9th District Court Rules against the Forest Adventure Pass

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, in a published opinion on February 9th reversed and remanded a lower court ruling that had dismissed a case against the U.S. Forest Service.  They found in Adams v. USFS that the Recreational Enhancement Act “unambiguously prohibits the Forest Service from charging fees in the Mount Lemmon HIRA for recreational visitors who park a car, then camp at undeveloped sites, picnic along roads or trailsides, or hike through the area without using the facilities and services.”

Excerpted from the published opinion:

“The Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (“REA”) prohibits the United States Forest Service from charging fees “[s]olely for parking, undesignated parking, or picnicking along roads or trailsides,” for “hiking through . . . without using the facilities and services,” and “[f]or camping at undeveloped sites . . . .” 16 U.S.C. § 6802(d)(1)(A), (D) & (E).

“Despite these clear prohibitions, the Forest Service collects fees from all drivers who park their vehicles in a mile-wide piece of the Coronado National Forest running along the 28–mile Catalina Highway, the only paved road to the summit of Mount Lemmon, a heavily used recreational area an hour’s drive from downtown Tucson, Arizona.

“Four recreational visitors sued, seeking a declaration that  the Forest Service was exceeding the scope of its authority under the REA by charging fees to those who drive to Mount Lemmon, park their cars, then picnic, hike, or camp in nearby undeveloped areas. Plaintiffs also sought to enjoin the Forest Service from collecting such fees. The district court granted defendants’ Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. Plaintiffs appealed. Because plaintiffs are correct that the Forest Service’s fee structure contravenes the plain language of the REA, we reverse the district court’s dismissal of Count I and remand to allow plaintiffs to pursue that claim.”

In CORBA’s ongoing relationship with the Forest Service, we understand that locally the Adventure Pass is a major source of their funding for on-the-ground projects, maintenance and services. Even with Adventure Pass fees, they are grossly under-funded.

It is unclear at this point how the ruling will affect Southern California’s Angeles, Cleveland, Los Padres and San Bernadino National Forests, where the adventure pass program has been in place for more than a decade. Currently, fees are required for all vehicles that park within the forest boundary, even if, as in the plaintiff’s case, no facilities are used. Many eyes will be watching when Adams v. USFS returns to the lower court.

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