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Special Permit Fee

The Land and Water Conservation Fund also authorizes federal 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.

Entrance Fees

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

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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 a 50 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 (or 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

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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.'

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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.

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Major Issues to Consider

You may wish to consider the following issues or concerns regarding recreation fees at Thursday's hearing.

Philosophy

How valid is the Administration's (and other's) view that users of federal recreation lands should pay a larger share?

Is this concept more applicable to user fees such as
camping than to entrance or admission fees?

How much of a burden should the visitor bear? The Senate Budget Resolution comtemplates 25 percent. Is that not enough or too much? How does one determine such a figure?

Do other users of the federal lands (e.g. those who graze cattle, or cut timber, etc.) also bear a fair share of the costs associated with the federal investment in those activities?

Level of Fees

Assuming that fees are increased, how much of an increase
is reasonable? In economic terms, how "price elastic" is
the demand for visits to federal lands? Studies have
shown that in theory people are willing to pay higher fees
but does this willingness as determined by surveys
translate into a willingness to really pay higher fees?

Although entrance fees are frozen, user fees are not. Since FY 1980, user fees have increased from $19,644,600 to $35,058,750 in FY 1984 a 44% increase. How much more should these fees be increased?

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National Park entrance fees which are frozen at 1979 levels currently total approximately $8.2 million and range from $0.50 to $3.00 per vehicle. How much additional revenue should these fees bring in? How fast should they rise, if at all? Is it reasonable to charge the public $3.00 - $6.00 per vehicle to drive into a park and spend only a few hours?

Should a new fee policy be implemented with new authority for higher fees, how do Congress and the agencies ensure that OMB won't use this new authority as a means to make unrealistic budget assumptions and demands for higher and higher levels of revenue?

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How Should The Fees Be Used

Once collected, how should the fee revenues be used?
Should they be returned to the agency or even the specific
unit or should they be used as they are now to acquire new
recreation lands? Is it reasonable to make these funds
subject to appropriation or should they be available
without further appropriation?

If the fee revenues are credited to the agencies, will OMB insist that regular operating budgets be reduced accordingly? It should be noted that Congressional concern about an explicit linkage of this sort resulted in the entrance fee freeze in the first place.

Admission Fees for Forest Service and BLM Lands

Without huge park entrance and user fee increases, the
only way to meet the Administration's goal of collecting
$82 million in new fees seems to be to institute some type
of entrance fee for National Forests and the BLM. Does it
make sense to charge the public an entrance fee for these
types of federal lands? How do you collect such fees when
there may be literally hundreds of access points?

Should you have any questions about the upcoming hearing or desire any additional information, please do not hesitate to contact me at 4-7145.

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