SPEAKERS CONTENTS INSERTS
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HEARING ON FEE DEMONSTRATION PROGRAMSSUCCESSES AND FAILURES
SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS AND PUBLIC LANDS
COMMITTEE ON RESOURCES
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
ONE HUNDRED FIFTH CONGRESS
FEBRUARY 26, 1998, WASHINGTON, DC
Serial No. 10573
Page 2 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCPrinted for the use of the Committee on Resources
COMMITTEE ON RESOURCES
DON YOUNG, Alaska, Chairman
W.J. (BILLY) TAUZIN, Louisiana
JAMES V. HANSEN, Utah
JIM SAXTON, New Jersey
ELTON GALLEGLY, California
JOHN J. DUNCAN, Jr., Tennessee
JOEL HEFLEY, Colorado
JOHN T. DOOLITTLE, California
WAYNE T. GILCHREST, Maryland
KEN CALVERT, California
RICHARD W. POMBO, California
BARBARA CUBIN, Wyoming
HELEN CHENOWETH, Idaho
LINDA SMITH, Washington
GEORGE P. RADANOVICH, California
WALTER B. JONES, Jr., North Carolina
WILLIAM M. (MAC) THORNBERRY, Texas
JOHN SHADEGG, Arizona
JOHN E. ENSIGN, Nevada
ROBERT F. SMITH, Oregon
Page 3 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCCHRIS CANNON, Utah
KEVIN BRADY, Texas
JOHN PETERSON, Pennsylvania
RICK HILL, Montana
BOB SCHAFFER, Colorado
JIM GIBBONS, Nevada
MICHAEL D. CRAPO, Idaho
GEORGE MILLER, California
EDWARD J. MARKEY, Massachusetts
NICK J. RAHALL II, West Virginia
BRUCE F. VENTO, Minnesota
DALE E. KILDEE, Michigan
PETER A. DeFAZIO, Oregon
ENI F.H. FALEOMAVAEGA, American Samoa
NEIL ABERCROMBIE, Hawaii
SOLOMON P. ORTIZ, Texas
OWEN B. PICKETT, Virginia
FRANK PALLONE, Jr., New Jersey
CALVIN M. DOOLEY, California
CARLOS A. ROMERO-BARCELÓ, Puerto Rico
MAURICE D. HINCHEY, New York
ROBERT A. UNDERWOOD, Guam
SAM FARR, California
PATRICK J. KENNEDY, Rhode Island
Page 4 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCADAM SMITH, Washington
WILLIAM D. DELAHUNT, Massachusetts
CHRIS JOHN, Louisiana
DONNA CHRISTIAN-GREEN, Virgin Islands
RON KIND, Wisconsin
LLOYD DOGGETT, Texas
LLOYD A. JONES, Chief of Staff
ELIZABETH MEGGINSON, Chief Counsel
CHRISTINE KENNEDY, Chief Clerk/Administrator
JOHN LAWRENCE, Democratic Staff Director
Subcommittee on National Parks and Public Lands
JAMES V. HANSEN, Utah, Chairman
ELTON, GALLEGLY, California
JOHN J. DUNCAN, Jr., Tennessee
JOEL HEFLEY, Colorado
WAYNE T. GILCHREST, Maryland
RICHARD W. POMBO, California
HELEN CHENOWETH, Idaho
LINDA SMITH, Washington
GEORGE P. RADANOVICH, California
WALTER B. JONES, Jr., North Carolina
JOHN B. SHADEGG, Arizona
Page 5 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCJOHN E. ENSIGN, Nevada
ROBERT F. SMITH, Oregon
RICK HILL, Montana
JIM GIBBONS, Nevada
ENI F.H. FALEOMAVAEGA, American Samoa
EDWARD J. MARKEY, Massachusetts
NICK J. RAHALL II, West Virginia
BRUCE F. VENTO, Minnesota
DALE E. KILDEE, Michigan
FRANK PALLONE, Jr., New Jersey
CARLOS A. ROMERO-BARCELÓ, Puerto Rico
MAURICE D. HINCHEY, New York
ROBERT A. UNDERWOOD, Guam
PATRICK J. KENNEDY, Rhode Island
WILLIAM D. DELAHUNT, Massachusetts
DONNA CHRISTIAN-GREEN, Virgin Islands
RON KIND, Wisconsin
LLOYD DOGGETT, Texas
ALLEN FREEMYER, Counsel
P. DANIEL SMITH, Professional Staff
LIZ BIRNBAUM, Democratic Counsel
C O N T E N T S
Page 6 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Hearing held February 26, 1998
Statements of Members:
Chenoweth, Hon. Helen, a Representative in Congress from the State of Idaho
Hansen, Hon. James V., a Representative in Congress from the State of Utah
Herger, Hon. Wally, a Representative in Congress from the State of California
Prepared statement of
Radanovich, Hon. George P., a Representative in Congress from the State of California, prepared statement of
Regula, Hon. Ralph, a Representative in Congress from the State of Ohio
Prepared statement of
Smith, Hon. Robert F. (Bob), a Representative in Congress from the State of Oregon
Statements of witnesses:
Bachrach, John Christopher, Treasurer and Board Member, Grand Canyon Private Boaters Association
Prepared statement of
Berry, John M., Assistant Secretary, Policy Management and Budget, Department of the Interior; accompanied by Henry Rodger Schmitt, Group Manager, Recreation Group, Bureau of Land Management
Prepared statement of Mr. Berry
Coyne, Alasdair, Conservation Director, Keep the Sespe Wild
Prepared statement of
Crandall, Derrick, President, American Recreation Coalition
Prepared statement of
Dingman, Robert, American Motorcyclist Association, Washington, DC
Prepared statement of
Page 7 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCFretwell, Holly, Research Associate, Political Economy Research Center
Prepared statement of
Johnson, Myrna, Director of Government Affairs, Outdoor Recreation Coalition of America, prepared statement of
Laverty, Lyle, Former Director, Recreation Programs, Regional Forester, Rocky Mountain Region, U.S. Forest Service; accompanied by Greg Super, National Recreation Fee Demonstration Program Coordinator, U.S. Forest Service; Linda Feldman and Floyd Thompson
Prepared statement of Mr. Laverty
Mackey, Craig, Public Policy Liaison, Outward Bound
Prepared statement of
Santini, James D., Washington DC Representative, National Tour Association and former Member of Congress
Prepared statement of
Sloan, Mary Margaret, Conservation Director, American Hiking Society
Prepared statement of
Stavely, Gaylord, Vice President, National Forest Recreation Association
Prepared statement of
Voorhees, Philip David, Associate Director of Policy and Development, National Parks and Conservation Area
Prepared statement of
