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Witness Panel 1
Hon. Mark ReyUndersecretary of Natural Resources and the EnvironmentDepartment of Agriculture
UNDER SECRETARY FOR NATURAL RESOURCES AND ENVIRONMENT
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
SENATE ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES COMMITTEE
PUBLIC LANDS AND FORESTS SUBCOMMITTEE
Implementation of the Recreation Enhancement Act
October 26, 2005
Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee:
Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you to discuss the implementation of the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (REA) on National Forest System Lands. The Department appreciates the subcommittee’s interest in how the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior are implementing this important program to enhance recreation opportunities and experiences for visitors to their public lands.
Visitors to the National Forests seek a broad and diverse range of recreation experiences ranging from highly developed resorts to remote wilderness settings. Annually we receive over 205 million recreation visits to the National Forests. The National Forests' share of outdoor recreation’s economic contribution to the nation’s total economy is over $11.2 billion. Recreation is a major component of the overall contribution of all Forest Service programs to national GDP.
Congress has provided us with a valuable tool to enhance recreation opportunities in the form of the REA. Fees collected under REA are one part of a comprehensive recreation business model which identifies revenue and other resources based on congressionally appropriated funds, volunteer assistance, interagency cooperation, partnerships, commercial operations and funds leveraged from other sources.
The vast majority of National Forest System lands, and many recreation activities and sites on those lands, continue to be available without a fee. Over 60 percent of our developed recreation sites do not have a charge. Of the 5,654 developed trailheads on National Forest System lands, 85% of them do not have a fee. We understand that National Forests are the backyard to many of our communities, and access to the backcountry that is not associated with developed facilities or services is and will remain free and available for the public to use and enjoy.
While the idea of charging fees for recreational use on the National Forests has been controversial in some cases, taxpayers benefit when the cost of public services is at least partially borne by the direct users of these services. We are implementing the provisions of REA in a careful manner and in coordination with those who enjoy recreational activities to achieve the greatest degree of public satisfaction possible.
Recreation Enhancement Act Overview
The Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (REA), a part of the 2005 Consolidated Appropriations Act (PL 108-447), permits Federal land management agencies to continue to reinvest in recreation facilities and services by charging modest fees at campgrounds, rental cabins, recreation sites, and high-impact recreation areas.
The new Act provides for a nationally consistent interagency program, additional on-the-ground funding to enhance visitor services and reduce facility maintenance backlog at recreation sites across the nation, a new national pass for use across interagency Federal recreation sites and services, and more public involvement in the program. I will defer to the Department of the Interior to describe our plans for the new America the Beautiful Pass.
Public concerns over where recreation fees can or should be charged on Federal land are addressed in the new authority, which limits fees to recreation sites that have a certain level of development and that meet specific criteria. Additional safeguards include provisions that require the use of Recreation Resource Advisory Committees to provide recommendations for fee areas and fee amounts and to offer another opportunity for the public to participate in the recreation fee program.
The Act also provides agencies with recreation fee authority for 10 years, which will allow the agencies to improve the efficiency of the program, provide better facilities and services to visitors, employ greater use of technology, and enter into more fee management agreements with counties and other entities to provide additional services to visitors.
Implementation of Recreation Enhancement Act
With the passage of REA, fee authorities that we previously operated under, such as Recreational Fee Demonstration Program statute (Fee Demo) and provisions of the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act (LWCFA), were repealed. The passage of the REA prompted a major reexamination and retooling of our existing recreation fee program to bring facilities and programs into compliance with the new Act, and today I would like to bring you up to date on those efforts.
Five days after passage of the REA, the Deputy Chief of the Forest Service directed all fee increases and designation of new fee areas to be frozen pending policy development. Following the letter, teams of Forest Service managers from across the country met to develop policy, draft implementation guidelines and an implementation schedule to guide field units in applying the provisions of the new REA on the ground.
At the Departmental level, nine days after the Act was signed into law, the Interagency Executive Fee Council, comprised of officials from both Departments, convened and approved a draft implementation workplan that outlined the organizational issues and immediate, medium-term, and long-term actions needed.
On April 25, 2005, field units were sent the interim implementation guidelines and directed to review all their recreation sites and services to determine if they meet the criteria for charging fees described under REA. Units were given until June 3, 2005, to provide to the Forest Service Washington Office a list of all the sites and areas that comply with the new criteria. This effort was a massive undertaking within the Forest Service: over 17,000 individual sites were evaluated in developing the first nationwide database, which describes the amenities and attributes of those sites to help us insure that they meet the intent of the law.
Of the 4,505 sites on National Forest System lands that were previously charging fees under the LWCFA and Fee Demo authority, approximately 435 recreation sites (such as trailheads and picnic areas) were removed from the program because they did not meet the new criteria described under REA. For example,19 trailheads on the Sawtooth National Recreation Area in Idaho and 21 sites on the Olympic National Forest were removed from the recreation fee program.
Our direction to the field units specifically prohibits them from assessing fees solely for:
• General access to national forests and grasslands and Bureau of Land Management areas;
• Horseback riding, walking, driving, or boating through areas where no recreational facilities or services are used;
• Access to overlooks or scenic pullouts;
• Undesignated parking areas where no recreational facilities are provided; and
• Picnicking along roads or trails.
Our direction to the field units prohibits them from charging an entrance or standard amenity fee to individuals under 16 years of age.
We are developing final Rule for Changes to 36 CFR 251, 261, and 291 to reflect new REA authority. We are also writing an Interim Directive to the Forest Service Manual which will provide a template for the field to use when publishing notice of new recreation fee areas in the Federal Register 6 months in advance of fees being charged as required by REA.
High Impact Recreation Areas
REA specifically prohibits the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Reclamation from assessing entrance fees for Federal recreational lands and waters. REA authorizes the agencies to charge a standard amenity fee for areas that provide a specific level of recreational development or services. We used the standard amenity recreation fee provisions in REA to provide direction in our implementation guidelines for designation of standard amenity recreation fees. The term standard amenity fee applies to both individual day-use facilities and areas that provide significant opportunities for outdoor recreation and that have substantial Federal investments. The Forest Service and the Department of the Interior agencies have identified areas that have a concentration of recreation sites that collectively meet the definition of a Standard Amenity Fee as “high impact recreation areas”.
High impact recreation areas are areas that receive a high amount of recreation use and which require additional expenditures to manage the use and facilities contained within the area. These expenditures range from facility maintenance to costs that often is invisible to visitors such as graffiti and litter removal and hiring additional personnel to provide security and information to visitors. High impact recreation areas are specifically delineated areas that usually contain a multitude of recreation sites and services that have a common thread connecting them, such as a road corridor. A visitor will find within a high impact recreation area, all the required amenities within reasonable access in accordance with REA. To avoid multiple fees and to provide for more efficient fee collection, the fee charged is for the recreation use of the entire area, rather than for individual amenities or activities.
In identifying the high impact recreation areas, we carefully evaluated each recreation area to determine locations where significant public use is occurring and where significant investment is needed to manage recreation impacts. Each location is further evaluated to ensure that it offers the six amenities required by REA and that it has clearly defined boundaries and access points. Signing is critical to inform visitors where fees are required and where pass through travel or stopping at overlooks is allowed without a fee.
Implementing new recreation fee direction for over 17,000 sites is still a work in progress. While we gave our field managers until September 30, 2005, to implement the program, we continue to work on providing consistent signing for the public to enhance understanding of the fee program and on identifying areas that may not meet the criteria for charging fees. We will adjust size configuration and season of use of these areas, as needed, while we work with our local communities in addressing their concerns.
Differing local conditions and characteristics make it difficult to develop criteria for high impact recreation areas that fit all circumstances. We are planning on having our Recreation Resource Advisory Committees comment on the application of the criteria to each high impact recreation area we have identified. Building community and visitor support for these areas is an important component in developing the fee program for High Impact Recreation Areas.
Recreation Resource Advisory Committees
Public participation, notification, and communication are vital to successfully implementing REA. Over the last six months, the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior have conducted 11 listening sessions across the nation to gather public input on the formation and configuration of Recreation RACs which are designed to provide recommendations from the public and interest groups on the recreation fee program. Based on what the public told us at these sessions, we developed a basic framework for establishing recreation fee advisory committees as required under REA. The Interagency Executive Fee Council approved this proposal on September 22, 2005.
Our proposal focuses on creating opportunities for the public to become involved through Recreation RACs at several different levels. The BLM has successfully utilized RACs established under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, to guide the agency achieving a broad range of resource objectives. Interagency coordination is extremely important to provide seamless service to the public across lands managed by multiple agencies.
We plan to enhance this coordination and make efficient use of existing committees where it makes sense by establishing joint Recreation RACs, using BLM RACs. BLM RACs are established in most western States. We intend to expand the purview of these committees to incorporate the recreation fee review duties for both the BLM and the Forest Service, as enumerated in REA. To allow for local representation, we will work with the committees to establish recreation-focused subgroups where necessary.
We will build on successful models already in use such as the BLM Boise District RAC. This RAC makes recommendations on the Payette River recreation fee area which is jointly managed by the BLM and the Forest Service. In the Boise RAC case, an interagency agreement was developed between the Forest Service and the BLM to establish the general objectives and respective responsibilities of each agency and to clarify their relationship in working with the RAC. The RAC developed a charter to establish an advisory subgroup to identify issues and needs along the Payette River and to work with the agencies involved to review and provide recommendations on fee issues. We have attached a copy of the interagency agreement and charter documents to our testimony.
In areas or states where the BLM does not have RACs, such as in the Eastern United States, or in the State of Wyoming, we will work with state and local officials and interested publics to determine the need and appropriate scope for interagency Recreation RACs, as needed, in accordance with REA.
Going beyond the requirements of REA, we have agreed that the existing RACs and new Recreation RACs should be encouraged to provide recommendations on aspects of the BLM’s and Forest Service’s recreation fee programs related to establishing new fee areas, abolishing fees, major adjustments in fee levels or rates, and expenditure of revenues. RACs could, for example, provide input on the method used to set fee levels and significant changes to fee levels. While the Interagency Executive Fee Council supports this general framework, several details still need to be resolved before publishing the BLM’s and Forest Service’s notice of intent to form Recreation RACs in the Federal Register. A Forest Service and BLM team is working to address these issues.
