Hearings and Business Meetings
Oct 26 2005
SD-366 Energy Committee Hearing Room 02:00 PM
Mr. Aubrey King
King & Gorin
AUBREY C. KING
KING & GORIN
THE WESTERN STATES TOURISM POLICY COUNCIL
THE SOUTHEAST TOURISM SOCIETY
THE NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF RV PARKS AND CAMPGROUNDS
THE NATIONAL ALLIANCE OF GATEWAY COMMUNITIES
TESTIMONY BEFORE THE SENATE SUBCOMMITTEE ON PUBLIC LANDS AND FORESTS OF THE COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND RESOURCES
HEARING ON IMPLEMENTATION OF THE FEDERAL LANDS RECREATION ENHANCEMENT ACT BYTHE FOREST SERVICE AND THE DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR
OCTOBER 26, 2005
This testimony is presented on behalf of the following four organizations, all of which
very much appreciate this opportunity to present their views regarding implementation of
the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (REA), signed into law by President
Bush last December as P.L. 108-447:
The Western States Tourism Policy Council
The WSTPC is a consortium of thirteen western state tourism offices, including Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. The mission of the WSTPC is to support public policies that enable tourism and recreation to have a positive impact on states and communities in the West.
The Southeast Tourism Society
The STS represents public and private tourism and recreation interests in eleven southeastern states, including Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. Thorough its affiliate, the Southeast Tourism Policy Council, the STS supports public policies that enhance the positive contributions of tourism and recreation in the Southeast.
The National Association of RV Parks & Campgrounds
ARVC is the national trade association that represents the interests of the commercial RV park and campground industry in the United States. More than 3400 RV parks and campgrounds are member of ARVC.
The National Alliance of Gateway Communities
The NAGC represents the communities that serve as gateways for millions of domestic and international visitors to our national parks, forests and other Federal public lands.
Each of these four organizations were longstanding supporters of the recreation fee
demonstration program that was the predecessor for the ten-year fee program enacted as
They first supported fee demo as a means of providing additional revenue sorely needed
by the National Park Service, USDA Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and ensuring that most of that revenue would be spent on
facilities and programs on the local land site where it was collected. But the fee demo
program came to be seen as potentially much more than another source of revenue. In
particular, it came to receive support from the tourism and recreation industries because
of its potential for focusing more attention on visitor services, encouraging more
innovative marketing approaches for the Federal lands and fostering greater
intergovernmental and interagency cooperation and collaboration, as well as closer
cooperation between the Federal agencies and the private sector and local communities.
While sensitive to the arguments that the Federal lands have always been owned by the
public and their management and maintenance is funded already through taxes on the
public, fee demo supporters believed it was equitable to require those receiving more
enjoyment and benefits from their use of the Federal lands to assume more of the burden
of their use.
As the same time, shortcomings in the fee demo program were apparent. Too often fees
were charged for areas and activities that did not provide commensurate value to visitors.
Too often fees were levied without being part of management or business plans and
without resulting in improved visitor services. While there were some encouraging
attempts to develop coordinated interagency fee projects, they were too few and too
With the 2004 enactment of REA, Congress took important steps to extend the fee demo
program for ten years and to correct many of its most egregious flaws. Fees were
prohibited on certain activities or services and for certain persons or places and allowable
fees were more clearly delineated. The opportunity for public participation in the fee
implementation process was provided, including the establishment of Recreation
Resource Advisory Committees. A national interagency pass, the “America the Beautiful
Pass” and regional multientity passes were authorized. The Bureau of Reclamation was
included in the program. Gateway communities were especially pleased that REA
authorizes cooperative agreements with governmental and nongovernmental entities in
gateway communities for fee collection and processing services while retaining a
percentage of revenues collected, as well as allowing cooperative agreements for
provision of emergency medical and law enforcement purposes.
It has been nearly eleven months since REA was signed into law on December 8, 2004.
During that time all five agencies have worked diligently to develop plans and guidelines
for implementing the program.
Progress. The Forest Service, which was probably more criticized than any other agency
for its implementation of the fee demo program, responded quickly to the tighter fee
requirements of REA by eliminating 480 relatively undeveloped sites, while retaining
fees at 4,024 sites. Of course, this action suggests that those sites should probably have
never been included as fee sites under fee demo. Apparently, the Forest Service took too
literally the concept of fee demo as an experimental program.
The interagency task forces created to develop guidelines for implementation of the new
fee program have reached out to the public through no fewer than fifteen “listening
sessions” around the country. Eleven listening sessions have been devoted to the
structure of the RRACs, particularly as to whether there should be state, regional or
national RRACs. Four other listening sessions were devoted to the development of the
ATB Pass. Having participated personally in three of these listening sessions, I can attest
that they have been open and productive, with multiple agency staff joined by a dozen or
more representatives from the public, the recreation industry and universities.
