« PreviousContinue »
Two, create management incentives to collect fees by allowing collecting parks to use the revenues for park purposes and distribute part of the receipts to those parks that do not collect fees; and Three, specifically exclude urban parks and parkways.
We know that there is also a need to address user fees and other significant limitations in our current recreation fee authorities which involve other agencies. We urge you to consider these recommendations.
Increased recreation fees have a number of potential advantages. In addition to the dollar value of the entrance fee collected, the process can be a management tool, assist in security and safety, and provide information to members of the public as they enter a park and create a favorable first impression that is so important in improving visitors' attitudes and respect for park values.
I feel strongly that the enactment of our proposal represents a new opportunity for the National Park Service in these difficult economic times, to maintain the quality of the parks with the full support of the visiting public.
We want to work with you, State officials, interest groups, and members of the general public to begin to formulate an approach which will ensure that visitors pay a fair share of the park expenses, and funds are generated which can be used to enhance maintenance and operations.
Thank you very much for this opportunity to present to you our ideas on recreation fees and our entrance fee proposal. I am accompanied here today by representatives of other Interior bureaus with recreational responsibilities, and we would be pleased to answer any questions you or other members of the committee may have. Thank you very much.
Senator WALLOP. Thank you, Mr. Director.
I think we'll go on through the panel and then question the panel generally, because some questions may be redundant. Frank, do you have a statement on behalf of BLM?
Mr. EDWARDS. No, Mr. Chairman, I do not have a prepared statement. I'll be glad to try to answer any questions the committee may have.
Senator WALLOP. I appreciate that.
Then Chief Peterson.
STATEMENT OF R. MAX PETERSON, CHIEF, FOREST SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
Mr. PETERSON. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Since you have my complete statement, I could summarize my statement, if you, would accept my full statement for the record. Senator WALLOP. By all means.
Mr. PETERSON. I appreciate being here today to express the Department of Agriculture's views and to recommend certain changes in the Land and Water Conservation Act.
Mr. Chairman, we're well aware of the deep interest of you, Senator McClure, and many other people on the whole question of fees. We have searched during the last several years with many user groups to see what might be a consensus as to dealing with the basic problem of increasing deficits, concern for how to meet future recreation needs without creating a situation where some people
would feel like they were being nickeled and dimed to death for the use of public lands.
I fully understand that concern and have some of that feeling myself. I was born inside of a national forest; my family has lived there, and like so many people near national forests sort of assume that the use of that forest is a part of our heritage.
The real question we're facing is how do we meet increasing needs for recreation in a budget deficit situation and declining budgetary resource? We'll make certain suggestions today and then agree that we'll continue to work with you on what you might work out.
The Forest Service, as you know, provides 228 million days of recreation, about 42 percent of the total recreation visitors days use of public lands-more than any other agency by far. This is roughly equivalent to every man, woman, and child in the United States spending 12 hours on a national forest during a year.
We maintain about 6,000 campgrounds and picnic areas, 4,000 other recreation sites, and 3,000 sites such as ski areas, resorts, and marinas.
One of our problems is that only about one-third of the use of national forests occurs in developed sites. Much of it occurs along trails and roads-driving, hiking, rock climbing, and so on.
The other problem that we have is that we have multiple roads going into these areas with intermingled private lands, so it is in most cases virtually impossible to set up a few entrance stations to collect fees.
Currently we're collecting fees at about 2,300 recreation sites, with revenue in 1984 of about $12 million. We have some practical problems because there are several limitations in the Land and Water Conservation Fund as to what areas we can charge for. For example, the Land and Water Conservation Act only allows us to charge fees at campgrounds that include a tent or trailer space, drinking water, access road, refuge container, toilet facilities, personal collection of fees by employee or agent of the Federal Government, reasonable visitor protection, and simple devices for containing a camp fire. We have many sites which meet most of the criteria but not all and we are not allowed to charge a reasonable user fee.
Let me give you an example in Utah where we have a large water-related recreational complex. We have found out by experience that, rather than put a garbage can at a site, which promptly gets overloaded by the first two visitors, we've established the principle there that people take the refuge out, and it's working quite well.
Literally, the Land and Water Conservation Fund says you can't collect any fee for that area. Now, that doesn't make any sense.