Additional Public Involvement
While Recreation RAC’s will be used as a formal barometer of public opinion on establishing new recreation fee areas, we intend to use a variety of other public involvement processes in determining where recreation fees should be implemented. On September 28, 2005, the Departments issued a Federal Register notice, which established guidelines on public participation and public notice as required in the REA. The goals of the public involvement guidelines are to provide the public with opportunities to be actively engaged in establishment of any new recreation fee areas and to provide for effective ways to demonstrate annually how the public has been informed of how recreation fee revenues are spent. In addition, each local unit manager will continue to work with their local communities on issues and concerns related to the fee program.
Special Recreation Permits
REA authorizes the Secretary to issue a special recreation permit and charge a fee in connection with the issuance of a permit for specialized recreation uses of Federal lands, such as group activities, recreation events, and motor vehicle use. The Forest Service issues special use permits under this authority for short-term commercial recreation uses, such as outfitting and guiding, and recreation events. The permit fee revenue collected and expended on the ground will be of great benefit to recreation visitors as well as to the permit holder. Facilities used by commercial outfitters such as trails and trailheads will be better maintained which will improve the ability of permit holders to provide high quality recreation services to the public.
This authority is also used to issue special recreation permits to individuals for activities such as, white water river trips, off-highway vehicle (OHV) use and, in a limited number of cases, wilderness use. These permits are issued when we provide additional services beyond normal operation and maintenance, including constructing and maintaining specialized trails for OHVs and providing wilderness experiences in areas that receive high use.
We currently require a wilderness permit and permit fee for 8 of our 406 Congressionally designated wilderness areas that are within the National Forest System. These 8 areas had a permit prior to the enactment of REA that was authorized under the LWCFA. They include areas such as the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness on the Superior National Forest in Minnesota and the Desolation Wilderness Area on the Eldorado National Forest in California. Each of these areas has special circumstances such as an allocated visitor use system, reserved and designated campsites, and, in a few areas, an aerial sewage removal program that entail costs beyond those incurred in our normal wilderness management program.
We are developing criteria to guide to our field managers in determining when such a fee is appropriate. We do not anticipate a large number of additional fee areas. We have no intention to use the fee authority as a tool to reduce recreation visitor use. Any decision to implement a permit system to allocate use in wilderness areas to meet management objectives will be made through our land use management planning process and associated recreation capacity analysis.
In Fiscal Year 2004 approximately $47 million was collected from recreation sites on National Forest System lands under the previous recreation fee authorities. Of this total, approximately $40 million (85%) was reinvested directly back into the recreation program for such things as visitor services, resource protection, deferred and ongoing maintenance, and capital improvement of recreational facilities. A little less than 15% of that revenue was used for costs associated with the collection of fees. These data show that we are making tangible and effective use of our fee receipts for recreation improvements and services on Federal lands.
As a result of implementing REA, we anticipate a slight reduction in total revenue. Increased revenue from the authority to retain recreation special use permit fees for activities such as outfitting and guiding will more than likely be offset by the reduced revenue from developed and dispersed recreation sites due to the reduction in the number of sites and areas that meet the requirements of REA. Based on FY 2004 expenditures, recreation use fees represent approximately 25% of our total recreation operation budget. Recreation use fees are an important component of our total program and enable us to maintain many sites at a standard that would otherwise not be possible. Development or large expansion of recreational facilities is not the focus of our recreation fee program. Annually only about 5% of the total revenue goes towards capital improvement projects. Recreation use fees collected on National Forest recreation sites and areas are primarily used to keep the site open, safe and clean.
REA is less than a year old. The Forest Service manages approximately 193 million acres, including 122,000 campsites, 11,000 picnic sites, and 133,000 miles of trails, as well as many cabin rentals, boat launches and other facilities. Time will be needed to fully implement REA in a consistent manner that allows our visitors and partners to be fully involved in the process, Recreation RACs to be established, and signing and publications to be updated.
We are committed to implementing REA in a way that continues to reflect broad support of the public and Congress for enhancement of recreation on public lands, and we will work with the public and Congress to address concerns that may arise. We appreciate your support in allowing us this time to apply and adjust our plans where necessary to implement REA.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my statement. I would be happy to answer any questions that you may have for me at this time.
Hon. Lynn ScarlettDeputy SecretaryDepartment of the Interior
STATEMENT OF P. LYNN SCARLETT,
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR POLICY, MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR,
BEFORE THE SENATE COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES, SUBCOMMITTEE ON PUBLIC LANDS AND FORESTS,
IMPLEMENTATION OF THE FEDERAL LANDS RECREATION ENHANCEMENT ACT
October 26, 2005
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to discuss the Department of the Interior’s implementation of the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (Public Law 108-447) (REA). Implementation of a well-run and streamlined recreation fee program that maximizes benefits to the visiting public is a top priority for the Department of the Interior, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the participating agencies — the National Park Service (NPS), the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR), and the Forest Service. Throughout the implementation process, the participating agencies are working cooperatively to ensure outstanding recreation opportunities for public lands visitors and are engaging the public to ensure the establishment of a transparent and effective recreation fee program. Today, we will discuss implementation issues that impact all the participating agencies, with a greater focus on BLM due to the Subcommittee’s interest and jurisdiction.
Our federal lands provide Americans and visitors from around the world special places for recreation, education, reflection, and solace. Public lands managed by the Department of the Interior hosted over 370 million recreation visits in 2005. Ensuring that the federal lands continue to play this important role in American life and culture requires that we maintain visitor facilities and services and enhance visitor opportunities. Such efforts require a source of funding with which we can quickly respond to increases in visitor demand. Recreation fee revenues are a critical source of such supplemental funding that significantly enhance our efforts to address the deferred maintenance backlog at our National Parks and better manage other federal lands.
In FY 2004, total Recreation Fee Demonstration (Fee Demo) revenue was $192 million, compared to total revenue of $177 million in FY 2003. In 2005, revenues for the Interior agencies reached over $166 million (including NPS Passport sales revenue). The cost of collection for the agencies over the FY 2000 – FY 2004 period has remained relatively constant at about 20 percent of gross fee revenue. In FY 2004, the Departments obligated a total of $202.2 million for a variety of projects to address maintenance needs, visitor services, and resource protection and preservation.
In FY 2004 and FY 2005, recreation fee revenues were used to enhance facilities and services for visitors to BLM, NPS, and FWS lands. For example, in FY 2005, in New Mexico, BLM used recreation fees to improve visitor services by completing a new rest-room and shower complex and expanding the Visitor Information Center at the Valley of Fires Recreation Area. These were improvements that visitors requested most frequently from feedback cards. In Washington, on the Yakima River and Canyon, BLM used recreation fee revenues to remove tree hazards at the campground and install Visitor Information Kiosks. In FY 2004, BLM used recreation fee revenues in Colorado to construct accessible restrooms, rehabilitate an access road, and install soil erosion prevention measures along the Upper Colorado River.
NPS also funded many high-priority projects in FY 2005, obligating $141.03 million in recreation fee revenues (including National Park Pass revenues). At Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, NPS continued work on the $425,000 project to rehabilitate Glacier Basin Campground, including the reconstruction of tent pads, replacement of fire rings, replacement of picnic tables, improvements to parking areas, erosion control work, and improvements to access trails. NPS allocated $209,000 in recreation fees to rehabilitate approximately 45 miles of Southeast Utah Group Trails at Arches National Park.
In FY 2004, at Mid-Columbia River National Wildlife Refuge Complex, FWS partnered with members of a local hunting and fishing club to build a waterfowl hunting blind with materials purchased with recreation fee funds. In FY 2005, at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia, FWS used approximately $250,000 of recreation fee revenues for new interpretive signs along trails, and $72,000 to replace old fee collection booths--a backlog maintenance project.
While fee revenues are exceedingly important to the agencies’ ability to provide quality visitor services and facilities, we recognize that choices on fee levels and at what sites and locations fees are appropriate also are elements of our relationship with the visiting public. For this reason, we invite the public and members of Congress to engage in a continual dialogue as we move forward on overall policy guidance and as we implement REA on the ground. We view the recreation fee program as dynamic and open to new ideas, changes, and suggestions. In this light, we have held periodic briefings for Congressional staff on key implementation issues and incorporated the ideas provided into our process, including suggestions to hold additional listening sessions and conduct marketing surveys on pricing. We are fully committed to meeting congressional expectations in managing the fee program to ensure that fees are applied only in appropriate locations, revenues are used for purposes intended by the Congress, and that decisions are open and transparent.
History of Recreation Fees and Implementation of REA
Recreation fees are not a new concept established under REA. All of the participating agencies have had broad recreation fee authority for forty years under the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) Act of 1965 as well as under the Fee Demo program launched in 1996, with the exception of BOR which was not an authorized participant of the Fee Demo program. REA differs from LWCF in that it allows fees to be reinvested at the collecting site to benefit the visitor through enhanced facilities and services. REA differs from the Fee Demo program in that it provides narrower and more prescribed authority, limiting fees to locations with specific kinds of infrastructure and services. For example, under REA, BLM, Forest Service, and BOR may only charge fees at sites and for activities that meet certain specified criteria. For these agencies, certain fees may not be charged for general access, dispersed areas with low or no investment, undesignated parking, or picnicking along roadsides or trails. REA also requires that the Departments create a Recreation Resource Advisory Committee (Recreation RACs) in every State or region or use similar existing entities so that the public, including local communities, can provide input into fees established by BLM and Forest Service.
The Recreation Fee Leadership Council (Fee Council), whose members include key officials of both Departments, and on which I serve as co-chair along with Mark Rey, USDA’s Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment, has provided overall guidance on the implementation of the fee program, convening on a quarterly basis since REA was enacted. An interagency Steering Committee and several technical working groups, made up of agency experts, are leading day-to-day implementation efforts. We will provide implementation updates for the key technical working groups: the Fee Collection and Fee Expenditure Working Group, the Recreation RACs/Public Participation Working Group, and the Pass Working Group.
