Hearings and Business Meetings

SD-366 Energy Committee Hearing Room 02:00 PM

Mr. Aubrey King

King & Gorin

AUBREY C. KING
KING & GORIN

REPRESENTING

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

 

 

 

 

 

Organizations Represented

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.

 

 

Background

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

REA.


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

limited.


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.


REA Implementation

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

program.


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.

 

Conclusions

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.

 

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