We have some other areas that are heavily used near large population areas where we do not provide drinking water year around, because there are nearby places to provide drinking water or the water system would freeze and be destroyed by cold weather. We're literally prohibited from charging a fee for those areas when there is no drinking water.
So our first priority would be to remove these specific limitations from the Land and Water Conservation Fund so we could charge appropriate fees at other areas. We have no indication that there would be public objection. It has general support.
Another principle that Director Mott already alluded to is that prior to 1981, the money collected was made available to the agencies for doing work for recreation purposes. Beginning in fiscal year 1981, by appropriation language change, that money was no longer available to the agency. I think much of the public objection to paying would not be there if they knew the money was going to come back to work on those areas.
Many Forest Service facilities date back to the CCC, as you're well aware. We simply are going to have to face the problem of either closing those areas or finding the money to rehabilitate them. We've gone on year after year trying to keep them going, and we're simply reaching the point in many cases where that's no longer feasible.
The President's fiscal year 1986 budget, as you're aware, anticipated that revenue collected from recreation users would at least equal 25 percent of the recreation costs. For the recommendations that we've made, primarily to remove these limitations, that 25 percent is feasible for national forests, without going into a complete entrance fee system.
Now, we do believe that there are some areas where we provide recreational facilities or services at a fairly high cost and where we have permit systems to use those areas, where there would be no objection to a small fee. The Boundary Waters Canoe Areas in Minnesota, is an example where we already require permits and we provide substantial numbers and kinds of services for that special area. We've had all kinds of people say why don't you charge $10 for this use; nobody would object to it.
We have other areas where we have a substantial number of facilities, and rather than charge at each facility, which becomes difficult, that there would be an area fee. Many of these areas are not congressionally designated. Many of these areas of highest public use of the national forests are areas near metropolitan areas where we have a recreational complex.
We believe that by adopting these changes in the Land and Water Conservation Fund restrictions and giving us some common sense authority to charge in areas where we have facilities and services that are unusual that there would be general public support, would meet the goal of having some more money to fix up these facilities, and we do not believe it would be highly controversial.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Peterson follows:]
R. MAX PETERSON, CHIEF
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
Subcommittee on Public Lands, Reserved Water and Resource Conservation
Or recreation fees as authorized in the Land and Water
June 27, 1985
MR. CHAIRMAN AND MEMBERS OF THE SUBCOMMITTEE:
I appreciate the opportunity to participate in this hearing on recreation fees as authorized in the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act and present the Department of Agriculture's recommended changes to that Act. We are well aware of the interest surrounding recreation user fees and any proposed changes to existing authorizing statutes. Uses of recreation areas and facilities and the costs of providing them have expanded at a greater rate than has the funding available for maintaining, refurbishing, and improving those areas and facilities. Current economic and budgetary realities limit our ability to meet recreation needs. We, as an agency providing a major portion of the Nation's outdoor recreation have a difficult task ahead in providing for the recreation use. We would like to describe our recreation programs and our recommendations for changes in fee authorities to help us provide recreation services and facilities.
In 1984, the National Forests provided 228 million Recreation Visitor Days
We maintain a total of 6,000 campground and picnic grounds along with another 4,000 sites such as swimming, boating, observation and interpretive.
An additional 3,000 sites such as ski areas, resorts and marinas are operated and maintained by the private sector through special use permits on National Forest System lands.
Recreation use at our developed sites and our special use permitted sites totals a little over one-third of our recreation use. The remaining use is within our dispersed recreation category which includes countless primitive facilities, 100,000 miles of maintained trails, and 300,000 miles of roads, in the general forest setting of approximately 191,000,000 acres of National Forest System lands.
Current Fee System Under Land and Water Conservation Fund
Currently we are charging recreation user fees at approximately 2,300 recreation sites with revenues in fiscal year 1984 of approximately $12 million. Authorization for these charges is Section 4(b) of the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act, as amended, which allows fees to be charged at campgrounds that have the following: tent or trailer spaces, drinking water, access roads, refuse containers, toilet facilities, personal collection of the fee by an employee or agent of the Federal agency, reasonable visitor protection, and simple devices for containing a campfire. Fees may also be charged where mechanized or hydraulic boat lifts are provided. Primarily, our fee sites are campgrounds, and our average fee is approximately $5.00 each night for a camp unit with a