Fee Collections and Expenditures
The Fee Collection and Fee Expenditure Committee (Collection and Expenditure Committee) began meeting in January 2005 and focused on organizational concerns, short-term and long-term implementation issues, and coordination among the various agencies as they relate to fee collections and expenditures. All participating agencies took immediate steps to assess which existing recreation fee sites established under the Fee Demo program complied with REA and which would drop out. The exception is BOR, which was not authorized to participate in the Fee Demo program and, thus, is focusing its efforts to determine at which sites recreation fees under REA may be appropriate.
While Congress had encouraged agencies to experiment with recreation fees under the Fee Demo program, BLM took a more conservative implementation approach, establishing a total of approximately 390 recreation fee sites and leaving a vast majority of BLM-managed recreation areas, over 85 percent, fee-free to the visiting public. For this reason, most of BLM’s existing Fee Demo sites meet the new criteria. The sites where BLM made changes to comply with REA include: the elimination of fees for overlooks at the Imperial Sand Dunes in California; the elimination of fees at undeveloped sites at Orilla Verde Recreation Area in New Mexico; an increase of the number of sites that accept national passes from 12 to 28; the elimination of the youth fee at Piedras Blancas visitor center in California; and the elimination of the youth fee at Cape Blanco Lighthouse in Oregon. During the review of all its recreation sites, BLM also is taking the opportunity to align like fees into like categories. This may result in an increase in the total number of fees in certain categories, but these changes do not represent new fees and are not a result of REA. BLM does not expect substantial change in the overall amount of fee-free recreation opportunities provided to our visitors.
At the Exit Glacier site in Kenai Fjords National Park, NPS eliminated a day-use fee because it might be perceived to be an entrance fee, prohibited under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, and thus, under REA. FWS eliminated entrance fees at Gavin’s Point National Fish Hatchery. The Forest Service, which used a much more experimental approach under the Fee Demo program than BLM, had large-scale changes as a result of REA, removing fees from approximately 435 sites.
The Collection and Expenditure Committee worked on reaching consensus with all agencies to establish a policy concerning appropriate fee collections and expenditures. The Collection and Expenditure Committee also is developing an Inter-Department Handbook to provide for consistency in implementation of REA. Among other things, the Inter-Department Handbook defines terms of the Act relating to collections and expenditures of revenues and clarifies the definitions of “Standard” and “Expanded” amenity recreation fees. We view the Handbook as a dynamic document that will require adjustments and clarification as new issues and questions arise. In addition to general policies, each agency also has developed more specific field guidance, where necessary. For example, BLM issued guidance on January 26, 2005 to set forth interim procedures to implement REA, and another guidance on June 14, 2005 to provide direction on new fee areas, new fees, and special recreation permits.
We would like provide some additional information to address recent inquiries concerning our Special Recreation Permits (SRPs) program. REA authorizes the agencies to issue SRPs and charge associated fees. However, this authority is not new. The language is very similar to the authority provided under LWCF (1965) and under the Federal Land Policy Management Act (FLPMA) (1976). To determine how BLM will implement this provision, we look to BLM’s 35-year history of assessing, through a public process, the appropriateness of SRPs for a particular activity or at a particular site.
The authority for SRPs is not used merely in cases where the agency would like to charge a fee. It is used in situations where the agency has determined through a land use planning process that a permit system is necessary to ensure a quality recreation experience for all visitors. Historically, BLM has issued SRPs for commercial, vendor, competitive, and organized group events and activities, and for individual use of Special Areas (private or non-commercial use). SRPs are issued in an effort to satisfy recreational demand within allowable use levels in an equitable, safe and enjoyable manner, while minimizing adverse user conflicts and resource impacts.
In FY 2004, BLM issued nearly 4,000 commercial, competitive and organized group permits and 105,700 non-commercial individual SRPs. Of the individual SRPs, approximately 105,200 SRPs were issued in 21 recreation areas, located in 5 States (AZ, CA, NV, UT, NM), and approximately 500 SRPs were issued, without associated fees, for the lower Salmon River in Idaho. Of the 22 areas, ten areas are river segments, four are canyon trails, and eight are off highway vehicle (OHV) areas. At some of these sites, BLM uses SRPs to provide timed entry into popular whitewater rafting areas and for narrow canyon trails; this not only prevents overcrowding and creates an enjoyable visitor experience, but also enhances safety and minimizes the impact to the resources that the visitors come to enjoy. We should reiterate that BLM also has countless numbers of other recreational rivers, trails and OHV areas that make up the vast majority of BLM-managed lands and that are and will remain fee-free.
The fees associated with SRPs are used to administer the permit program, so that the direct beneficiaries of the permit bear the cost rather than the general taxpayers. Fees also are used to provide the benefited visitors with enhanced facilities and services, such as emergency response services, safety compliance and education, litter cleanup, basic road, parking, trail and facility maintenance, interpretative brochures, information centers, trip planning services, and maps.
Given the long history BLM has had in issuing SRPs, we do not expect substantial changes in the program under REA. Three years ago, BLM re-issued regulations (43 CFR 2930 and Manual/Handbook H-2930-1, October 1, 2002) that updated and provided clarification of the permitting system under LWCF and FLPMA. The regulations went through an extensive public process and received input from the recreation community. BLM will be issuing a revised edition of the Handbook that incorporates Inter-Departmental clarification and policy for implementing REA requirements.
Recreation Resource Advisory Committees, Public Participation, and Community Involvement
We view the visiting public as our partners and implementation of the recreation fee program as a continuing dialogue. The Recreation Resource Advisory Committees, the public participation provisions, and the fee management agreement provisions established under REA provide important opportunities to engage the public, interested stakeholders, and local communities in discussions on a wide variety of fee-related issues and to think creatively about the program.
In this spirit, the Fee Council recently clarified the Departments’ view of the duties of the Recreation RACs. The Council agreed that the Recreation RACs should be encouraged to discuss, in an advisory capacity, all aspects of BLM and the Forest Service’s recreation fee programs, including establishing new fee areas, abolishing fees, fee levels or rates, and expenditure of revenues.
For BLM and the Forest Service, REA requires the creation of Recreation RACs in every State or region and authorizes the use of similar existing entities in lieu of establishing new Recreation RACs. In an effort to thoughtfully implement this provision, the Forest Service and BLM held 11 listening sessions in locations across the country to gather public input on the formation and configuration of the Recreation RACs. Based on the input we received at these listening sessions, on September 22, 2005, the Fee Council approved a basic framework to implement the provision in REA.
Under the basic framework, BLM and the Forest Service would use existing Resource Advisory Councils established under FLPMA and, for areas that do not have existing Resource Advisory Councils, such as the state of Wyoming and the eastern United States, new Recreation RACs would be established under REA. BLM, for many years, has used Resource Advisory Councils to receive public input on a wide range of resource and land management issues, including recreation. These existing Resource Advisory Councils work effectively and efficiently and are well-received by the public. The basic framework would take advantage of these existing Resource Advisory Councils by expanding them to engage in more specific and additional recreation fee review duties for both BLM and Forest Service. To allow for local representation, more focused subgroups may be created where necessary.
We can build on successful models already in use such as BLM Boise District Resource Advisory Council in Idaho, which reviews and makes recommendations on recreation fees for the Payette River recreation area. Because the area is jointly managed by BLM and the Forest Service, an interagency agreement was developed to establish the general objectives and respective responsibilities of each agency. The Resource Advisory Council developed a charter to establish an advisory subgroup to review and provide recommendations on fee issues for both agencies.
While we have established the basic framework to implement this provision of REA, we have many additional implementation issues to address over the next several months. We will be looking more carefully at each local situation to determine what subgroups may be appropriate using the existing Resource Advisory Councils, based on need and interest, at the relationship of the subgroups, funding sources, and other issues that may arise. We also will work with state and local officials and the public to determine the need and area of scope for the establishment of the new Recreation RACs under REA.
In addition to the Recreation RACs, the agencies are establishing other processes to better communicate with the public. On September 28, 2005, the Departments jointly issued a federal register notice that established guidelines on public participation and public notice as required in REA. The agencies also are working on additional agency-specific guidelines. The goals of the guidelines are to provide the public with opportunities to participate in the recreation fee program and also better inform the public about how fee revenues are being spent to enhance the visitor experience.
REA also provides general authority to establish fee management agreements with governmental or non-governmental entities. We believe tremendous potential exists to develop mutually beneficial partnerships through the recreation fee program. One example of such a partnership is at the Deschutes River between BLM and the State of Oregon. BLM and the State have worked cooperatively to build the Deschutes River reservation website, which will now be operated by the State. Another example is at Sand Flats, a highly popular 7,000-acre recreational area made up of BLM and Utah state lands. To manage the increase in visitation in the 1990s, BLM and Grand County entered into a cooperative agreement under which the county would collect recreation fees and use them to manage and patrol the highly popular recreational area. The county and its citizens have benefited from a more vigorous tourist trade; BLM now has a signature recreation area; and visitors can safely enjoy the Sand Flats area. Every agency has developed a number of successful partnerships like these, and we look forward to working with governmental and non-governmental entities to explore other opportunities to expand such mutually beneficial agreements.
The America the Beautiful – National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass
REA establishes the new multi-agency America the Beautiful-National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass (the new Pass) to cover entrance fees for NPS and FWS and standard amenity recreation fees for BLM, Forest Service, and BOR, generally for a period of 12 months. The target rollout of the new Pass is scheduled for January 2007, and the Pass Working Group has worked diligently to ensure we meet that goal through a transparent and thoughtful implementation process.
Our vision for the new Pass is one of a pass that is convenient for visitors to purchase and use, is marketed in a sophisticated manner, incorporates policies and technologies that can facilitate partnering, and can provide additional opportunities to educate and inform the American public about recreation opportunities on federal lands.
