Shotgun Approach to Challenge Backcountry User Fees is Wrong

News of the legal challenge to the NPS decision to implement changes to the backcountry usage rules appears on the surface to be a good thing. Unfortunately, a detailed reading of the letter submitted by legal counsel for Southern Forest Watch shows a "shotgun" approach to the argument against those changes. I feel that many of the arguments listed in counsel's letter to the NPS were trivial and poorly structured. The overall impact of this legal challenge is significantly weakened by this shotgun approach.

Wouldn't it be more effective to focus the legal challenge on the strongest issues and leave most of the trivial issues on the sideline?

Background:  I'm one of the many Smokies hikers who submitted written comments to the NPS during the public comment period provided for the proposed backcountry user fee system. I was not confident that my comments would even be seriously considered by NPS management but, nonetheless, gave considerable thought and effort to the process of creating what I thought were detailed, comprehensive replies to all of the items listed by the NPS as problems and potential solutions to the "backcountry camping problem". The end result of this proposed rule change process appears to have turned-out like so many other NPS service proposed rule changes: Changes originally proposed were passed with few, if any, changes--in spite of a plethora of public comments contrary to the original proposal(s).

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Comment by Al Smith on September 4, 2012 at 8:29pm

Jim, I agree the NPS has made a lot of errors--many of them related to political and personal bias in favor of influential groups and individuals.  Many years ago I was one of the first to question the Gov. Don Sundquist deal.  What the NPS did with the Ace Gap trail reroute was trivial compared to the paved road built to his and his friends houses along those steep slopes.  That road which by all I can discover was built with public funds but is now gated and classified as a private road!  However, my argument is not with Don Sundquist.  It is with the NPS on this issue of its violation of proper procedures in their NPRM for the backcountry fee issue.

I believe the most effective remedy available to the public is to derail this entire NPRM based upon proving the NPS failed to follow proper procedures for public comments.  The next steps would be to make them more accountable for their assessment of public comments and to possibly reissue the NPRM for additional comments after the initial round.  Unfortunately, we cannot force them to make a decision that agrees with our views--they have the final say on that even if it seems ridiculously flawed.

Comment by Jim Casada on September 4, 2012 at 7:16pm

Al--What is trivial to one individual is troublesome or of tremendous importance to another.  

I am anything but a student of the law, but from a personal perspective I find each issue in the document of note, and one argument whcih runs counter to your thinking would be that the myriad of problems pointed out in the challenge provide abundant evidence of the magnitude of the Park leadership's duplicity.  That would seem to me, in and of itself, to justify such a wide-ranging enumeration of what a book author styled "The Sins of the Park" (and he wasn't referring to those currently under consideration).

Jim Casada 

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