User fees

I live in Kentucky, a state rich in wildlife but one not
overly blessed with public land. Approximately 95 percent of the
Commonwealth is privately owned. Officials for the state wildlife
agency (Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources do a pretty
good job managing what land is available to them but they are
always on the lookout for additional property. The agency is
currently in the process of taking control of Otter Creek Park, a
prime 2,155-acre piece of real estate roughly between the Ft. Knox
Military Reservation and Louisville, the state’s largest metro
area. For many years Otter Creek Park was owned and operated by the
City of Louisville but was closed for budgetary reasons in 2008.
The city had to trim its budget and decided the park was
expendable. Fish and Wildlife plans to re-open the property
sometime next year as the Otter Creek Outdoor Recreation Area. This
is good news but managing an ORA will move the KDFWR into new
territory. The agency owns and/or manages more than 70 wildlife
management areas across the state but Otter Creek will be its first
outdoor recreation area. The difference between a WMA and ORA? The
new ORA will welcome mountain bikers and horseback riders, for one.
Visitors will also be charged a user fee. All daily users,
including fishermen, picnickers, hikers, hunters, bird watchers and
others will have to pay $3 to access the property. If you favor a
“high impact” activity, like mountain biking or horseback riding or
using an ORA shooting range the cost will be $7. This will be in
addition to the $3 gatekeeper tab. Yearly passes will be available
for $30 and $70, respectively. Fair? It depends. Hunters and
fishermen often gripe about license fees but we continue to pay
them. After all, licenses and permits are the cheapest part of
nearly any trip. The KDFWR likes to boast that the agency receives
no general fund tax dollars; that it is mostly funded from the sale
of hunting and fishing license and related permits. This is true.
(It also gets a sizeable chunk of change from the federal excise
tax on sporting goods.) With a user fee hikers, wildlife watchers,
picnickers and others will have to pay to play. Sportsmen have been
doing this for years. But if license holders have already paid to
play shouldn’t a valid state hunting or fishing license serve as a