Additional material supplied:
Andersen, Heide, Conservation Director, Colorado Mountain Club, prepared statement of
Colby, Wendy, Bend, Oregon, prepared statement of
Neubauer, Dale, Bend, Oregon, prepared statement of
Page 8 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCSpohn, Isabell, Twisp, Washington, prepared statement of
U.S. Dept. of the Interior and the Dept. of Agriculture, ''Recreational Fee Demonstration Program''
Vaughan, Ray, Executive Director, Wildlaw, Montgomery, Alabama
Waldheim, Edward H., President, Calfornia Off Road Vehicle Assoc., Glendale California
HEARING ON FEE DEMONSTRATION PROGRAMSSUCCESSES AND FAILURES
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 26, 1998
House of Representatives, Subcommittee on National Parks and Public Lands, Committee on Resources, Washington, DC.
The Subcommittee met, pursuant to notice, at 10 a.m., in room 132, Longworth House Office Building, Hon. James V. Hansen (chairman of the Subcommittee) presiding.
STATEMENT OF HON. JAMES V. HANSEN, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF UTAH
Mr. HANSEN. [presiding] I've scheduled this hearing today to continue the longstanding involvement of the members of this Subcommittee in examining the issues of recreation fees on Federal lands.
As many of you are aware, this Subcommittee held several hearings on recreation fee proposals during the first session of the 10th Congress. Several members of the Subcommittee and several of the witnesses today will have fond memories of our discussion during 1995. However, today we will review the successes and failures of the recreational fee demonstration program that the Congress authorized in the Omnibus Consolidation Rescissions Act of 1996 and amended in subsequent legislation during fiscal year 1997 and fiscal year 1998.
Currently, this recreational fee demonstration program authorizes the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Land Management, and the Forest Service to establish fee collection programs at up to 100 sites for each agency. The fee demonstration program allows these agencies to retain 80 percent of the fee at the collecting unit, and the remaining 20 percent is available to the collecting agency at management discretion.
Page 9 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The agencies are collecting a variety of entrance and user fees to test the feasibility of user-generated cost recovery for operation and maintenance costs, and to address the backlog repair and maintenance of infrastructure. The fees are also being used for interpretation, facility enhancement, and resource management projects. However, I am concerned that some fees are being spent on items that do not fit within these areas.
I am pleased to note that, generally, public awareness and acceptance of the fee demonstration program has been positive. I have long held the view that if the fees are fair and reasonable, and the funds are retained at the site to enhance the visitor experience, that the American public will support a fee program. However, we will hear testimony today that will show that not all of the public is totally convinced of the rationale for charging cost-recovery fees on the public lands.
This hearing will serve to provide necessary information for this Subcommittee to consider legislation that would provide permanent authorization for the recreational fee demonstration program under the Land and Water Conservation Act of 1965. I believe that the recreational fee program is the most fair and realistic way to address the backlog problems of the Federal land used by the American people. I fully realize there's some problems with the current recreation fee program; however, this hearing will help us to make decisions that will correct these deficiencies, explain this program to the public, and enhance outdoor recreation experiences for everyone. I look forward to the testimony we will receive today, and appreciate the efforts of all of you to be present and express your views on this important program.
I hope you folks realize there's a dozen hearings going on all over the Hill, most of them on CIA and Iraq and things such as that, so it's, I don't know why, but anyway you will see members dribble in and out, and I apologize that not everyone's here right now, but I've been assured that many will come. Normally, at usual congressional time, which is twenty minutes after we start.
Page 10 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC With that in mind, I am very happy to recognize, I'd recognize the gentlelady, but I don't know if she wants to be recognized right now. I'll then turn tosee, I told you they'd all start coming. We'll start then with the Honorable Wally Herger, the gentleman from California who works so diligently on these programs. It's always a pleasure to have you, Mr. Herger. We'll turn the time to you, sir.
STATEMENT OF HON. WALLY HERGER, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA
Mr. HERGER. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and I do appreciate the opportunity to speak today regarding the fee demonstration program currently being implemented by our National Park Service and our United States Forest Service. I represent all or part of nine national forests, and one national park, and one national recreation area. The fee demonstration program is severely impacting the people of my district. I am strongly opposed to any extension or continuation of this program for three main reasons.
