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USFS Cabinowners Threatened
GAO Says Fees Too Low
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The US Forest Service is charging too little for cabin sites and commercial operations in National Forests, according to a report by the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress.

The GAO report found that with current fees the USFS doesn’t even recover the cost of handling the permits for commercial and recreation uses in the national forests. The report said fees for cabin lots are based on appraisals done in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Fees for commercial operations are based on a system that has not been updated for nearly 30 years. For example, a cabin lot on Minnesota’s Lake Winnibigoshish costs $355/year. County assessors have estimated the land on the lake should cost $1115/year.

USFS officials agree the fees are too low, but the agency has little incentive to keep the fees up to date because it can’t keep the additional money to cover the extra work load (monies all go into the General Fund).

Throughout the 1980’s, the ALRA, along with the National Forest Homeowners association, led a campaign to keep the USFS from raising the fees unreasonably. For example, the agency was charging as much as $5,000 for three months use on Priest Lake in Idaho, far beyond fair market value.

ALRA found that the USFS did not have a consistent appraisal policy, agency appraisers were poorly trained and the appraisals were often based on year round use when cabin permittees only had the use of the cabin for two or three months each year. ALRA and NFH combined to push the USFS to redraft their appraisal system.

ALRA expects new efforts by the USFS and Congress to raise fees, based on this report. Chuck Cushman, executive director of ALRA, said in response, "GAO often does good work but still makes mistakes. We think this is one of those times."

The report, USFS Fees For Recreational Special Use Permits Do Not Reflect Fair Market Value, dated 12/20/96 (RCED-97-16) can be ordered from the GAO by calling (202) 512-6000.

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Last modified: December 29, 1997