Bingaman on Recreation Fees on Public Lands

Bingaman Bill (S. 2607) Improves Policy in Several Ways, Including Tough Restrictions and Limitations on Visitor Fees

June 19, 2002
12:00 AM
“The biggest concern I have with visitor recreation fees is that I do not want these fees to be a deterrent to public use – especially for families or those with lower incomes. The bill I have introduced tries to ensure that fees the government charges to visit national parks, forests, wildlife refuges and other public lands are fair, equitable and affordable. “Currently, the ‘fee demo’ program gives the Federal government broad authority to charge a fee for anything, without limitation. I don’t agree with that, and my legislation will limit the kinds of activities for which visitors can be charged. For example, my bill prohibits agencies from charging a fee to access to a visitors center, restroom, picnic table or water fountain. No fee can be charged for stopping at a scenic overlook or roadside exhibit or to access areas where there has been little Federal investment. The Forest Service’s efforts to charge fees for some of these activities has met considerable opposition from many people, including me. “Furthermore, there is strong public support for making sure that visitor fees are spent mostly where they are collected, and that the revenue be used for resource protection, maintenance backlogs and to improve visitor services. My bill allows agencies to keep this money rather than turning it over to the Treasury. “Several principles should be part of a recreation fee program. First, it must ensure that fees are fair and affordable and that visitors are not prevented from using public lands because of fees. Second, it should allow the land management agencies to use the fee revenues, and that most of the money be spent in the area of collection. Third, recreation fees should supplement – not offset – existing appropriations. Fourth, all Federal agencies should establish a consistent policy, and have a single legislative authority for fees. Fifth, Congress should limit the agencies’ authority to charge fees while identifying those activities for which fees cannot be charged. Finally, Congress should allow Federal land managers flexibility to manage their visitor fee programs. “The fee demo program has been on auto-pilot for several years. What we need to avoid is simply extending this program, or making it permanent without safeguards that protect the public’s interest. As chairman of the authorizing Committee, I am taking this opportunity to improve how the program works.”