To ensure that the production, marketing, and provisions of the new Pass meets the expectations of the American public and key partners, the Pass Working Group has hosted a total of four listening sessions. Three listening sessions have been conducted to allow interested parties to share their ideas about partnership opportunities, benefits, pricing, technology and other related topics and an additional listening session was conducted with disability advocacy groups on documentation requirements for the Access version of the new Pass.
We recognize public and Congressional interest in the pricing of the new Pass. To better determine a price that is reasonable and fair, the agencies have entered into a cooperative agreement with the University of Wyoming to conduct pricing analysis. To date, University researchers have conducted six focus groups in different geographic locations, initiated the collection of price benchmarking information with State Parks, and begun developing a survey of recreationists for next spring. Additional analysis of the relationship between the prices of annual passes, site specific passes and daily fees entry fees also will be conducted. It is expected that a decision on pricing of the pass will be made in summer of 2006.
Providing a new Pass to the American public requires that the agencies contract for some specific goods and service, such as design, production, distribution, and fulfillment. We have moved forward on the contracting process and have selected a contracting office and appointed a COTR, Project Manager. A Request for Information (RFI) was issued in August and a number of capability statements were received by a variety of organizations. An Acquisition Strategy has been drafted and is being finalized. A Performance Work Statement (PWS), which includes design, production, fulfillment, marketing, data base management, sales through the internet, and 1-800 # channels, is being developed and will be put out for competitive bid this winter. Review of bids and the award of the contract are planned for early 2006.
A draft interagency agreement has been developed that identifies all the roles and responsibilities of the various agencies, cost share agreements, start up funding agreements, and short and long term revenue share agreements. In addition, we have completed a draft of the Secretaries’ Guidelines. We expect to finalize and publish these documents later this fall.
Due to long lead times in pass production, we have entered into an agreement with Kodak and the National Park Foundation to provide the image for the first Pass, utilizing the winner of the 2005 Kodak National Parks Pass Photo Contest. Alternatives for acquiring images for subsequent years are still being investigated.
Certain decisions concerning the parameters of the new Pass have been made including the intent to develop a pass design that can accommodate unstaffed areas. We also have decided to make the new Pass widely available to the public via sales outlets at all public land management sites that collect fees and through 3rd party partnership and vendor agreements. We anticipate that we will have many partners in the sale of the new Pass and look forward to establishing these relationships. In addition, we plan to ensure that the new Pass, where appropriate, continues to build on strong existing relationships with our public lands partners, such as the National Park Foundation.
We also appreciate the effort and dedication brought to our public lands by volunteers. Consistent with REA, we plan to issue passes to volunteers, but we still have some technical issues to resolve. We are hoping to personalize the passes issued to volunteers.
While the Departments plan to move as expeditiously as possible toward implementation, our primary goal is to create a high-quality, well-thought-out, visitor-friendly pass program that is enthusiastically embraced by partner organizations and the public. Creating a successful pass program will require us to address many complex issues. We plan to carefully consider our past experiences, the National Park Foundation’s expertise in the development of the National Parks Pass, various studies conducted by the agencies on passes and the recreation fee program, and feedback from members of Congress, the recreation community, and the general public.
The recreation fee program is vital to our ability to meet visitor demands for enhanced facilities and services on our federal lands. The Departments view the passage of REA as the beginning of an important opportunity to create a sensible, visitor friendly, efficient recreation fee program. We view REA as a dynamic program that responds to lessons learned and builds on success stories. We welcome the opportunity to work with you toward this end.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my statement. I would be pleased to answer any questions you or other members of the Subcommittee may have.
Witness Panel 2
Mr. Aubrey KingKing & 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.
Mr. Lance YoungDirectorWorld Outing Club
Testimony Before: The Subcommittee on Public Lands and forests
Committee on Energy and Natural Resources
United States Senate
Oversight Hearing: On Implementation of the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act
by the USDA Forest Service and the Bureau of Land management
Testimony By: Lance Young (Director)
One World Outing Club
13534 35th Ave NE; Seattle, WA 98125
Mr. Chairman and distinguished members of the Subcommittee;
Thank you for the opportunity to speak to this Sub Committee of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee
regarding this important issue. I am both honored and humbled by those present in this hearing today. I have watched
Senate debates in the past and am always inspired by the detail and thought that go into the speeches, and the articulate
nature in which they are delivered on the Senate floor.
II. MY BACKGROUND
I have been involved in the outdoor recreation industry since I was a child, both commercially through guiding,
instructing, gear testing, and the travel industry, and recreationally. My activities include: hiking, backpacking,
bicycling, mountain biking, sea kayaking, canoeing, white water rafting, white water kayaking, swimming instruction,
snow and rock climbing, cross country skiing, snow shoeing, downhill skiing, snow boarding, backcountry telemark
skiing, skin diving, windsurfing, water skiing, foreign travel and tourism, search and rescue, and others.
As director of One World Outing Club (a not for profit outdoor recreation club), I have had the opportunity to cater not
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only to the general recreation population, but to provide outdoor recreation opportunities for other special groups such as
the mildly disabled that love to hike, or elder skiers that can no longer drive in winter snow, and devout
environmentalists that have made a decision not to own a personal vehicle. I have organized transportation for Senior
Centers for outdoor recreation, I have worked with Ski For All (a national disabled skiers program), and have helped
organize a variety of outdoor competitions and events.
Working through Outing Services (a commercial guide service) I have guided trips for North Face, run the REI winter
Ski Bus, have outfitted trips for Microsoft and other local businesses, as well as trips and seminars for local Parks and
Recreation programs. This includes: Seattle Parks, Bellevue Parks, Kent and Federal way school districts, all in
III. COMMERCIAL AND NON PROFIT GROUP ACCESS ISSUES
The representatives from Western Slope No-Fee Coalition have, or will address private recreation concerns and the
misinterpretation and misapplication of the new laws as they have been applied to private usage. I have worked in the
outdoor industry for several decades and would like to address the affects on commercial usage, and non profit group
use of public lands, so I will touch these subjects also during my testimony.
IV. THE IMPORTANCE OF THIS ISSUE
My goal in life is to promote an active outdoor lifestyle, and to encourage and facilitate others in an appreciation of the
beauty and benefits of exposure to our natural environment. Proof of this is in the admonition of most doctors to
patients with almost any chronic ailment "Diet and Exercise, and... will improve your health”. The gym and lifting
weights ares good but boring, and primarily used as a training ground for rehabilitation or conditioning for other
During World War II the Norwegians built public swimming pools all over their country to keep their people fit for
military service, if they should be needed for defense of their sovereign borders. Our own citizenry needs
encouragement not obstacles to participate in an active lifestyle. Consider the savings in health care costs that a small
incremental increase in cardiovascular health would provide to the citizens of our country.
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Beyond the physical there are the mental benefits, which include a recentering, an ability to put things into perspective
and forget about a lot of the artificial demands and stresses a modern life imposes on people. In the woods all that
matters is when the sun comes up, when it goes down, shelter from the elements and when the next meal is. Sort of
where we all started, millennia ago.
I have traveled enough to know also of the uniqueness of the mountains and wilderness we have here in North America.
Nowhere in Europe are there large enough tracts of public land to allow primitive backpacking or camping. With a Cafe
at the head of every wooded valley, and a gondola to the top of every mountain peak. This primitive wilderness
experience does not exist in Europe.
As the tourism industry continues to grow our National Parks and Forest lands provide a magnet for the adventure
traveler from overseas. Already some of the better known areas have more German and Japanese tourists than US
citizens. Many small local communities thrive on the business that this provides for them. The Methow Valley in
Eastern Washington survives on the large number of people that the cross country ski industry brings in every year to ski
their vast network of trails spread out over Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Forest Service, and private land in the
valley. Sun Valley has been a magnet since the 50's and Mt. St Helens has become Washington States largest natural
attraction. Mt. Bachelor in Oregon has thrived by catering to skiers during the winter and golfers during the summer.
Moab Utah has Canyonlands, slick rock, and Fisher Towers which is a mecca for mountain bikers, hikers, and rock
When Microsoft brings their overseas sales staff to their Redmond Washington Headquarters they don't treat them to
dinner at the space needle, they take them hiking, or rafting, or hot air ballooning, to leave a lasting impression.
V. WHO WILL BE AFFECTED
The use fees as they are now being implemented affect people from all walks of life. The poor and low income who can
not afford to visit the National Parks or stay in fancy hotels need access to public lands for camping, fishing, and other
recreation. Some of my favorite childhood memories are from our camping trips to the mountains and Pacific Coast.
We could not have spent as much time together on family vacations if they were not economical. While the new law
provides for free access to all undeveloped public land, with current implementation the only designated no-fee areas are
remote and hard to reach.
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Middle and upper income citizens will stay home because of confusion regarding permit requirements, the threat of a
criminal record, and the inconvenience of obtaining the correct permit. The US Forest Service web site lists eight
different types of pass: National Forest Recreation Day Pass, Oregon Pacific Coast Pass, Annual Northwest Forest Pass.
Golden Eagle Pass, Golden Age Pass, Golden Access...... and this does not include the Bureau of Land Management
authorizations, river conservation permits, hunting licenses etc. Rather than risk a $100 fine or, for a second offense
incurring a Class A or B misdemeanor upper income people will find something else to do, rather than risk the criminal
record and fines. Thousands of current conscientious objectors, who currently refuse to buy the passes, may be caught
off guard by these changes. Even the best informed mountaineers I have surveyed are generally unaware of the severe
penalties they are now subject to.
VI. THE PENALTIES ARE EXCESSIVE
The Penalties associated with infractions of this law are draconian in nature. With penalties up to a Class A
misdemeanor, consequences can be sever, including fines of up to $100,000 and a year in prison. To cite a citizen with
this kind of penalty for hiking is well beyond reasonable. With the liberties the agencies have taken with implementing
the new law, it is not unreasonable to fear a worst case scenario. I have found in my past dealings with Mt. Baker
Snoqualmie National Forest officials that they are not fair and just in their dealings with forest users (More on this later).
