Outdoor Recreation Enthusiasts Might Have to Pay the Price

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Byline: INSIDE THE OUTDOORS By Mike Stahlberg The Register-Guard

With state and federal agencies entrenched in the business of charging people for access to publicly owned recreational lands, you can't be surprised when owners of private timberland begin charging to play in their forests.

Indeed, the most surprising thing about the Potlatch Corporation's recent announcement of a pay-to-play plan for its land holdings in Idaho is that it didn't come sooner.

Potlatch's recreational access fees go into effect April 1 on the company's 660,000 acres in the northern Idaho panhandle.

Initially, annual permits will cost $10, $25, $50 or $100 - depending on your mode of travel. Permits to walk or bike in will cost $10, while driving a motorhome will set you back $100 per year. Use of an ATV, motorcycle, snowmobile or horse requires a $25 permit; automobile, SUV, pickup and camp trailer permits cost $50.

In a press release announcing the permit requirement, Potlatch made no bones about the fact that it wants a piece of the $350 billion outdoor recreation market.

"Potlatch believes that the recreation marketplace has reached a level in north Idaho that makes it possible to derive increased shareholder value through the implementation of a formalized fee-for-use program," it said.

"The massive increase in the recreating public is simply too big to ignore when you own 660,000 acres of prime recreation land in north Idaho," said Terry Cundy, coordinator for Potlatch's recreation program. "A conscientious landowner must look at forest lands for values other than just log production."

He almost makes it sound as though timber companies that don't charge admission are failing to live up to their fiduciary responsibilities. So don't be surprised when other companies follow suit.

Cundy said the fees are needed to help cover costs for vandalism, game management and other expenses that result from allowing public access.

And it's apparent that Potlatch does not intend to stop with a simple access fee.

According to its Web site, the company "will continue to investigate the development of other recreation opportunities that will also have the potential for generating fees from public use of our lands."

Among them will be "reserved campsites" and "exclusive-use leases." The latter is a euphemism for hunting leases.

"As a pilot project," Potlatch said it plans to make available leases on "some small units of land" in Idaho for the 2008 hunting season. …