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giving the Secretary's of the Interior and Agriculture new authority to collect more fees in areas that currently charge them and to begin charging fees in areas where it is currently, unlawful to do so. That is the primary purpose of the oversight hearing to examine the options available to the Committee in meeting the directives contained in the Budget Resolution.
It should be noted that the House-passed Budget Resolution does not assume these fee increases. Therefore, it is not clear at this point whether the final Budget Resolution will include these instructions regarding fees. Nor is it clear what level of revenue would ultimately be raised since the only way to insure that increased fees will result in more income to the Treasury is to require (force) people to attend parks and pay the fees!
In any event, the hearing will be helpful since significant fee increases and new fee raising authority have been sought by the Administration since 1981 and will likely be before the Committee at some point during this Congress.
The collection of fees from users of federal park and recreation areas dates back at least to 1908 when fees were instituted at Mount Ranier National Park, Washington, the first park to admit automobiles. Automobiles and fees for their entry followed at a number of parks during the next decade. The charges for auto permits were justified as offsetting the costs of road building in the parks. Over the next 50 years, the fee collection system grew and spread to other land managing agencies through a series of special laws, regulations, and administrative decisions.
1964 marked the passage of the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act (P.L. 98-578) and with it the first comprehensive recreation fee authority for land managing agencies. Through a series of amendments enacted during the past 20 years, the Land and Water Conservation Fund now authorizes the seven federal land managing agencies to charge certain types of fees at areas where specialized outdoor recreation facilities, equipment, or services are provided at federal expense. These agencies are the National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Reclamation of the Department of the Interior; Forest Service of the Department of Agriculture, Corp of Engineers of the Department of the Army and the Tennessee Valley Authority. Those agencies collect three types of recreation fees; user, special permit, and entrance fees.
User fees are charged by all seven agencies for the use of specialized sites, facilities, equipment or services furnished at federal expense. By far, the most common fees in this category are fees for camp and trailer sites.
Under the provisions of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, fees cannot be charged for the use of any campsite unless the campground in which the site is located has all of the following:
1) tent or trailer spaces;
or agent of the bureau operating the
Fees may also be charged for boat launching if the launching area is equipped with specialized facilities or services such as mechanical hydraulic lifts.
User fees account for, by far, the largest amount of fee revenue. of the $44,135,560 of recreational fees collected in FY 1984, $35,058,750 were user fees. Table i lists user fees by agency for fiscal year 1984.
Special Permit Fee
The Land and Water Conservation Fund also authorizes fe ra land managing agencies to charge special permit fees for users such as group camping, recreation events, motorized recreation vehicles, etc.. In FY 1985, $843,510 in special permit fees were collected.
The final category fo fees authorized by the Land and Water Conservation Fund is entrance fees. Only the National Park Service, currently collects entrance fees although the law permits their collection at National Recreation Areas administered by the Department of Agriculture. The Land and Water Conservation Fund states that:
"No admission fees of any kind shall be charged or imposed for entrance into any other federally owned areas which are operated and maintained by a federal agency and used for outdoor recreation purposes."
Entrance fees are currently charged at 65 units of the National Park Service. In FY 1984, $8,137,629 in entrance fees were collected at these units. Table 2 lists each unit, the amount charged, whether that amount is per vehicle or per person, and the revenue generated. (See Table 2)
Entrance Fee Freeze
Sec. 402 of P.L. 96-87 imposed a freeze on Park Service entrance fees at the level in effect on January 1, 1979. This provision also prohibited the imposition of entrance fees at any park units where such fees were not being charged as of that date. This freeze was adopted in response to a proposal by the Carter Administration to increase Park Service fees (entrance and user) by 70% in one year and use the funds collected for park maintenance activities. Both the size of the increase and the proposed linkage to maintenance activities resulted in the entrance fee moratorium. That freeze is still in effect although the Reagan Administration and others have recommended its repeal since 1981.