VII. THE NEW LAW
We are not here today to analyze the law but to review its implementation however it is appropriate to mention a few of
the critical issues that may be leading to current problems with its implementation. If this new fee based tax on
recreation is successful it will eventually replace the funds received from the Federal Government. This on the surface
does not seem to be a bad thing but with a deeper analysis there are several structural problems with it. By sending
funds directly to the agency it removes the essential accountability loop from the equation. This new taxing system will
lead to unnecessary government duplication and additional costs. The BLM and US Forest Service will have to develop
their own tax collection system (IRS), and methods for printing and distribution of the passes (tender) they provide.
They will have to develop a police force to enforce the permit system. This would be expensive and wasteful
duplication requireing forest rangers to do work they were not trained to do.
After reading thought the new laws it appears evident that Congress was trying to establish a more fair and equitable
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system of permit fee collection for the agencies. It is also clear from the text and statements of the Legislators that it
was intended to scale back the current implementation of the Demonstration Fee program in several ways with the
outcome of preventing blanket implementation of entry fees like the National Parks do, and should charge at their
entrance gates. It also was clear that fees should only be charged where the public using the resource, can see evident
signs of the value they are receiving for the fee. This is why the stipulations were included for requiring certain things at
"Permanent Toilets, Trailhead monuments or informative signs interpreting the natural wonders of the area,
developed parking, picnic tables, security services, and permanent garbage receptacles."
The new law was supposed to open up much of the areas that are now requiring access fees to provide free public access
for the primitive or undeveloped areas while providing an income source for the agencies to cover developed areas.
VIII. IMPLEMENTATION OF TRAIL FEES FOR MT. BAKER SNOQUALMIE NATIONAL FOREST
I will focus on the Mt. Baker Snoqualmie National Forest (Mt.Baker NF) since this is what I am most familiar with, but
I believe the statistics are also representative of most National Forests as well. The Mt.Baker NF lists about 125 trails
within their boundaries as active hiking trails available for a variety of users, from horses and mountain bikers to
backpackers, hikers and snowshoers. After the new law was passed Mt. Baker NF released a list of 18 trails that were
being opened up for public use. This list was later revised down to 12 sights. Of these 12 about a third are not viable
decommissioned trail fee sights. These examples follow:
1. Two of the trails listed are (at least historically) just different access points to the same trail, Three Fingers #641 and
Boulder River #734.
2. One is less than a mile long and gains more than a thousand feet per mile and requires a three hour drive for this one
hour hike. This trail is hard to find at the end of road FS 74 and has never required fees in the past. Clearwest Peak
3. Another one that was initially on the list to be "de-listed" Dutch Miller Gap #1040 was at the end of the longest
roughest road in the forest system, and this road frequently washes out preventing any access.
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4. Huckleberry Creek #1182 Has never been signed as requiring a forest pass, and it goes only 0.9 miles before
becoming a National Park system trail (where it continues for miles)
5. Martin Gap #1178 is still listed on the Mt.Baker NF trail description as requiring a forest pass despite its listing on
the official list of trails that no longer require a fee. I have not had time to check this out personally yet.
6. Sunday Lake #1000 was dropped from the initial list probably because this trail is on private Whearhouser land and
was only accessible after spring run off because of the washed out bridge on the first part of the trail.
If these questionable trails are removed that leaves only eight to ten fee free trails, out of 125 total trails listed in the
district. Further those de listed, are generally either difficult to get to or impractical for the general public. The new law
also appears to prevent charging for use of unimproved or primitive areas however the Mt.Baker NF seems to have
gotten around this by inventing a High Impact Recreational Area HIRA which claims vast tracts of land into one "Area"
with only a few of the required amenities available in the entire zone.
A good example of an appropriate fee sight is the Ice Caves trail or Big Four where permanent toilets are installed, the
parking lot is paved, there are the remnants of a historical Inn to view, and a nice trail up to the base of Big Four
mountain, with well maintained bridges and boardwalks, and this sight is not a portal for backcountry access.
The vast majority of the trails listed as requiring trail passes in the Mt. Baker NF have at best one or two of the required
amenities. A good example of the misapplication of the "Area" designation in the new law is Bare Mountain, which was
initially on the list to be free use. The trail head has room for only six cars to pull off to the side of the road, and is
brush free only because of somewhat regular use, not due to maintenance. The trail has a hiker registration box but non
of the other requirements. The nearest toilet (and probably the closest garbage can as well) is in North Bend perhaps an
hours drive back down the dirt access road, and there is no security, you leave your car at your own risk.
IX. MISINTERPRETATION OF THE LAW
Local agencies are either significantly misinterpreting the new Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act or are
ignoring the letter and intent of the law to maintain control and income from the federal lands they administer. The
intent of the law seems clear both from the statements of the Congressmen that worked on it and from the text of the law
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"HR 3283 would limit the recreation fee authorization on the land management agencies." and "No fees may be
charged for areas with low or no investments" Representative Ralph Regula Sponsor H.R.3283 2004 press
"The secretary shall not charge (C) For dispersed areas with low or no investment" Federal Lands Enhancement
Act section (3) (d) (1) (C)
"The secretary may charge a standard amenity recreation fee for (4) An Area (D) that contains all of the
following amenities (i) Designated developed parking (ii) A permanent toilet facility. (iii) A permanent trash
receptacle. (iv) Interpretive sign, exhibit, or kiosk. (v) Picnic tables. (vi) Security services." Federal Lands
Enhancement Act section (3) (f) (4) (D)
The text of the law seems quite clear, and that is to limiting the ability to charge use fees to those areas where significant
enhancement and financial investment has been made. This would be consistent with the fees charged at most National
Parks and Monuments where entry fees are charged at the gate and many visible amenities are provided for the public
paying the entry fees including education centers, information centers, bathrooms, ranger walks, et-cetera. The majority
of the road systems and trails in our area have only a few (or none) of the listed required amenities, and perhaps 75%
serve as portals to backcountry. Thus there should be no permit required. Yet the vast majority of trails are still listed as
requiring a permit for their use.
This is not the first time the US Forest Service has "misinterpreted" the law to their financial gain. When the
Demonstration Fee program was passed to allow the agency to experiment with fee collection at a few sights. The law
allowed the demonstration to be run at no more than 100 sights. This limit was ignored and Demonstration Fees or
Northwest Forest Passes were required at the majority of trails in the forest. When the Sierra Club legal council took
them to court on the matter and won, the Forest Service then redefined how they labeled the trails and instead of
designating individual sites they designated entire road systems and regions as one demonstration fee site.
X. COMMERCIAL PROBLEMS WITH OVERLY BROAD INTERPRETATION OF REGULATIONS
Our Washington State hiking and cross country skiing group has had similar difficulties with the Mt. Baker FS with the
issuance of commercial permitting and fees. In the process of dealing with the Forest Supervisor John Phipps and
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Winter Recreation Specialist Larry Donavan to try and obtain a commercial use permit to allow us to teach classes, we
witnessed a fluid and ever changing set of permit requirements, several of which were clearly against their own
regulations and guidelines. This included requiring permits for day use cross country skiing on forest roads where CFR
251.50 (d) specifically excluded road use from requiring a permit for commercial or non commercial users. Their own
guidelines encouraged issuance of commercial authorizations
"Many are capable of total self-sufficiency, but those selecting an outfitter want and need help. They can't do it
on their own, or want an introduction to such experiences to help them get started." "But the public lands
belong to them just as much as they belong to the residents living at the mouths of canyons." Forest Service
Outfitter Guide Handbook February 1997 page I-2
In navigating the gauntlet of requirements that were required of us over a four year period we submitted over eight
separate permit applications trying to satisfy the escalating demands. The last of these was 98 pages in length, several
times the length required for other similar groups (typically 12pages). We were promised permits on three separate
occasions only to submit the requested information and then have more requirements added. We were never issued any
of the promised permits and finally were cited for commercial operations on federal land without a permit. We
contested the citation and won the case, because the law specifically and wisely did not require a permit for road use,
preventing the agency from having to issue a permit where there is minimal impact to the land, and no encampments or
structure involved. Senator Patty Murray stepped in to help with our cause and was intentionally mislead by the Forest
Service who were struggling to justify their case.
Following the loss of this case, rather than appeal to the superior court where precedent might be set, John Phipps was
called back to the DC office and shortly after this the laws were revised for the entire country requiring permits for
commercial road use. This revision was ostensibly based on a re-engineering study they commissioned in April of 1997.
Surprisingly according to the Federal Register, this study contradicts their argument for requiring permits for road use.
"In April 1997, the Forest Service completed a reengineering study of its special uses program that
recommended managing special uses in a more businesslike and customer service oriented manner. The study
found that many special use authorizations are issued for (1) minor uses of National forest System lands that
have nominal effects" Federal Register Vol 68, No 14, Proposed Rules section
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Instead of requiring fewer permits for these "nominal" impact uses the Forest Service misinterpreted the study to support
their desire to require more permits.
The Forest Service through the Code of Federal Regulations has set up a system where a large part of the discretionary
authority rests with the "Authorizing Officer". This agent would typically be the local ranger or perhaps as senior as a
district ranger. The whole system seems to be a bottom up management method rather than a top down structure. In
other words the senior members of the USFS appear to support the junior staff "Authorizing Officers" even in situations
where it is clearly against policy, even regulations, to do so.
XI. NOT FOR PROFIT GROUPS ARE BEING AFFECTED
The old laws did not require any permitting for non commercial activities for less than 75 people with the logical
rationale that these smaller groups would not have significant impact on the resource. This provided these users the
freedom to spontaneously organize a small rally or religious service, or family or club event without the necessity of
applying for a permit. The new Forest Service interpretation does away with this freedom. For instance, the new
Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act specifically excludes charging for things like foot races on federal lands.
The Forest Services recently issued guidelines include such activities under special use permits. This would force a
group such as the Cascade Bicycle Club to request a permit to bike ride over the old Blewett Pass road (paved), or else
face bicycling with the cars on the adjacent highway.
