Editor's note: DeathValley.com, as well as many of its readers, has concerns about the increasing number and price of recreation fees being implemented across our public lands. Although U.S. vs. Chris Wallace originated our of theCoronado National Forest in Arizona, DeathValley.com has been following the case since its beginning. We present this update from Robert Funkhouser, President of the Western Slope No Fee Coalition because the case could affect how recreation fees are implemented on the public lands in and around Death Valley.
UPDATE: WALLACE CASE HEADS TO TRIAL
The trial of United States vs. Christine Wallace will be in Tucson on Thursday May 31 before U.S. Magistrate Judge Charles Pyle. Chris is charged by the Coronado National Forest with hiking on Mt Lemmon without paying their $5 access/use fee.
The Government's Position: The Forest Service says that by declaring Mt Lemmon a High Impact Recreation Area (HIRA) they can charge anyone who does anything within the HIRA, including activities specifically prohibited by law from fees such as parking, accessing undeveloped backcountry, and primitive camping. They have charged Chris with a federal crime for parking her car at a location that has no amenities and going on a hike.
The Defendant's Position: Chris says that the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act prohibits fees for parking and hiking into undeveloped backcountry, whether the parking and hiking occur within a HIRA or not. You can read about the case in the Tucson Weekly.
Background: Chris filed a Motion to Dismiss on the grounds that the fee she didn't pay is not authorized in the law. Judge Pyle granted her motion and dismissed the charges. In an extremely well researched and well written decision, he said that the fee prohibitions in the FLREA apply within HIRAs. You can read about the decision also in the Tucson Weekly.
The Forest Service appealed Judge Pyle's decision. Since Mt Lemmon's fee program is very similar to other fee programs (Mt Evans, American Fork Canyon, Mirror Lake Highway, Sandia Byway, etc) they knew that to let it stand would kill some of their biggest cash cows. Their appeal was granted by U.S. District Judge John Roll. Judge Roll sent the case back to Judge Pyle for trial. You can read more about the appeal in the Tucson Weekly.
Next: The trial will occur on May 31. The Government has asked for a whole day for the trial and is sending a big-gun out of town prosecutor. If Chris is found guilty the case will be appealed before the 9th Circuit.
Meanwhile: The concept of HIRAs is in trouble elsewhere as well. The FLREA does not authorize HIRAs. They are defined only in agency policy. HIRAs are being widely used to sidestep the FLREA's prohibition on fees for backcountry access, parking, primitive camping, and passing through public lands without using facilities. At Mt Evans, the Colorado Dept of Transportation has told the Forest Service they must stop charging a toll to travelers on the state highway who do not use FS facilities. This is an emerging situation that is coming to a head as the snow melts and the Mt Evans highway begins to open for the summer. There is increasing concern in Congress about FLREA implementation and HIRAs in particular. You can read more about Mt Evans in New West online magazine, and read about the congressional response, also in New West online magazine.
How to Help: Chris's attorney is serving pro bono but there are out-of-pocket expenses for her travel costs, as well as for filing fees, copying, mailing, etc. Donations can be made by credit card through the AZ No Fee website. You can mail checks to Chris Wallace Legal Defense Fund, 912A N. 4th Avenue, Tucson, AZ 85705. Messages of support can be sent to
. If you would like to attend the trial in person it will be at 9AM in the Federal Courthouse at 405 W. Congress in Tucson.
Important: If you attend the trial in person please dress conservatively and be respectful of court procedure. You are there as a silent witness, not to express your opinion.
Contact Robert Funkhouser at the Western Slope No Fee Coalition, P.O. Box 135, Durango, CO 81302, www.westernslopenofee.org.