999, the area has added eighty thousand new residents. Plans exist for several large new communities, with estimations that population will double by 2050. While agricultural land has been paved over in places, water consumption often still continues. Multiple promises have been made to users for the same water. Not included in the plan were the needs of the Rio Grande itself and its inhabitants. While we knew the gap was based upon an unusually wet quarter century, climate change may mean less water or a change as to when it comes. Not enough water exists to cover all of the current uses, much less new ones.

When asked, people say they value certain water uses over others. High on the desired list is water to keep the bosque vibrant, to keep farmers active, and for clean water to serve indoor uses. Given the water deficit, all of these desires cannot be concurrently satisfied.
Saying what’s preferable is easy. We need to ask the tough question: what will we agree to give up? The water resource is limited. To satisfy one use, we have to reduce or eliminate others.
From the viewpoint of each of the Assembly’s diverse advocacy groups, panelists will identify tradeoffs to reduce their water consumption. They will speak to the pros, cons, and impacts of choices to close the gap. Attendees will then try to converge on a recommended set of value-based priorities, tradeoffs and consequences inherent in those selections.

The eleventh Annual Assembly agenda includes:

•The Problem, the Plan, and the Holes

•Expert Panel: Additional Resource Stresses

•Pueblo Perspectives

•Selecting the Focus for the Year

•Advocacy Elections to Assembly Board

•Keynote: Governmental Viewpoints

•Advocacy Panel: What Can We Do Without?

•Discussion: Convergence on Tradeoff Realities

The Water Assembly encourages participants to help to ensure that the water plan is implemented.

Registration begins at 8:30 a.m. There is a registration fee of $10 at the door. Continental breakfast and lunch is included. A campus map can be found at

For more information, contact Ed Payne, Water Assembly President, at 797-4306 or

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