First, this program is another unnecessary tax on families who are already overburdened by taxes. Second, the fee program places additional burden on recreational access and as a result is highly detrimental to local economies, such as mine in Northern California, which are dependent on tourism and recreation. And third, this fee program only perpetuates misuse of existing funding and natural resources by land management agencies.
First issue of the tax burden. In 1997, Federal, State, and local taxes combined are projected to claim 38.2 percent of the median income of two-earner familiesup from 37.3 percent in 1996. This means families are now taxed at a level higher than any other time in our Nation's history, excluding the years of 1944 and 1945, during World War II. Imposing an additional tax burden in the form of fees on the already overburdened American family is considered unconscionable.
One unintended and unfortunate result of this tax is that the average American family may no longer be able to afford a visit to our national parks and forests. Families who once simply drove through these areas now have an added financial burden. The impact of fewer citizens visiting our National parks and forests would negatively impact local economies. Imposing fees is not the answer.
Page 11 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC At the heart of this issues are Federal agencies that have mismanaged their funding. These agencies claim significant backlogs in maintenance and upkeep for basic services, while continuing to receive annual appropriations that are not adequately accounted for. For example, according to a report by the General Accounting Office and the Department of Interior's Inspector General, the National Park Service lacks (1) necessary financial and program data on its operations; (2) adequate internal controls on how its funds are spent; and (3) that the agency lacks performance measures on what is being accomplished with the money being spent.
Mr. Chairman, our Nation's recreational needs will not be met by throwing more money into the Federal Government's insatiable hands. Before we give the National Park Service or the United States Forest Service a permanent, revenue-generating program such as the fee demonstration program, we should require a proper accounting for the resources already at their disposal.
In closing, Mr. Chairman, from my firsthand experience, this program is not working. There has been a substantial amount of animosity generated by local communities who have had to deal with implementation of this program. This ill-conceived program needs to be discontinued. Again, I want to thank the Subcommittee for hearing my testimony, and I request that when this Subcommittee takes up any action on this issue, it will consider the negative impact suffered by local communities such as mine. Thank you.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Herger follows:]
STATEMENT OF HON. WALLY HERGER, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA
Mr. Chairman, members of the Subcommittee, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to speak today regarding the fee demonstration program currently being implemented by our National Park Service and our United States Forest Service. I represent all or part of nine national forests, one national park, and one national recreation area. The fee demonstration program is severely impacting the people of my district. I am strongly opposed to any extension or continuation of this program for three main reasons: first this program is another, unnecessary tax on families who are already over-burdened by taxes; second the fee program places additional burdens on recreational access and as a result is highly detrimental to local economies, such as mine in northern California, which are dependent on tourism and recreation; and third, this fee program only perpetuates misuse of existing funding and natural resources by land management agencies.
Page 12 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC First the issue of the tax burden. In 1997 Federal, state and local taxes combined are projected to claim 38.2 percent of the median income two-earner family, up from 37.3 percent in 1996. This means families are now taxed at a level higher than any other time in our history, excluding the years of 1944 and 1945 during World War II. Imposing an additional tax burden in the form of fees on the already overburdened American family is considered unconscionable. One unintended and unfortunate result of this tax is that the average American family may no longer be able to afford a visit to our national parks and forests. Families who once simply drove through these areas, now have an added financial burden. The impact of fewer citizens visiting our national parks and forests would negatively impact local economies.
Imposing fees is not the answer. At the heart of this issue are Federal agencies that have mismanaged their funding. These agencies claim significant backlogs in maintenance and upkeep for basic services while continuing to receive annual appropriations that are not adequately accounted for. For example, according to a report by the General Accounting Office and the Department of the Interior's Inspector General, the National Park Service lacks: 1. necessary financial and program data on its operations; 2. adequate internal controls on how its funds are spent; and 3. that the agency lacks performance measures on what is being accomplished with the money being spent.
Mr. Chairman, our nation's recreational needs will not be met by throwing more money into the Federal Government's insatiable hands. Before we give the National Park Service or the United States Forest Service a permanent revenue generating program such as the fee demonstration program we should require a proper accounting for the resources already at their disposal.
In closing, Mr. Chairman, from my first hand experience this program is not working. There has been a substantial amount of animosity generated by local communities who have had to deal with implementation of this program. This ill conceived program needs to be discontinued. Again I want to thank the Subcommittee for hearing my testimony and I request that when this Subcommittee takes up any action on this issue it will consider the negative impact suffered by local communities. Thank you.
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Mr. HANSEN. Thank you, Mr. Herger. We appreciate you being with us, and if you stay with us just a minute, we may have some questions for you.
Let me state that we're very pleased to have Ralph Regula, the chairman of the Appropriations Committee of Interior with us. It's always a pleasure to have Ralph with us. We work very closely on matters pertaining to public lands, Interior issues. I'll turn to Mr. Regula for any statement he may have.
STATEMENT OF HON. RALPH REGULA, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF OHIO
Mr. REGULA. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I don't have a formal statement, but I want to re-emphasize what Congressman Wally Herger said about accountability, and we've built that into the pilot programs. Accountability for the money that's collected and accountability for the management. This was instituted as part of our Appropriations Committee, as a demonstration as to what could be done. Not all units are using the fee program, but I will say that in talking with people that have both experienced paying the relatively small fees, as well as the superintendents and managers of our recreation systems in the parks, forests, and Fish and Wildlife Service, and BLM, that I get very positive reaction. A little footnote to it is that they find that vandalism is down, lessened because people, when they pay a little bit, have a stake in the facility. Visitation is up, so I don't believe people are being restricted in usage.
