RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
The budget managers at the U.S. Postal Service have a $6 billion deficit, so they've decided to make history. They're ending the last remaining backcountry airmail service in the lower 48 states. Here's NPR's Howard Berkes.
HOWARD BERKES: There are three ways to get a letter to Doug Tims at the historic Campbell's Ferry Ranch deep inside the central Idaho wilderness: drive a bone-jarring 26 miles, then hike four miles; float for two days on the Salmon River; or fly 35 minutes over mountains and forests and canyons from Cascade. That's how mail reached scattered homesteads, outfitters and ranches for half a century.
MONTAGNE: There's always been, you know, rain, sleet, snow, dark of night, mail goes through. And I hate to see it end for this part of it.
BERKES: But ending weekly mail-plane delivery shaves $46,000 a year from the $6 billion post office deficit, according to spokesman Al DeSarro.
MONTAGNE: Times change, and just as many businesses today are having to adjust to the changing economic realities of what it costs to do business, the postal service has to look at that.
BERKES: So instead of once-a-week flights into wilderness, mail will go to free post office boxes in Cascade. That makes no sense to Carol Arnold of Arnold Aviation, which has had the mail-plane contract for 34 years.
MONTAGNE: Many of these places are inaccessible, totally, except by air. So that would mean that they would have to fly out to pick up their mail.
BERKES: With about 20 customers on the route, the post office pays about $44 each a week. So maybe Doug Tims and the others living so remotely should cover the costs themselves.
MONTAGNE: If you take that point of view to the entire mail system, there's a huge swath of rural America that wouldn't be served by regular mail service. They've got the commitment over the years to the American public to deliver the mail, and I think this is part of that commitment.
BERKES: Howard Berkes, NPR News.
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