"The secretary shall not charge (D) for persons who are driving through, walking through, boating through,
horseback riding through, or hiking through Federal recreation lands and waters without using the facilities and
services." Federal Lands Enhancement Act (d) (1) (F)
XII. RAMIFICATIONS OF THE NEW FEE STRUCTURE
Uniformly across the state of Washington, city parks and recreation departments have frequently been denied access to
public lands under U.S. Forest Service control, for outdoor opportunities that they would like to make available to their
residents. The commercial Outfitters and Guides in private conversation invariably have stories of difficulties with
Page 10 of 10
Enforcement has caused a change in the relationship between backcountry rangers and the recreational public. In only
one decade the Demonstration Fee program has turned forest and park rangers into people to be wary of, instead of
friendly folks to be encounter in the woods and someone to approached regarding weather, and other natural concerns.
This adversarial relationship requires the agency to do all their own policing rather than depend on users to cooperate
and share information on incidents with wildlife, washouts, or other matters.
Commercial use is more and more difficult to sustain. Many small communities in rural Washington depend on income
from the recreational travel trade, including horse packers, fishing guides, river rafting companies, nordic skiing trail
networks, even outdoor equipment retailers like REI. These communities are losing their source of livelihood not
because of environmental impact but because of red tape. A lot of our ski group's travel is now into Canada just across
the border because they are much more receptive to commercial recreation needs.
The benefits to appropriate access to public land are enormous and critical to the citizens of the United States. Access to
these areas for outdoor recreation improves the longevity and physical and mental health of the general population.
Convenient and welcome accommodation of commercial and group use of our natural resources provides a source of
commerce and income for rural communities, and a reason for higher income urban residents to travel into and support
the surrounding communities. .....
Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today. Please include both my written and oral testimony as part of this
hearings official record.
Ms. Kitty BenzarWestern Slope No-Fee Coalition
Western Slope No-Fee Coalition
Before the Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests
Committee on Energy and Natural Resources
United States Senate
Oversight Hearing On Implementation of the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act by the USDA Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management
October 26, 2005
Mr. Chairman and distinguished members of the Subcommittee;
Thank you for the privilege of testifying before you today concerning implementation of the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act by the USDA Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management.
I am Kitty Benzar, co-founder of the Western Slope No-Fee Coalition, a coalition that has come to represent hundreds of organizations and millions of Americans nationwide in advocating for the continued tradition of public ownership and access to public lands.
Resolutions of opposition to fee-based access under the previous Fee Demo program were sent to Congress by the state legislatures of Colorado, Oregon, California, and New Hampshire. Thirteen counties in western Colorado alone, and dozens of counties, cities and towns across the nation as well as hundreds of organized groups had passed similar resolutions. State and local governments continue to oppose fee-based access to public lands under the FLREA. Since the FLREA became law on December 8, 2004, resolutions opposing it have been passed in the legislatures of Colorado, Oregon, Montana, and the Alaska House, by numerous counties, and are pending in several other states.
The WSNFC opposed passage of the FLREA and testified against it in the U.S. House Resources Committee because we believe that fee-based access constitutes a new tax, harms communities located near or surrounded by federal lands, unfairly limits public access, and subjects citizens to extreme criminal penalties. Prior to passage of the FLREA, we were actively working with committee staff in the House to find common ground on the issues surrounding public lands fees. The final language of the FLREA contains many loopholes and ambiguities that we believe open the door to implementation of fees outside of developed areas and place undue constraints on public access to public lands.
In a press release issued at the time the FLREA was passed, its sponsor, U.S. Representative Ralph Regula, expressed his intent:
“As passed by Congress, H.R. 3283 would limit the recreation fee authorization on the land management agencies. No fees may be charged for the following: solely for parking, picnicking, horseback riding through, general access, dispersed areas with low or no investments, for persons passing through an area, camping at undeveloped sites, overlooks, public roads or highways, private roads, hunting or fishing, and official business. Additionally, no entrance fees will be charged for any recreational activities on BLM, USFS, or BOR lands. This is a significant change from the original language. The language included by the Resources Committee is much more restrictive and specific on where fees can and cannot be charged.” [emphasis in original]
At the time of its passage we predicted that the Forest Service and BLM would use the weaknesses in the law to perpetuate and expand the broad fee programs that they had implemented under the Fee Demo authority. The agencies are pushing the limitations written into the law because of the perverse incentives the FLREA creates to maximize revenues at the public expense regardless of the limitations on fee implementation written into it.
The FLREA contains a number of provisions designed to protect free access. There are prohibitions on charging Standard Amenity or Expanded Amenity fees “(A) Solely for parking, undesignated parking, or picnicking along roads or trailsides¬. (B) For general access…(C) For dispersed areas with low or no investment…(D) For persons who are driving through, walking through, boating through, horseback riding through, or hiking through Federal recreational lands and waters without using the facilities and services. (E) For camping at undeveloped sites that do not provide a minimum number of facilities and services…(F) For use of overlooks or scenic pullouts. (G) For travel by private, noncommercial vehicle over any national parkway or any road or highway established as a part of the Federal-aid system…” [Section 803 (d)(1)]. It also states in Section 803 (e) (2) “The Secretary shall not charge an entrance fee for Federal recreational lands and waters managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation, or the Forest Service. Section 803 (f) (4) says that fee day-use “areas” must contain six minimum amenities: Designated developed parking, a permanent toilet facility, a permanent trash receptacle, interpretive sign or kiosk, picnic tables, and security services.
Early this year we launched a nationwide grassroots survey of Forest Service and BLM fee sites. We asked our members and supporters to visit fee areas near their homes, observe whether they comply with the provisions in the new law, and report to us those that are not in compliance. We then undertook to compile this information into a list of fee sites that are not in compliance with the FLREA. That list is now over 300 sites, and more survey reports continue to come in as part of this ongoing effort. We have provided a copy of our survey report for each Member of this Subcommittee.
The survey results to date reveal a pattern of excesses in implementation of the law by the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service. The agencies have created a category of fees that was not authorized by Congress called “High Impact Recreation Areas.” They are charging fees at thousands of trailheads that provide access to dispersed undeveloped backcountry, and they are stretching the Special Recreation Permit authority to cover virtually any type of recreational activity. De facto entrance fees are controlling access to huge tracts of public land.
Our survey has found that non-compliant fee programs fall into three broad categories:
1) “High Impact Recreation Areas” (HIRAs)
The Forest Service and BLM are using a category called a HIRA that does not appear anywhere in the law. A HIRA is a group of individual sites with little or no federal investment that are collected together for the purpose of charging fees to access any of them. Under the guise of HIRAs, Standard Amenity fees are being charged for driving scenic byways, state highways, and county roads, for entrance to huge tracts of land, for access to dispersed backcountry, and for multiple sites with low or no federal investment. The language in the FLREA stating that a fee can be charged for an “area” with certain amenities but failing to define how large the “area” can be opened the door to HIRAs.
In Southern California, 31 HIRAs comprising almost 400,000 acres have been established on four National Forests.
At Mt Lemmon, on the Coronado National Forest in Arizona, virtually the entire 256,000-acre Santa Catalina Ranger District has been declared a HIRA and fees are being charged for picnicking, dispersed undeveloped camping, roadside parking, trailheads, and restrooms.
In my home state of Colorado, the Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forest has declared two HIRAs. The first is at Mt Evans, where Colorado State Highway 5 has become a toll road and entrance fees must be paid to the Forest Service in order to enjoy a scenic overlook, hike into a Wilderness Area, or simply drive on a state highway. The other is the 36,000-acre Arapaho National Recreation Area where entrance fees are charged for access to six trailheads, five picnic areas, and five boat launches.
Other examples of HIRAs are shown in our survey report. These “High Impact Recreation Areas” are not defined or authorized anywhere in the new law.
2) Special Recreation Permits
The FLREA authorized fees for Special Recreation Permits for “specialized recreation uses of Federal recreational lands and waters, such as group activities, recreation events, motorized recreational vehicle use.” Under previous law, Special Use Permits were limited to large organized events, commercial activities on public lands, and guides/outfitters. Now, the Forest Service and BLM are stretching the term “specialized” to require Special Recreation Permits for a wide array of private, non-commercial activities. These SRPs are being issued for activities as un-specialized as a simple family hiking trip, an individual ride on an OHV or mountain bike trail, or access to wilderness areas by foot or horseback.
Unlike Standard Amenity and Expanded Amenity fees, which are authorized for use of sites, SRP fees are applied to particular uses, i.e. hiking, OHVs, climbing, or river rafting. The protections in the FLREA restricting the application of Standard and Expanded Amenity fees do not apply to SRPs.
Examples of excesses under the SRP authority include the Wayne National Forest in Ohio, where fees apply to more than 280 miles of OHV, mountain bike, and horse trails.
At Cedar Mesa in Utah, just a few miles west of my home, the BLM requires a fee for all hiking in 400,000 acres that includes 7 remote canyons and 11 trailheads. This is a completely undeveloped area that receives less than 10,000 visitors a year and has no maintenance backlog.
Both the Forest Service and BLM are requiring SRPs and charging fees for entry to designated Wilderness Areas that are completely primitive by definition. Examples include Boundary Waters Wilderness, MN (USFS), Aravaipa Canyon, AZ (BLM), Hoover Wilderness, CA (USFS), Paria Canyon Wilderness, UT/AZ (BLM), Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA (USFS), and Mt Shasta Wilderness, CA (USFS).
SRPs are being used to bypass the provisions in the FLREA against charging for access to backcountry and dispersed undeveloped camping, for use of roads and trails, and for passing through without use of facilities.
3) Trailhead Fees
At thousands of sites nationwide, citizens are being charged a fee to park their vehicle at a trailhead or simple staging area and go for a hike, horseback ride, or to use an OHV trail. The law prohibits charging a fee solely for parking, or for passing through a fee area without using the facilities, and many trail users simply park their vehicle and hit the trail without using whatever amenities may be present.
