Recreation Fee Testimony

The Antiplanner is testifying this morning before the House Public Lands Subcommittee in favor of allowing federal land agencies to charge dispersed recreation fees (agencies today can charge for developed recreation, but not dispersed). My testimony is only two pages long, as it is supplemented by a just-released Cato Institute report on the same subject.

The report spends several pages debunking arguments against recreation fees, but my testimony concentrates on three arguments in favor. First, my proposal calls for half of all recreation fees to go the Treasury, which will help reduce the cost to taxpayers of managing federal lands.

Second, fees will lead to better land management. In particular, dispersed recreationists (whose activities today are, by law, fee-free) prefer landscapes that have healthy, natural ecosystems; diverse wildlife habitat; and clean water. So dispersed recreation fees will give managers incentives to provide more of those things.

Third, fees will increase recreation opportunities, especially in the West, where the federal government is such a dominant landowner that it sets the price for many resources. If it chooses to give most recreation away for free, other landowners can hardly charge and thus have little interest in catering to recreationists. But if the feds charge, state agencies and private landowners can also charge, and experiences in the South have shown that when private landowners charge for recreation, they greatly alter their land-management practices to favor wildlife and water quality.

In short, fees are a win-win-win policy: taxpayers, ecosystems, and recreationists themselves all benefit. Opponents of dispersed recreation fees should have a hard time explaining why they alone, among all public land users, should get to use federal lands for free.


3 thoughts on “Recreation Fee Testimony

  1. Frank

    1. Should it cost more to camp for one night on undeveloped USFS land than it does to graze a cow for a month?

    2. Instead of advocating federal land management, why don’t you advocate non-profit land trusts?

    3. Why do you recommend 50% go back to the Treasury? You state this is “arbitrary.” Won’t that money end up in other programs, like DoD or SNAP or where ever politicians’ whims want it? Why not have 100% of fees stay with the agency? Why not offset their base budgets by this amount to discourage overuse/over development?

    4. Do you really think recreation users really receive “free access to public lands”? What about the federal taxes they pay?

    5. Isn’t it time to go after private ski resorts and lodges and USFS concessions that profit from government subsidy? Why should these private business profit on the taxpayers’ backs? Shouldn’t their revenue contribute to agency operation costs? Aren’t these the people who are really ripping off government because the fees they pay do not reflect fair-market value?

  2. Frank

    Regarding ski resorts: Transparency is lacking in how much in fees ski resorts and lodges on USFS land pay and whether they’re paying fair market value. One older article maintains that ” [t]heForest Service takes a small percentage, between 1.5 percent and 4 percent, of the gross revenue of ticket sales on Forest Service land. Restaurant revenue, retail sales and lodging fees are not part of the Forest Service‚Äôs permit fee equation.” And those paltry fees go to the general fund, of course, not directly to operation costs of the specific agency on which they’re located, agencies that provide services like road plowing, policing, environmental mitigation, SAR, etc.

    Focusing on dispersed campers is a red herring; maybe you can shine a light on these corporatist ski resorts and concession companies; you know, the ones who are really taking advantage of the system and screwing the taxpayer.

  3. Dan

    That 3.2 earthquake earlier today? Me agreeing with Frank. It is past time to stop grazing marginal lands and let them recover. And range cattle in Wilderness Areas? No. And ski resort expansion? Many things to fix that have built up over the years.


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