I know that the parks have worked out an arrangement for local folks that are in and out for various reasons, working there, or delivering materials, that they don't pay, they get a sticker. This is a pilot, or an experimental program, and the effort is being made to get the bugs out of it and make it work well. And we've made it clear in the appropriations process that we don't see this as a substitute for annual appropriations, but rather as a supplement to deal with the maintenance backlog. For example, I believe in Yellowstone, they're going to use some of their money to replace the sewer system, along with what we appropriate, to enhance the visitor experience by doing things that they normally couldn't do. And there is a high level of enthusiasm on the part of the managers, simply because of what they are able to do.
Page 14 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC As I say, it's not a substitute for the appropriations process, and I think that the way it's being worked in the various parks and forests now demonstrates that there is merit to a program of this type. I commend you, Mr. Chairman, for having a hearing and looking at this program and the pluses and minuses of what we've experienced in the past 2 years under the program to see what should be done, if anything, on a permanent basis. Because I think it does have a potential for giving people a sense of participation in the park responsibilities, as well as providing some additional funds to substantially enhance the visitor experience. And I believe there are a lot of pluses to it based on my conversations with people as I visit parks, and with the superintendents or the managers. There's a pretty positive reaction, all up and down the line. And I'm as interested in your comments, Mr. Herger. I think probably some of those concerns would be addressed in permanent legislation. And I thank you, Mr. Chairman.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Regula follows:]
The Hon. Ralph Regula,
Chairman, Subcommittee on Interior
and Related Agencies,
Committee on Appropriations,
House of Representatives,
DEAR MR. CHAIRMAN:
On behalf of the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture, we express our appreciation for the opportunity to improve our recreation resources through the Recreational Fee Demonstration Program authorized by section 315 of the fiscal year 1996 Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Act. Attached is a joint progress report on the status of the program, submitted by the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture on behalf of the National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Forest Service. This report summarizes the most recent information on visitation, revenues, and management issues that have arisen during initial implementation of the Recreational Fee Demonstration Program.
Page 15 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We are pleased to inform you that visitor response to the new fees has been generally positive. We increased revenues substantially during the first year, and began the long process of reducing our maintenance backlogs. The program represents a significant step toward improving visitor services and facilities for those who recreate on public lands.
The agencies agree that long-term implementation of this effort is desirable. We will work with Congress to design a program that builds upon our positive experience in implementing the demonstration effort. Such a program should provide flexibility for designing fees tailored to specific situations, embody strong incentives for agencies to collect recreation fees, and provide assurance to the public that a majority of revenues raised will benefit the site where fees are collected. To that end, we will be pleased to submit draft legislation during the coming year and to work closely with your staff. However, we do believe that permanent authority should not take effect until after the current temporary authority expires at the end of fiscal year 1999.
A similar letter is being sent to Sidney R. Yates, Ranking Minority Member, Subcommittee on Interior and Related Agencies, Committee on Appropriations, House of Representatives, the Honorable Slade Gorton, Chairman, Subcommittee on Interior and Related Agencies, Committee on Appropriations, U.S. Senate, and the Honorable Robert C. Byrd, Ranking Minority Member, Subcommittee on Interior and Related Agencies, Committee on Appropriations, U.S. Senate.
|Policy, Management and Budget|
|Department of the Interior|
|Under Secretary for Natural Resources|
|Department of Agriculture|
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Mr. HANSEN. Thank you, Mr. Regula. Ms. Smith, do you have any statements or comments to Mr. Herger?
Mrs. LINDA SMITH OF WASHINGTON. To begin with, I've got two different groups. We have people who live close to the sites who have used those properties for many, many years for picking berries, for hiking around the Mt. Saint Helens site, which was obviously a volcano and now restored. And so we're not finding a lot of complaint, except for some of the families' having to pay 20 more dollars a year per member, and we are in an area of very large families, and a lot of stay-home moms. And it is very difficult. It appears that if we could have something for those closer. It is not just those distributing things into the site. It's those that live across the street. It's like you have to, where you used to go play and climb and hike, now you're charged. That's pretty steep for themnot for all families, but it certainly is for a significant number. And if we could find some way to get the Park Service to do something with the families that are real close, that would probably satisfy most of the complaints that I'm getting. Because I'm only getting them from those people. So if the Chairman could consider that, and possiblyboth chairmen.
Mr. HANSEN. Thank you. Mr. Vento? Mr. DeFazio?
Mr. DEFAZIO. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Herger, I'll address the question to you and then have a comment. You know, this legislation was authorized by the 19, well first we had the Consolidated Rescissions and Appropriations Act of 1996, Public Law 104134. How would you vote on that?
Mr. HERGER. Well, my understanding
Mr. DEFAZIO. Well, did you vote for or against the bill? I'm just curious.
Mr. HERGER. This was part of a large bill.
Page 17 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. DEFAZIO. Right, but
Mr. HERGER. Of which I voted for.
Mr. DEFAZIO. So you voted for the bill, but you were against this part of it.
Mr. HERGER. That's correct.
Mr. DEFAZIO. Correct, OK.
Mr. HERGER. And my experience has been one that's been very much in the same line of Mrs. Smith.
Mr. DEFAZIO. All right.
Mr. HERGER. Except I could put many exclamation marks. The local people, I can tell you, are incensed with this. I have probably had as many complaints on this one issue than I've had of anything I can recall in the 11 years I've been representing the area. And I would hope that at least we could look at
Mr. DEFAZIO. OK
Mr. HERGER. [continuing] as Mrs. Smith mentioned, doing something for the locals.
