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.