Examples of trailhead-fee areas include the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire, where a “Parking Pass” is required at 44 trailheads and river access sites. These fees control access to most of the Forest’s backcountry.
In the Pacific Northwest, a pass is required at over 500 day-use sites, mostly trailheads, on twelve National Forests. On the Mt Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest alone, there are more than 100 fee trailheads.
In Colorado, winter recreationists at Vail Pass must purchase a pass before accessing 55,000 acres of backcountry by snowmobile, snowshoe, or cross-country ski, even though the parking area and toilet facilities are provided by the Colorado Department of Transportation as a rest area for travelers on Interstate 70.
Fee trailheads, whether developed or not, are being used to prevent free access to dispersed backcountry and undeveloped camping, and to charge for general access, all in violation of the FLREA.
The Forest Service and BLM are out of compliance in other ways as well. They have instigated new fees and permits at many sites and areas without establishing the mandatory Regional Recreation Advisory Committees called for in the FLREA. The agencies are also spending over the 15% limit on costs of collection through agreements with non-agency enforcement services. In some cases up to 30% of fee revenue goes for enforcement alone. GAO reports on the previous Fee Demo program revealed that the Forest Service was using millions in appropriated funding to administer fee programs, resulting in overhead costs exceeding 50% of fee revenue. In the BLM, administrative overhead comes from state and Washington office appropriated funding, minimizing any net gain from fees. High overhead costs continue under the FLREA, in spite of the 15% limit mandated in the law.
These documented excesses under their fee authority by the Forest Service and BLM cause special concern when viewed in the context of the severe criminal penalties for failure to pay FLREA fees. The law allows the agencies to charge either a Class A or Class B misdemeanor and specifies prima facie guilt for the driver, owner, and all occupants of a vehicle failing to display a required pass. Although first offenses are capped at a $100 fine, they still create a criminal record, and subsequent offenses are subject to penalties up to $100,000 and/or 1 year in jail. Despite the fact that many fees do not meet the requirements of the FLREA, a citizen who fails to pay a $5 fee to hike into a Wilderness Area or ride on an OHV trail, or who does pay but fails to display the pass correctly, or who loans their vehicle to a friend or family member who fails to pay, risks a permanent criminal record and potential jail time.
The sponsor of the FLREA said that it would provide stronger protections for public access to public land than the Fee Demo program did, and compliance with the provisions of the FLREA was mandatory as of December 8, 2004. By now, the Forest Service and BLM should have dropped fees at thousands of Fee Demo sites. Instead, they continue to charge non-compliant fees nationwide. The BLM has not dropped a single one of their 97 fee programs, and in fact recently announced plans to add 38 new fee sites in six states, without following the requirements for public participation specified in the FLREA.
In a June 2005 press release the Forest Service said, “All Forest Service units that charged recreation fees under the old fee demo program reviewed their current fee sites and determined whether or not their sites meet requirements as outlined under [the new law]. As a result approximately 500 day-use sites will be removed this year…” At that time we obtained the list of 480 sites referred to, and compared it to the list of over 4,500 Fee Demo sites the Forest Service had reported as in effect on December 8, 2004. Their claim that 480 sites were being dropped because of the new law turned out to be unsupportable because more than half of those sites either were never listed as Fee Demo sites, were already closed, are within HIRAs that continue to charge fees to enter the larger area, will have fees reinstated as soon as planned improvements are completed, or for some other reason.
For example, the Rio Grande National Forest in Colorado listed eleven sites where fees were being dropped, but all are campgrounds that had been charging under Land and Water Conservation Fund Act authority, not Fee Demo. Six sites along the Paint Creek Corridor on the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee had already been closed due to flood damage. Four sites on the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest in Nevada dropped their shoulder-season fees but retained fees during prime season when concessionaires operate them. The Squire Creek trailhead on the Mt Baker-Snoqualmie Forest in Washington had already been closed because its access road is washed out. For the Justrite Campground on Idaho’s Payette National Forest, the Forest Service comments state, “Fees were authorized for this site under RFD, with the intention of charging fees when improvements were made. They were not made, so fees were never charged. Site is being dropped from fee program for now.” So it never did charge fees, but there are plans for it to become a fee site in the future. On the Bridger-Teton Forest in Wyoming, the Bridge and Lynx Creek Campgrounds were listed as dropped sites with the comment, “We stopped charging a fee here several years ago.” Yet all of these were included in the 480 sites that the Forest Service claimed were Fee Demo sites that did not meet the new criteria. It is hard not to conclude that the Forest Service was deliberately misleading the public and the Congress with this list.
In Colorado, the Forest Service is citing the FLREA as an excuse to reduce services while implementing more fees. In Heeney, Colorado, 80% of the town turned out for a contentious meeting on September 11, 2005, at which White River National Forest officials announced that they are increasing entry fees at Green Mountain Reservoir while adding restrictions on OHV use and removing some toilet facilities and campfire pits. Campers will be required to bring their own portable toilets, carry out their human waste, and provide their own metal fire pans ($100). In the Summit Daily News, White River National Forest Recreation Program Manager Rich Doak is quoted as saying, “In our development sites we’ve been told they need to pay for themselves, or we need to get rid of them.” The article goes on to say, “Doak attributed the cuts to decisions made in Washington. ‘Last December, Congress passed fee legislation in the Federal Land Recreation Enhancement Act,’ he said, adding that the local district rangers were simply following federal orders.‘They're being forced to do a lot of what they're doing here,’ he said. ‘As for doing nothing, we can't legally do that. So there's no easy answer.’”
Mr. Doak’s remark that “In our development sites we've been told they need to pay for themselves, or we need to get rid of them,” reflects the fact that decisions on whether or not to charge fees are being driven by two similar agency policies, the Recreational Site-Facility Master Planning process (RS-FMP) within the Forest Service and the Cost Recovery doctrine in the BLM. These policies both call for recreational areas to be “sustainable” (i.e. profitable) and to have a marketable “Niche.”
Under the Forest Service’s RS-FMP, recreational sites, trails, campgrounds and roads are being graded as to their sustainability and Niche. Those that are not profitable (including unprofitable fee sites) will be closed to public use or in the case of a trail be allowed to grow back to their natural state. The BLM’s Cost Recovery policy calls for much the same thing.
These doctrines are currently being incorporated into Forest Travel Plans and Forest Management Plans and into the Resource Management Planning process in the BLM. While Congress has vetted neither of these policies, they are being applied nationally with enormous implications for how the FLREA will be implemented and for the overall availability of diverse recreational opportunities on our public lands.
RS-FMP and Cost Recovery will certainly have a negative impact on local tourist economies as recreational opportunities disappear. They will definitely restrict public access to public land despite the fact that the agencies receive a vast majority of their funding from the taxpayer through Congressional appropriations. The implication is that most, if not all, recreational sites, areas, and uses must be profitable, through fees and permits, or they will be closed.
These policies conflict with the language in the FLREA protecting the public’s right to access dispersed areas of public land and to use minimally developed sites without the burden of fees. The doctrine of “fee or close” represented by the RS-FMP and Cost Recovery leaves the agencies’ ability to comply with the FLREA in question.
The Western Slope No-Fee Coalition also has great concern regarding the establishment and the effectiveness of the Recreation Resource Advisory Committees (RRACs) as called for in the FLREA. These RRACs are composed of 11 members mainly from various public land user groups and the outfitter/guide community. Their purpose is to advise the Secretaries of Interior and Agriculture on implementation, expansion or elimination of Standard Amenity and Expanded Amenity fee sites.
Whether or not it is appropriate for the agencies to implement a fee area should be guided by clear, concise legislation that spells out exactly what is allowed and what is not. Public representation through the RRACs should be limited to recommendations regarding amounts of fees and how those revenues might be best spent, not making recommendations or judgments as to what the law allows. The ambiguous and self-contradictory language in the FLREA as written has already led to excessive fees on public land.
While the groups represented on the RRACs come from diverse interests, almost all are dependent on the agencies involved to continue with their particular activity on public land. These groups will have little leeway in weighing various proposals concerning fee implementation, and the agencies will have undue influence over the RRAC’s recommendations. Over-riding Forest Service and BLM policies, such as Cost Recovery and RS-FMP, leave RRACs and RRAC members largely with only two choices for recommendations: to implement a fee program at any given site or have it closed to public use.
Further narrowing the RRACs’ ability to make open recommendations to the Secretaries is the effort underway to limit the number of RRACs to be established nationwide in spite of language in the FLREA requiring one RRAC per state. In fact the Forest Service and BLM have spent much time and have held numerous “lessoning sessions” to try and limit the number of RRACs to one or two nationwide. That would severely limit local input on implementing access fees. Another approach being considered by the agencies is to have existing RACs serve as the RRACs called for in the new law, or to create recreation subcommittees of existing RACs. In either case, recreational interests and user/local input would be minimized.
The Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act never received a vote on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives and was never introduced in or considered by the U.S. Senate. This major change in public land policy was enacted without public participation. Like Fee Demo before it, the FLREA creates incentives within the agencies to push the boundaries on not only what is allowed under the law, but also what is appropriate in terms of public interest.
We urge the distinguished Members of this Subcommittee to take decisive action to remedy the excesses and abuses in implementation that are occurring on our public lands and repeal the provisions of the FLREA that relate to the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, and Fish and Wildlife Service.
Thank you for the opportunity to present these facts and observations about implementation of this law by these two agencies. I am available for any questions you may have.
Mr. Marvel StalcupArizona No-Fee Coalation
Arizona No-Fee Coalition
25 Sierra Roja Cr. Sedona AZ 86351
Marvel C. Stalcup
Before the Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests
Committee on Energy and Natural Resources
United States Senate
October 26, 2005
Mr. Chairman and distinguished members of the Subcommittee;
Thank you for the privilege of testifying before you today concerning the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act, P.L.108-447. It is an act of great concern to me, and I feel obligated to come before you today and tell you why.