Mr. DEFAZIO. If I, if Mr. Herger, if I could
Mr. HERGER. Yes.
Mr. DEFAZIO. [continuing] if I could reclaim my time, because I've got limited time. And then we had the 1998 Interior Appropriations Act, which extended it. Do you recall how you voted on that?
Mr. HERGER. Mr. DeFazio, all of these bills
Mr. DEFAZIO. Well, but I mean, did you vote for that too?
Mr. HERGER. I
Mr. DEFAZIO. OK, I voted it against it, you votedOK. If I could reclaim my timeI have introduced legislation to repeal this and replace it with a modest charge on those who deplete minerals from Federal lands, a royalty charge, which is charged by all other owners of lands. Are you a co-sponsor of my bill to repeal it and replace this legislation with another form of fee?
Page 18 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. HERGER. I believe I'd be very opposed to the latter
Mr. DEFAZIO. OK, all right, well, Mr. Herger, I would suggest that, you know, you voted for it twice, even though it was part of other legislation. There is one bill pending to repeal it, which is mine, and you're not a sponsor of it. I guess I'm looking for a little consistency here. I, you know, I'm opposed. I heard, with great interest, that the chairman of the Appropriations Committee talked about reductions in vandalism. Actually, we have a totally new form of vandalism in my district, which is very significant removal and vandalism of the signs for the fee areas. It's a new kind of vandalism.
Mr. DEFAZIO. So, I haven't had the experience of reductions in vandalism. You know, the kind of complaints I get are similar to those that Mrs. Smith has received, and you have received, people particularly who live in or adjacent to the forests.
There was a precedent established in Oregon which may address their concerns and the Chairman may need to take this into account. In the Federal District Court in Oregon, you know, this doesn't just apply to parks. It applies to forests, you know; apparently, I don't know if there are any BLM lands doing it yet. It applies to beaches in Oregon, and some surfers who wanted to access a beach in Oregon on the other side of the Dunes National Recreation Area were ticketed for not having paid these fees, where they had no intention of using the trails. They just wanted to access the beach and surf, as they had done traditionally. They won in court. And it was found that they could not be ticketed or charged for that use.
I'm not exactly certain of all the principles in that case, but I think that may undermine this fee program in a number of areas, and I think that the Committee ought to be looking for other, and more fair, alternatives to this tax on individuals. It flies in the face of most of the things I've heard from the majority on the Republican Contract. I mean, this is a tax on individuals who want to use public lands and, you know, I, and it's, it is inconvenient for people who live in those areas. It is burdensome for people of low incomes that live in those rural areas. It's even, I've experienced it as a pain in the butt because I bought a sticker. I put it on one car. But then I went backpacking and I took a different car, and I forgot, and I got all the way there, and then I had to drive back out again, find a place to buy one, slap it on my other car, and drive back in again. And I know that other people have had that, have had that happen.
Page 19 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I think this is something that should come out of general funds or some other source, and not through this program. And the reason we haven't had too many complaints, also, is that it hasn't been enforced. Wait until this year, when the Forest Service starts ticketing people for money, instead of courtesy tickets, if you want to see a firestorm of protest, and/or vandalism, and/or antagonism toward the government and Federal employees. Last year, people just got courtesy tickets saying you should have a ticket. But this year they're going to get tickets for real, and it's going to be a very unpleasant experience for the Forest Service employees in my district who are issuing those tickets. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. HANSEN. The gentlemen from California, Mr. Gallegly. Do you have comments for Mr. Herger, or an opening statement?
Mr. GALLEGLY. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. And it's always a pleasure to have Wally here. Wally and I have been friends for a long time. In fact we were classmates in the 100th Congress together, and we've been through a lot of battles and wars together. I think that the comments relative to those that live in the proximity certainly deserve a lot of consideration. I think Linda Smith was right on point. However, I would say that for those who are driving their $100,000 mobile homes that go across the country, and go into a park a thousand miles from home, or 1,500 miles from home, to say they can't afford five dollars to help maintain the, the integrity of the public land, I think is a little bit disingenuous. But I do think that collectively we can work on this issue. But those that are immediately living in the area, I do think that we need to address that issue a little bit. But going across the country, I'm sorry. And I do appreciate the comments of Wally and look forward to working with him on this issue as well as many others.
Mr. HERGER. Thank you.
Mr. HANSEN. The gentlemen from Nevada has no opening statement. We'll appreciate the gentleman
Page 20 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. VENTO. Mr. Chairman, let me just comment if I could. I know you want to get going, and I'll just be brief.
Mr. HANSEN. The gentleman from Minnesota is recognized.
Mr. VENTO. [continuing] I wanted to be certain that Mr. DeFazioMr. Herger, I didn't see your statement in my file here, but I assume the concern was about Mt. Saint Helens?
Mr. HERGER. No, that wasn't
Mr. VENTO. Well, that was
Mr. GALLEGLY. That's a bit north of
Mr. VENTO. OK, what is the, what was the unit that you were concerned about?
Mr. HERGER. Well, I
Mr. VENTO. Was there a specific unit? Was it a Forest Service unit or a Park Service unit? Mt. Saint Helen, of course, was a, is a Forest Service unit.
Mr. HERGER. We have nine national forests within our districtthe specific, where the strongest concerns have been around Mt. Shasta.
Mr. VENTO. Does it concern user fees, or does it concern entrance fees?
Mr. HERGER. It would be, I assume that would be, entrance fees.
Mr. VENTO. I assume it's user fees.
Mr. HERGER. They're fees that are paid at such time as they enter the park.
