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House committee passes new Forest Service cabin fee act

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The House Committee on Natural Resources tried once again to straighten out the U.S. Forest Service's (USFS) cabin fee program. On Thursday, June 19, the committee approved the Cabin Fee Act of 2014 (H.R. 4873), an update on a bill it passed in March 2013, called the Cabin Fee Act of 2013 (H.R. 1159). The committee passed the new bill by unanimous consent.

The act would set up a tiered cabin fee structure. It includes automatic fee increases based on inflation. It would relieve USFS from the burden of constantly reappraising cabins. The new version adjusts the numbers from the earlier bill to keep them up to date.

USFS could lower or suspend fees in a given year if access to a cabin becomes restricted. No cabin fee could amount to more than $5,600 per year (with inflation adjustments). In 10 years, USFS would report on how well the new system is working and if it needs any adjustments. The current law dates to the year 2000.

If someone sells a cabin, USFS would collect a $1,200 transfer fee. The fee could also be adjusted to keep up with the cost of living. Funds collected under the act would be earmarked for maintaining the cabin program and for other recreational activities in national forests.

The Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources approved a similar bill, its version of the Cabin Fee Act of 2013 (S. 1341) last December 19. The committee officially reported the bill on May 22 and it was placed on the Senate Legislative Calendar under General Orders as Calendar No. 397. The Senate has not scheduled action on it yet, though.

In the previous Congress, the House passed similar legislation but the Senate did not. Cabin owners have been complaining that the fee appraisal system is arbitrary and hits them with skyrocketing costs.

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