I have just read a press release from the United States Forest Service (USFS) in Sedona Arizona dated June 15, 2005. It states that “The Red Rock Pass program clearly meets the conditions described as a High-Impact Recreation Area (HIRA)” and thus “No changes are necessary in the Red Rock Pass program under the REA authorization.” I can testify from personal observation that no changes have been made to the Red Rock Pass program in Sedona since the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA) was enacted. The same signage and fees that were in place during the Fee Demo period are still in place today.
It should be noted however that, in Section 803(d)(1) of the FLREA, language clearly and explicitly prohibits fees solely for parking or picnicking, for general access, for dispersed areas with low investment, for driving or hiking through, for camping at undeveloped sites and for use of overlooks. The HIRA concept does not exist in the FLREA and the USFS is using it to circumvent the intent of Congress as described above. Signs along each of the highways leading to Sedona state “A Red Rock Pass is required to park on the National Forest.” At all of the trail heads and scenic overlooks signs are prominently displayed which read “A Red Rock Pass Required to Park.” The vast majority of these signs mark parking areas that do not have the amenities required by FLREA.
While thinking about my testimony today I glanced down at the coffee table and saw the September 2005 issue of Arizona Highways. On the cover is a photo of a hiker relaxing upon a rock outcrop, enjoying an endless vista of trees and mountains. This photograph symbolizes the essence of our Wilderness areas. The lead article is entitled “This land is your land - Arizona's six national forests celebrate a century of protection and recreation.” I am sure that Howard Zahniser, the author of the Wilderness Act, and the 88th Congress had this hiker in mind when they passed the Act in 1964. To ask this person to buy a pass to sit on a rock and commune with Nature would be sacrilegious.
We have three Wilderness areas around Sedona encompassing some 121,000 acres. Congress designated Sycamore Canyon a wilderness area in 1972 and the Redrock Secret Mountain and Munds Mountain areas in 1984. Of the 72 trails listed on USFS website at www.redrockcountry.org/recreation/trails.shtml 35 are listed as being “in wilderness.” However, the Coconino National Forest has declared the entire area surrounding Sedona an HIRA and is charging fees to access all of our local Wilderness areas.
HIRAs are also limiting public access in other parts of Arizona. Just northeast of Tucson is the Pusch Ridge Wilderness area with almost 57,000 acres that Congress designated in 1978. The Mount Lemmon Highway is the major access to this area and its 26 trailheads and 10 picnic areas. The USFS is using the HIRA to charge $5 per auto to those people using the road, except those stopping at any of the six vistas or those going to campgrounds or private property. The sign at the tollbooth says, “FEE REQUIRED FOR picnicking, all camping, roadside parking, trailheads and restrooms.” The fee is required to park anywhere along the highway, except at designated vistas and there are lots of places where people just pull off and park: climbers, hikers, and folks who just walk into the woods. The Sabino Canyon Visitor center provides the only access to the southern margin of the Pusch Ridge Wilderness Area and thus controls and charges for access to some 50 miles of hiking trails. It seems that the USFS has overruled Congress’s intention to create untrammeled wilderness areas when they began charging for their use.
I attended the University of Idaho under the GI bill and was graduated with a BS in Geology in 1960. I started at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Cape Cod Massachusetts in January 1961 and worked in the Physical Oceanographic Department for 31 years during which I spent considerable time at sea.
They tell the story about an old salt who, when it comes time to retire, puts an oar on his shoulder and walks inland until someone asks him what that thing on his shoulder is. I got as far as Arizona before anyone asked me.
I live among the Red Rocks of Sedona, which is a small enclave of private land surrounded by the Coconino National Forest. The privately owned land was originally homesteads that have been subdivided into house lots and is just about built out. The area has remarkable buttes, ridges, mountains and canyons accented by 300 million year old Redwall Limestone and sandstones, like those of the Grand Canyon.
But, unlike the Grand Canyon, Sedona’s Red Rocks are on a much smaller, more human and less awe-inspiring scale. The scenic beauty of Sedona prompted Congress to designate three Wilderness areas nearby to forever preserve its heritage. I hope that each one of you will visit Sedona sometime soon and permit me to show you our natural wonders. You Senators hold the key to maintaining unfettered access to our forest lands while, at the same time, preserving them for future generations.
Sedona has a population of about 18,000, many of whom are retired from across the nation and throughout the world. Our natural beauty attracts several million visitors each year, who come to view the marvelous colors and extraordinary shapes of our rocks. Some merely stop by the side of the road to take photographs but many others hike and bike our trails.
By one count we have 77 trails in Sedona, almost half of which are within the Wilderness areas. There are about 180 miles of trails and almost everyone in Sedona either hikes, bikes or rides them. We have two clubs dedicated to the preservation and maintenance of our trails. Friends of the Forest (FOF) has a membership of 325 who both staff the visitors' center and work on the trails. The Trails Resource Access Coalition (TRACS) has a membership of 30 and works with the Forest Service to provide trail maintenance twice a month.
In 2004, FOF donated 906 hours of volunteer trail work which saved the USFS $11,968 in labor costs. They also provided funds for high-grade native plant seed to spread on the soil to enhance the visual effect and reduce erosion. Their restoration work also includes transplanting prickly pear cactus to discourage those who try to go off the regular trail. Last year TRACS donated almost 600 hours of trail work to the Forest Service. In addition to these organized efforts, most people I know pick up litter during their hikes. The USFS estimates that local volunteers provide the equivalent of $450,000 per year to the Red Rock District
As you can see our local residents value their forest lands and trails because they are our backyards and we use them on a regular basis. On October 22, 2002 the Sedona City Council voted 5-2 to pass a resolution asking Congress to restore proper funding for public lands in order to eliminate the Recreational Fee Demonstration program. One of the dissenting votes came from a council member calling for an even stronger resolution. The majority of our residents and visitors are opposed to paying fees to access our public lands, especially in our Wilderness areas.
The trailheads at most of the trails we hike consist of a dirt parking lot with space for four to twenty cars and no amenities of any kind. These trailheads have no toilets, no trash bins, no picnic tables and no security services. At some of the parking lots, the USFS has erected a billboard with a map and signage telling hikers to stay on the trails. Just a few parking areas have a machine selling the Red Rock Pass. But in each and every one of these parking areas the USFS has installed a sign informing visitors that “Parked Vehicles must display a Red Rock Pass.” Along the highways leading to Sedona the USFS has placed signs advising visitors that a Red Rock Pass is required to park on the National Forest. Most of the parking areas along the highways and at the trailheads near Sedona do not contain the amenities mandated for day-use areas by FLREA. All of them control access to dispersed, undeveloped, backcountry, for which the FLREA prohibits charging fees.
Information on the internet indicates that the Department of the Interior and the USDA hosted a Regional Listening Session in Phoenix on July 14, 2005 to both distribute information and collect input relating to the establishment of the Recreation Advisory Committee. I have requested a progress report from the Department of Interior, the Department of Agriculture, the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service and am anxiously awaiting a reply. I sincerely hope that the USFS will establish such a committee in Arizona to address the problems associated with the public's recreational use of public lands.
Howard Zahniser, author of the 1964 Wilderness Act, used the word “untrammeled” to define Wilderness and he defined “untrammeled” as “not being subject to human controls and manipulations that hamper the free play of natural forces.”
It seems to me that the authors of this legislation intended to protect Wilderness areas for posterity, which implies that they wanted us and our offspring to be able to visit them in perpetuity. I am certain that they never expected that the public would be made to pay access fees for the privilege. The untrammeled nature of our wilderness areas has been severely compromised when the USFS uses their HIRA concept to force us to buy a pass to enjoy them.
I have included excerpts from the 1964 Wilderness Act at the end of this testimony for review.
Mr. Chairman I request that both my written and oral testimony be made part of this
Public Law 88-577
88th Congress, S. 4
September 3, 1964
To establish a National Wilderness Preservation System for the permanent good of the whole people, and for other purposes.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,
Section 1. This Act may be cited as the "Wilderness Act".
WILDERNESS SYSTEM ESTABLISHED STATEMENT OF POLICY
Sec. 2. (a) In order to assure that an increasing population, accompanied by expanding settlement and growing mechanization, does not occupy and modify all areas within the United States and its possessions, leaving no lands designated for preservation and protection in their natural condition, it is hereby declared to be the policy of the Congress to secure for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness. For this purpose there is hereby established a National Wilderness Preservation System to be composed of federally owned areas designated by Congress as "wilderness areas", and these shall be administered for the use and enjoyment of the American people in such manner as will leave them unimpaired for future use as wilderness, and so as to provide for the protection of these areas, the preservation of their wilderness character, and for the gathering and dissemination of information regarding their use and enjoyment as wilderness; and no Federal lands shall be designated as "wilderness areas" except as provided for in this Act or by a subsequent Act.
(b) The inclusion of an area in the National Wilderness Preservation System notwithstanding, the area shall continue to be managed by the Department and agency having jurisdiction thereover immediately before its inclusion in the National Wilderness Preservation System unless otherwise provided by Act of Congress. No appropriation shall be available for the payment of expenses or salaries for the administration of the National Wilderness Preservation System as a separate unit nor shall any appropriations be available for additional personnel stated as being required solely for the purpose of managing or administering areas solely because they are included within the National Wilderness Preservation System.
DEFINITION OF WILDERNESS
(c) A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain. An area of wilderness is further defined to mean in this Act an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions and which (1) generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man's work substantially unnoticeable; (2) has outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation; (3) has at least five thousand acres of land or is of sufficient size as to make practicable its preservation and use in an unimpaired condition; and (4) may also contain ecological, geological, or other features of scientific, educational, scenic, or historical value.
PROHIBITION OF CERTAIN USES
4 (c) Except as specifically provided for in this Act, and subject to existing private rights, there shall be no commercial enterprise and no permanent road within any wilderness area designated by this Act and, except as necessary to meet minimum requirements for the administration of the area for the purpose of this Act (including measures required in emergencies involving the health and safety of persons within the area), there shall be no temporary road, no use of motor vehicles, motorized equipment or motorboats, no landing of aircraft, no other form of mechanical transport, and no structure or installation within any such area.