Mr. VENTO. Well, is it for a camping reservation, or what is the purpose of it? I mean, because
Page 21 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. HERGER. It's anything they do utilizing the water at, for example, Lake Shasta
Mr. VENTO. Well, I don't want toI mean the concern is, I think, that we've always had, the Forest Service has had, historically, authority for user fees as well as the Park Service. That would be for parking a car, for a campsite, you know, primitive and so
Mr. HERGER. This is just for day use for going use and use, like, the water
Mr. VENTO. Just an entrance fee, but I guess that's under the experiment. But we had authorized, I think, for BLM and for Forest Service some of the sites, you know, that are a basic monument or type of a visitor contact station, not just for entrance. And of course there's a big increase. I mean, the real question here is, you know we go to a film or something and it costs five, six, seven dollars to get into a film. You know, and you talk about people, you know. So they, you know, the issue here is, how do we sustain or support this. I appreciate your comments about those that live in close proximity, and there are, of course, accommodations where you can get an annual pass because you're going more often. It is inconvenient, it is obviously athey're on the learning curve with regards to understanding that.
Mr. HERGER. But even on that point
Mr. VENTO. Yes, sure
Mr. HERGER. [continuing] even on an annual pass, say someone living in Redding, California would have to buy a pass for Lake Shasta and an additional pass for
Mr. VENTO. Yes. Well, I think that
Mr. HERGER. [continuing] the lake, which are all within, maybe three miles.
Page 22 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. VENTO. Well, I appreciate that, because the Forest Service doesn't have a Golden Eagle, so to speak, as the Park Service. So that's something that needs to be, needs to be addressed.
Mr. HERGER. And I would like to urge the Committee, there are a number of issues of this type that I'd like to see us address. We attempted to address this point, Mrs. Smith brought it up, of perhaps having the local area, some type of discount for people who leave there.
Mr. VENTO. Well, they alreadyI mean, I think there are accommodations
Mr. HERGER. They determined that was not constitutional to be able to do that
Mr. VENTO. Yes, well, I think there probably is a better deal than that that probably they can get for going to five or six parks, in terms of a Golden Eagle, or America the Beautiful, or some other type of pass that had been recommended previously. And this, of course, was an experiment, but there are in fact annual passes that permit any type, and there are even exemptions, of course, for those that need them. So there is a process set up, and obviously, as I said, everyone's on the learning curve with regard to this process.
But I think the fundamental issue is that, the consensus is that those that use or those that visit these areas ought to at least help in sustaining them. These fees, of course, will never sustain the type of costs for maintenance for the expense of these units. So I think we, especially with our friend Mr. Regula here, we have to obviously point out that we understand the dilemma that he faces, because if we cut these back, all we're doing is adding to the backlog of costs that we have both in the Forest and in the park, and the other public land units.
Thanks. Thanks, Wally.
Page 23 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. HANSEN. The gentlemen from Montana, Mr. Hill. Do you have any opening statement? Gentlelady from Idaho, Mrs. Chenoweth, do you have an opening statement or comments for Mr. Herger?
STATEMENT OF HON. HELEN CHENOWETH, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF IDAHO
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Mr. Chairman, I do have an opening statement.
Mr. HANSEN. The gentlelady is recognized.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. I'd like to thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this hearing on the recreational fee demonstration program, which we enacted last year. And normally I don't make an opening statement; I just submit it for the record. But I feel very strongly about this. As I was in the district last week, the issue of fees was something that I heard a lot about. So I commend you on holding this hearing now, and, and I do minimally support the concept of having users help contribute a minimal fee, specifically for recreational area improvement.
But ultimately, I would like to see recreationalists have the best experience possible on well maintained forest campgrounds, facilities, and trail. Very small fees can play a role in that effort, but I am especially interested in this issue because a couple of areas in Idaho, most significantly the Sawtooth National Recreational Area, has been chosen as test cases for this fee program.
However, I do have concerns about how this demonstration program has been implemented, serious concerns. Generally, I do not believe that agencies have done an adequate job selling the program to the public. The common complaint I have heard is that visitors have suddenly have had to pay a fee without knowing the reason why, and most people are not aware that these fees are to go directly to the upkeep and improvement of the specific area that they are visiting.
Page 24 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC And, Mr. Chairman, I do believe that in our, our general fund budgeting that, to the degree fees are collected and kept within that forest, then I think that we ought to be able to save the general taxpayer money by, in a comparable manner, diminishing our appropriations to the agency. Otherwise, we just have mounting of fees as well as a continued increase in our general funding.
And my second concern, which is that there have been no noticeable improvement to campgrounds, hiking trails, boat docks, restrooms, and many other facilities and amenities that serve the general public. If there have been changes, the agencies have not done a good job of letting the people know, because evidence shows there hasn't. Just as any charity soliciting funds, the Federal Government must actively promote the benefits of fees.
I am concerned also about what appears to be a case of double and even triple taxation that this program represents to some public lands users. In some States, there are already programs in place that collect a fee for improvements, especially the fee many off-road users pay in many States, such as the green-sticker program in California, and the OHV trail fund in Idaho is one such example. So we need to make sure that we're not double-charging these people, and that we're not negatively impacting our counties and the tourism industry that so many of our States and counties have learned to lean upon with the diminishment of active natural resource industries being fees from them, and resources from them, being made available to the counties.
And with that, Mr. Chairman, again I want to thank you very much for holding this hearing.
Mr. HANSEN. I thank the gentlelady from Idaho. That takes care of the opening part.
