Cabin owners fight fee increases for Forest Service cabins

Debra Moore
Staff Writer

  The Forest Service is raising the rent.

  Cabin owners across the country, including those at Bucks Lake and Lake Almanor, are facing bills that have doubled, tripled or more.

  In October 2000, Congress enacted the Cabin User Fee Fairness Act of 2000 (CUFFA) and directed the Forest Service to develop a consistent procedure for determining cabin user fees.

  That took time and cabin fees were frozen until the work could be completed.

  Fees are now based on 5 percent of the appraised value of the vacant lot. (The value of the structure is not considered in establishing the fee.)

  Because of the increase, the Forest Service decided to phase in the fees to make it an easier adjustment for permit holders.

  But now, the reality of the fees is hitting mailboxes and permit holders aren’t pleased.

  There could be some relief in sight if Congress passes the Cabin Fee Act of 2013, which would replace CUFFA.The new legislation would impose a tiered fee structure ranging from $500 at the low end to a maximum yearly fee of $5,500.

  Now fees can exceed $10,000.

  According to Lee Anne Schramel, public information officer on the Plumas National Forest, there are 14,000 recreation residence permit holders in the United States, primarily in California, Oregon and Washington.

  For those permit holders, 60 percent of the annual fees are less than $2,500; 75 percent are less than $4,000; and 5 percent will exceed $10,000. There are none in the latter category on the Plumas or the Lassen.

  Fees collected go to the U.S. Treasury and 25 percent of the money is returned to the county to pay for schools and roads.

  The Plumas National Forest has 135 permit holders — 122 at Bucks Lake/Haskins and 13 at Camp Layman.

  The Lassen National Forest has 272 permit holders, with the following breakdown: In Plumas County, Almanor has 73 tracts; Silver Lake, 53; Feather River, 35; and Willow Creek, 20.

  Eagle Nest in Lassen County has 42; Summit Springs in Tehama County has 20; and the remainder are in Butte County.

  Cabin owners have raised more than $500,000 to fight the fee increases and support the Cabin Fee Act.

  According to the National Forest Homeowners website, the Cabin Fee Act “is the solution.”

  It continues: “But, despite strong bi-partisan Congressional support in both Houses, and Forest Service acknowledgement of the failures of CUFFA, and our strident efforts, passage remains elusive.”

  Cabin owners are encouraged to call their congressional representatives.

  “It gets very discouraging,” said Jerry McClaine, a permit holder at Lake Almanor. “But unless you want the program to eventually disappear, you cannot give up.”


All in the family

  Many cabins have been in families for generations and some fear that they won’t be able to keep them. By regulation, the cabins can’t be lived in year-round, so they are second homes and many only used during the summer months.

  In addition to the Forest Service fees, cabin owners pay property tax to their local jurisdictions.

  Jerry and Lynne McClaine have owned their cabin since 1971, and describe it as a family cabin, used by their children and grandchildren, as well as aunts, uncles and cousins. They are representative of many cabin owners in the area. Recently, they discussed the increase.


Q. How much is your fee increase? Will the increase impact your ability to keep your cabin?

A. Our fee in 2012 was $1,690 per year. In 2013 the fee increased to $2,639. In 2014 the fee will be $3,618. In addition we pay a $434 per year possessory interest tax to Plumas County. So, next year, we will pay $4,052 to occupy the land for summer use.

  We are fortunate. We can afford the increase but we are looking carefully at it as to whether we can justify it. Some of our neighbors have told us they can no longer afford their cabin at this higher fee schedule and may sell.

  It is sad to see a program that originated as a way to get citizens to use their forests at an affordable cost becoming a program that only those with higher incomes can afford.


Q. Do you feel the increase is justified?

A. No.


Q. Have you been involved in fighting the fee increase?

A. Yes. By joining other cabin owners through the National Forest Homeowners coalition formed to petition Congress to change the law. And by writing to our congressmen and senators. Plus we have donated money to the lobbying efforts that are needed these days to get a bill before Congress.


Q. What do you think would be a fair solution?

A. For Congress to pass the bill correcting the current unfair fee schedule. There is a bill that has sponsors and is just waiting to be introduced. The bill was carefully worked out with the Forest Service and will benefit the service by greatly reducing their administrative costs.


Q. Any additional thoughts?

A. The Forest Service has been very cooperative in trying to get the law changed. For them, the administration of the current law and the appraisal process is very difficult and costs a lot of money in costs and manpower.

  For those cabin owners who can no longer afford their cabin due to ever-escalating and unknown fees, it has been very difficult to sell their cabins because potential buyers do not know what their fees will be in the future.

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