Almost a century ago, the U.S. Forest Service established a program for Americans to build cabins on small lots of forest land. The goal of the program was to encourage public recreation and enhance the stewardship of our National Forests. Many of the cabins are simple, rustic structures hand-built by the grandparents of the current owners and passed down from generation to generation. Today, there are more than 14,000 recreational cabin owners, including many here in Central Washington.
Unfortunately, over the past several years, this family tradition has been placed at risk by soaring and unpredictable fees imposed by the federal government. Unless changes are made, families throughout the country may have no choice but to sell, abandon or tear down their cabins.
In 2000, a change was made to the method the Forest Service uses to calculate these annual fees for individual cabin owners. The use of a subjective appraisal system caused cabin fees to sharply increase. According to the Seattle Times, some families in Washington received notices that their fees would increase by more than 1,000 percent – from $1,400 to $17,000 per year.
This is unacceptable. Many families, already struggling in these challenging economic times, simply cannot afford these arbitrary, unexpected skyrocketing fees. Some owners have been forced to try and sell their cabins, but high fees have made many of these cabins unmarketable. Understandably, not many people are clamoring to buy cabins tied to thousands of dollars worth of fees that could continue to increase.
That is why I was pleased that the House of Representatives recently passed the Cabin Fee Act. This legislation, which I authored, passed with unanimous, bipartisan support. This legislation would provide much-needed certainty to cabin owners by establishing a tiered yearly fee structure based upon current appraisal values. By replacing the current complex and disproportionate model, the Cabin Fee Act would create a simpler and fairer system for average income families, teachers, factory workers, and retirees who enjoy these family retreats.
I have long believed that we must ensure multiple use access to our public lands and National Forests, including the 4 million acres in Central Washington’s Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. I believe this bill will do just that by providing a sensible and timely solution for cabin owners that protects the original mission of the program – to enable public access to public lands.