Golden Eagle/Golden Age/Golden Access Passport Programs
The Land and Water Conservation Fund authorizes the issuance of three special "passports" that may be used in lieu of certain fees. The Golden Eagle Passport is an annual entrance permit
that may be used an unlimited number of times during one calendar year at any National Park Service area that charges an entrance fee. Its annual cost of $10 is prescribed by the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act. In FY 1984, $1,175,060 were collected through the sale of Golden Eagle Passports. All but $3,290 were collected by the National Park Service.
The Golden Age and Golden Access Passports are free to those persons over 62 (Golden Age) or blind or disabled (Golden Access). These passports permit these persons free lifetime admission to parks where entance fees ar charged as well as percent discount on federal use fees charged for facilities and services such as camping.
Disposition of Fee Revenues
The Land and Water Conservation Fund originally included a provision crediting all fee revenues into the Land and Water Conservation Fund to be used, subject to appropriation, to acquire park lands. In 1972, the law was amended to cover the fee revenues into a separate Treasury account to be used, subject to appropriation, "for any authorized outdoor recreation function of the agency by which the fees were collected." This special account was envisioned as an incentive for fee collection by the land managing agencies. In practice, however, OMB continually reduced the agency's budget request by the amount collected in fees so the incentive to raise "extra" money for the lands involved quickly disappeared. In the 1981 Interior Appropriations Act, the separate fee account was abandoned and the fees deposited once again into the Land and Water Conservation Fund where they are to be used for land acquisition and state planning and development grants.
Recent Legislative Interest
As noted earlier, the Reagan Administration has supported increased recreation fees since its first budget submitted in 1981. The cornerstone of the Administration's philosophy is that those who benefit directly from specific federal services should pay the cost for a portion of the cost) of providing those services. In each of its budget submissions the Administration has indicated that it would be transmitting comprehensive recreation fee legislation covering all land managing agencies. This legislation would presumably involve fee increases where such fees are deemed too low (e.g. entrance fees at parks and Golden Eagle Passports) as well as providing authority for agencies to charge new and different fees in instances where that authority does not now exist (e.g. admission fees for National
Forest System or BLM lands and fees for primitive camping, picnicing, etc.)
Despite these repeated statements of intent, no comprehensive fee legislation has been sent forward and introduced since Presdent Reagan took office. The closest anything has come was the "Recreation Fees and Improvement Act of 1982" that was transmitted but later "withdrawn" because of "misunderstandings" about its content. In fact, that proposal would have permitted the sale of entry permits for access to federal lands for hunting and fishing purposes. In a press release on February 26, 1982, Subcommittee Chairman Malcolm Wallop stated:
"It (the bill) is a disaster and there is no way I would have any part of legislation requiring permits on public lands for hunting and fishing."
Although this legislation was a comprehensive revision of the recreation fee program, the federal hunting and fishing license provisions doomed it from the start. It has never been retransmitted. A bill limited to only the National Park Service was later forwarded but no action was ever taken by the Congress. The United States Forest Service transmitted a proposal in the 98th Congress that was limited solely to the Forest Service. It focused on expanding the types of facilities where the Forest Service could charge user fees (i.e. the level of campground development required, etc.). The legislation was never considered.
This year, a number of draft proposals have been circulated by the Administration but nothing formally transmitted. A new Forest Service proposal contemplated entrance or admission permits for access to National Forests. Such a proposal was not greeted enthusiastically by many, including Senator McClure who told Department Assistant Secretary of Agriculture Douglas MacCleery at the Forest Service budget hearings in March:
"I say only half facetiously that your attempt to charge an entrance fee to use the public lands will be the greatest boon the National Rifle Association ever had, because every on of our citizens is going to want to own a gun."
At last check, there was yet another draft comprehensive fee proposal being circulated informally, this time by OMB. The thrust of this draft seems to be that it would be an "interim" proposal pending the report of the President's Commission on Outdoor Recreation. Although this Commission was created by Executive Order in January, the members have still not been chosen. It is not clear when (or even if) the Commission will have its first meeting. If such a Commission ever does get established, it is certain to examine fee options and policies.