The Forest Service's Painful Market Distortion
September 26, 1998
Early this century, the U.S. Forest Service offered plots of an acre or two to those who wanted to build a small cabin and get away into the countryside. Rents on the land were dirt cheap and destined to stay so for decades.
So a number of people jumped at the chance and built rustic, natural wood structures which usually had no electricity, running water or sewerage.
Now, for the first time since 1978, the Forest Service has been reappraising its holding in Idaho's Sawtooth National Recreation Area, and it looks like rents are about to zoom.
- The assessors uncovered a potential eightfold increase in revenue -- and most cabin-holders face enormously stiffer rents.
- Some rents are to leap from $200 a year to $9,000 -- with others to rise from $4,000 to $67,000.
- While some of the 182 Sawtooth cabin-holders are wealthy enough to afford the new rents, others are middle-class pensioners or widows whose families have occupied their cabins for generations -- and are now hopping mad at the increases.
- They raise the issue that the increases will turn the forests into enclaves available only to the very rich.
Inevitably, Congress and politics have gotten involved. What eventually happens at Sawtooth will affect similar arrangements in other Forest Service parks. Some groups opposing the rent rise are using the Sawtooth issue in a bid to stall the Forest Service's whole reassessment plan.
Source: "The Market Growls," Economist, September 26, 1998.
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