Mr. Herger, you're more than welcome to join us on the dais. We appreciate having you with us, if you have the time to stay with us, and appreciate your testimony.
Page 25 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. HERGER. Thank you.
Mr. HANSEN. With that in mind, let's turn to the first panel. Our two panelists will be Mr. John M. Berry, Assistant Secretary, Policy Management and Budget, Department of the Interior, and Lyle Laverty, Regional Forester, Rocky Mountain Region. They both are accompanied byMr. Berry is accompanied by Henry Schmitt, Maureen Finnerty, and Dr. Roger Coleman. Mr. Laverty is accompanied by Greg Super. We appreciate these folks being with us. Mr. Berry, this is twice in one week you've had this opportunity. We appreciate you being here. Five minutes OK? You need any little extra time, let us, let us know, OK?
STATEMENT OF JOHN M. BERRY, ASSISTANT SECRETARY, POLICY MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, ACCOMPANIED BY HENRY RODGER SCHMITT, GROUP MANAGER, RECREATION GROUP, BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT
Mr. BERRY. OK, thank you Mr. Chairman.
Mr. HANSEN. Thank you for appearing before us, and, Mr. Secretary, we'll start with you.
Mr. BERRY. Mr. Chairman, thank you. I'm very pleased to talk to you and the Committee about the experiences we've had with the fee demonstration program, which have been mostly positive, I would like to add, and, based on our first year-and-a-half experiment with this demonstration project.
As you know, this project has been a joint effort on the part of three bureaus within the Department of Interior and the Department of Agriculture's Forest Service. These agencies manage a variety of resources under a variety of authorities, yet for this experiment they have worked very closely and have found that they have a great deal in common.
I have prepared a statement, Mr. Chairman, that, with your agreement, we would just submit for the record, and I'll try and summarize here.
Page 26 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. HANSEN. Without objection.
Mr. BERRY. But I would be pleased to also introduce the folks who will with me who can help us answer questions in specific detail about each of our bureau's programs. We have Maureen Finnerty, who is the Associate Director of the National Park Service for Park Operations and Education. We have Dr. Richard Coleman, Director of Refuges for the Fish and Wildlife Service. And we have Roger Schmitt, who is the Group Manager for Recreation in the Bureau of Land Management. So they'll be with us in case we have specifics that I'm unable to answer.
Visitor response to the demonstration fees program has been very positive. Both the National Park Service and the USDA Forest Service conducted surveys to assess visitor reactions during the first full year of the recreational fee demonstration program. Overall, 83 percent of National park visitors surveyed said they were either satisfied with the fees they paid, or thought the fees were too low. In the Forest Service, over 6 percent of people who completed a survey card said that the opportunities and services they experienced were at least equal to the fee that they paid.
We believe that the strong support so early in this program is primarily because the fee revenues have not been offset by reduced appropriations, and because receipts remain in the recreation areas in which they are collected, to be used to improve visitor services and to protect resources. Our visitors seem to be responding with greater care to the recreation resources, for there is increasing evidence that incidents of vandalism have decreased in areas where recreation fees have been collected.
We also believe that much of this public acceptance came about because we involved and communicated with the public in a process, in a variety of ways. At the local levels, our agencies spent a great deal of effort working with the public through formal communication plans, news releases, meeting with local community leaders, constituent groups, advisory councils, information leaflets, explanatory videos, open houses at the parks, public workshops, comment cards, and then signs, entrance signs and bulletin boards. These efforts, I believe, were important to the success of the public reception for the recreational fee demonstration program.
Page 27 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Interagency cooperation has blossomed under this recreational fee demonstration program. The participating agencies have established a record of cooperation that I believe is unprecedented in this, in this government. This is true not only among the Department of Interior's bureaus, but also with the Department of Agriculture's Forest Service. Throughout the process of implementing the program, fee managers from the four agencies held regular meetings to discuss progress, approaches, problems, and solutions. And they have developed common approaches for evaluating the fee program.
Mr. Chairman, I could go into a great deal about our accomplishments, but they're already described in a report that we have prepared for the Interior, Agriculture Committees on Appropriations, and which I believe we have made available to the Committee and to the Members. I'd just like to highlight a few of the summaries, points in that report.
First, a very large majority of visitors' levels have been sustained during the initial year of new fees. The initial data we have on visitation during the first full year of the program indicate that fees appear to have a negligible impact on visitation levels. Of course, we will not be satisfied with a single year's experience.
Second, recreation fee revenues have increased significantly in all four agencies administering this program. Between 1996 and fiscal year 1997, recreational fee revenues increased by 57 percent in the National Park Service, 35 percent for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and 11 percent for the Bureau of Land Management. This is good news, for it identifies a new source of revenue in addition to public appropriations that will allow us to improve visitor services and deal with our serious backlog of infrastructure needs.
Third, the agencies are evaluating a wide variety of different types of fees. Some are variations of entrance fees, ranging from individual and carload fees that are typically collected at an entrance kiosk, to the Golden Eagle Passport, unit-specific annual passes, and also multi-unit passes that allow entry into several sites of the same Federal agency, or several sites operated by different Federal, State, local agencies. Too, we're trying to address some of the concerns that Mr. Herger and some of the members of the panel have already raised this morning. We are also evaluating several types of user fees for such uses as parking, hunting, camping, boat launching, dumping of sanitary waste from recreation vehicles, and expedition fees.