It is understandable that the implementation process has been slowed administratively by
the necessity of complying with an array of requirements pertaining to the Federal
contracting process and mandatory reviews by the Office of Management and Budget of
all agency efforts to collect information from the public. Pricing analyses to set fee levels
have used six different focus groups develop benchmarks with comparable fees charged
by similar entities such as State parks.
The most tangible progress to date has been issuance of final public involvement
guidelines, Notice of Guidelines for Public Involvement in Establishing Recreation Fee
Areas and for Demonstrating How the Public Was Informed on the Use of Recreation
Fee Revenues, published in the Federal Register, Vol. 70, No. 187 (September 28, 2005).
In addition, the agencies have decided to create new recreation “subcommittees” of
existing state BLM Recreation Advisory Committees as RRACs, supplemented by new
RRACs in states or regions without BLM RACs. A general interagency recreation fee
agreement has also been finally drafted and is now being circulated for review.
Agreement has also apparently been reached on the distribution of revenue from the ATB
Pass. The agencies hope to be able to issue a Request for Proposal for administration of
the ATB Pass within the next 30-60 days.
Concerns. Clearly, the agencies are taking great pains to be judicious and thorough,
especially when they are dealing with a program that has been as politically controversial
as the recreation fee program. Nonetheless, we are concerned that nearly a year after
enactment of the new recreation fee program the agencies are still in the process of
developing their plans and guidelines. No one has yet been appointed to a single RRAC
and by the agencies’ own estimate, the ATB Pass will not be in place until early 2007. It
is unfortunate that a ten-year program requires more than two years to be fully functional,
especially when it could build upon the experience of nearly a decade of the fee demo
Expertise Missed. It is also regrettable that the agencies have not been better able to
utilize the experience and expertise of companies with vast experience successfully
designing and implementing large fee programs, such as the Disney Corporation,
Universal Studios, American Express and other credit card companies and banks. After
decades running complex fee operations dealing with large and diverse publics, such
companies could provide invaluable insights and advice. But, apparently for reasons both
legal and political, they have not been directly consulted.
RRACs. A major justification for using existing BLM State RACs is that this will
minimize the costs of establishing and administering new RRACs. We would like to
have clarification, however, of how these “subcommittee” RRACs will relate to the
existing BLM RACs. Will these RRAC subcommittee decisions and recommendations
have to be reviewed and endorsed by the full RAC?
We also have two recommendations regarding future RRACs. One is that the
local gateway community businesses that do not conduct business directly on the Federal
lands should have representation on the RRACs. Pricing decisions made concerning
recreation fees can have a significant impact on those local businesses, which often must
compete with recreational facilities, such as campgrounds, located on the Federal lands.
Similarly, local businesses can be dramatically affected by decisions as what projects or
facilities will be funded by recreation fee revenue. If facilities already in competition
with private businesses are able to modernize, upgrade or expand their operations using
fee revenue, those local businesses might suffer economic loss.
Our second recommendation is that the jurisdiction of RRACs should be expanded
beyond the recreation fee program. There are many other recreation issues that would
benefit from review and consideration by such a representative advisory body, including
programs and projects and visitor services not related to recreation fee revenue.
Beyond the Recreation Fee Program. We have two recommendations for future
consideration by Congress. One is that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers be included in
the recreation fee program. As arguably the provider of more recreation than any other
Federal agency, it should have the same authority to collect recreation fees as the five
agencies now included. This would also avoid the confusion that now results when
different agencies that manage adjacent sites, such as a Corps Lake surrounded by a
National Forest, have different fee policies.
Our second recommendation is based on the belief that a fundamental justification for the
recreation fee program is that revenue collected from user fees should be retained where
it is collected to benefit those users. We believe this same fee retention principle should
be applied to other user fees, such as those paid by ski areas and forest homeowners.
The Western States Tourism Policy, the Southeast Tourism Society, the National
Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds and the National Alliance of Gateway
Communities support the recreation fee program. We support its implementation as
intended by Congress. While the five Federal agencies included in the program have
worked carefully to develop implementation plans and guidelines, we urge that its
implementation be expedited as much as the law and administrative practice allow.
We further urge that as the recreation fee program is implemented, the following
principles should be followed:
• The program should never be viewed simply as means of generating revenue for the Federal land agencies.
• The program should instead be regarded as part of a new, more innovative and flexible way of managing the Federal public lands for the benefit of our nation.
• The program should be regarded as encouraging closer partnerships between the Federal land agencies, State Park Agencies, State Tourism Offices and other agencies, the private sector and gateway communities.
• The program should be regarded as a means of focusing greater attention by the Federal land agencies on visitor services and management, for example, as means of managing seasonal visitor fluctuations, coordinating intergovernmental fees and encouraging use of underutilized Federal lands.