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Access Fund Work Helps Reduce Fee Demo Extension


 

by Editor

December 29, 2001

Camp4 - Climbing News Archive

On October 10, the House and Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittees extended the Recreation Fee Demonstration Program ("Fee Demo") for two years instead of the four years initially proposed. This scaling back of Fee Demo is a victory resulting from concerted lobbying efforts by the Access Fund, the Outdoor Industry Association, American Whitewater, American Hiking Society, American Alpine Club, Outward Bound, and others.

Fee Demo imposes fees on certain recreational users of lands managed by the federal land management agencies. This is not an entrance fee but a use fee for simply walking, paddling, climbing, fishing or biking on public lands. The Fee Demo program was intended to supplement, not supplant, the general appropriations approved by Congress to support our public lands. Fee Demo, however, has been plagued with problems related to implementation, agency accountability, and equity. Furthermore, public support for the program has decreased considerably.

The Access Fund opposes the implementation of use fees to access wilderness areas and other backcountry sites where administrative support is neither required nor desired by recreationists. Therefore, there should be no "pay-to-play" where "playing" costs nothing. America's national parks, forests, wildlife refuge, recreation areas and open spaces are the heritage of every citizen and access to these lands must be preserved. Importantly, Congress should provide funding for the necessary protection and maintenance of our public lands through annual budget appropriations.

Congress initially authorized Fee Demo in 1996 for a three-year test period. Following this "test" Congress extended the program for successive one-year periods, and recently Congress proposed another larger four-year extension. However, after strenuous input by human-powered recreationists opposing the four-year extension, Congress agreed to two years. Congress specifically "provided this extension to allow the authorizing committees with jurisdiction to continue their assessment of this program and to provide for a permanent solution to this issue."

Furthermore, Congress strongly encouraged "the agencies implementing this program to focus on public service, work closely with local communities and the recreational industry, and to use the receipts to enhance visitor services and reduce the backlog in deferred maintenance." Significantly, the FY 2002 Interior Appropriations bill also increased general appropriations to the federal land management agencies as advocated by the Access Fund and others.

While the human-powered recreation community succeeded in limiting the extension of Fee Demo and increasing general appropriations, there is more work to be done. Jason Keith, AF Policy Analyst, attended the September 25, 2001 Oversight Hearing on Fee Demo held by the House Subcommittee on Forests & Forest Health, submitted testimony for that hearing. Also he lobbied Congress about restructuring the Fee Demo program to reflect the policy position of the Access Fund. There is reason to believe that some congressional members may be inclined to sponsor such a bill. The Access Fund has also been working on the use fee issue with lobbyists at the DC firm of Higgins, McGovern & Smith, LLC to keep backcountry and wilderness areas free of charge.

News courtesy of The Access Fund.



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