Page 28 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Fourth, the agencies are evaluating a wide variety of methods for collecting the fees, from typical ranger in the kiosk, to automated collection machines and collection by mail. And we are looking at different approaches to this that will include using our employees, partnership arrangements with other agencies, volunteers, as well as consignment with private-sector vendors and concessionaires.
Fifth, the agenciesMr. Chairman, if it's OK, if I would, I see the red light, but I
Mr. HANSEN. Go ahead, Mr. Berry. I want to hear your testimony.
Mr. BERRY. Just got a couple more minutes.
Mr. HANSEN. Don't let the light bother you.
Mr. BERRY. Great.
Fifth, the agencies have found that some of the initial collection costs for new fees are higher than expected, and certainly higher than they will be over the long run. The reason for these higher costs initially is the large startup and capital costs for instituting some of the capital infrastructure that nee
ds to be in place to collect the fees, such as kiosks, entrance stations, new equipment, and supplies that have to be in, in availability to monitor.
The agencies will continue to look for ways to reduce the cost of collecting these fees, but it's also important to note that cost-effectiveness may not always be possible. In some sites, for example, the particular mix of low visitation and multiple access points may just make it impractical, impractical to institute any fees at all.
Finally, the agencies have begun the process of financing maintenance backlog projects. Considering that we are now only into the second full year of the recreation fee demonstration program, and that many of the revenues were not available to the bureaus until the end of fiscal year 1997, the participating agencies have begun a significant number of projects that will reduce the backlog maintenance requirements and provide public service enhancements at recreationsites. I'd like to point out just a few.
Page 29 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC At Yellowstone National Park, they are rehabilitating their deteriorated electronic infrastructure for safety and resource protection, repairing utility systems, replacing deteriorated docks, rehabilitating trail and overlook, interpretative exhibits, and back country sites. In Paria County, on the ArizonaUtah border, the Bureau of Land Management used fee revenues to maintain and upgrade sanitation facilities at trail heads.
The recreation fee demonstration program has been a very positive experience for participating agencies, and the agencies agree that long-term implementation of the fee program is desirable. We wish, however, to emphasize our strong desire that any permanent authority should not take effect until after the current temporary authority expires at the end of fiscal year 1999. The test is entering its second full year, and our current findings and observations are preliminary. The full evaluation of this program will not be completed until March 1999. Yet even at this early stage, we are very pleased with the results, and we would like to work with you to design a program that builds on that positive experience in implementing this effort.
There are a few elements which I would like to recommend for your consideration for permanent legislation. These elements are presented in more detail in the report that we have submitted, but let me just touch on a few.
First, we would emphasize the need for flexibility to tailor fees to meet specific management and visitor needs. We simply caution that one size does not fit all.
Second, we think it is crucial to recognize the importance of incentives in the design of recreation fees. The provision in the demonstration program that fees be applied to onsite backlog maintenance projects provides a very substantial incentive for recreation managers to collect and keep the cost of collection low. People seem much more willing to pay fees if they know the revenues will directly benefit the resources that they are enjoying.
Third, the provision that allows agencies to utilize the revenues over more than a single fiscal year can help agencies do better long-range planning to approach backlog reductions, and implement reform and rehabilitation in a more systematic way.
Page 30 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Finally, we believe that this provision, that the provision that sets aside some of the fee revenues for addressing broader agency priorities would be an important element to continue in any permanent legislation. We caution that a fixed formula that returns a high percentage of revenue to the collecting site could, over the long run, and this would be long run over 5 to 10 years, could create undesirable inequities within an agency, where certain popular facilities have more funds than they can effectively use, and others that don't have the public access would face continuing deterioration.
So we need to consider the possibility in determining what's the appropriate balance between the needs of the fee-collection site in the long run, with the backlog maintenance needs of the entire agency.
Mr. Chairman, thank you. That would conclude my statement, and I'd be happy to answer any questions.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Berry may be found at end of hearing.]
Mr. HANSEN. Thank you very much. Mr. Laverty.
STATEMENT OF LYLE LAVERTY, FORMER DIRECTOR, RECREATION PROGRAMS, REGIONAL FORESTER, ROCKY MOUNTAIN REGION, U.S. FOREST SERVICE, ACCOMPANIED BY GREG SUPER, NATIONAL RECREATION FEE DEMONSTRATION PROGRAM COORDINATOR, U.S. FOREST SERVICE; LINDA FELDMAN AND FLOYD THOMPSON
Mr. LAVERTY Mr. Chairman, it's an honor for me to be here today to discuss the fee demonstration program as it relates to the Forest Service and how we have been able to implement this program. I'm delighted to be here, because I have great interest in what is happening, and even though I have transitioned from Washington to Colorado I had great interest, as I served in, not only the Director of Recreation, but also in the Acting Associate Deputy Chief role as we began to roll this out.
Page 31 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Many of the comments that I'll share with you, Mr. Berry has already captured, and I think as we have looked at the implementation of the fee demonstration project across agency lines, it truly has brought agencies together. I'll just summarize some of our remarks, because many of the things that we have prepared in our statement are already captured by Mr. Berry, and I'll zip through that so we can engage with any questions you might have for us.
I am accompanied by Greg Super, as you mentioned, and Linda Feldman on our staff, and Floyd Thompson, who are really the key folks on our staff that help make this come about. For the Forest Service, it was really an incredible journey for us as we began implementing the program, simply because in many of our sites, unlike many of the Park Service sites, we had not charged fees before. So we embarked in a endeavor where we started essentially from ground zero in terms of helping people understand that we were in fact going to collect fees but, more importantly, as Mr. Herger even pointed out, that we need to be able to let people know why and how these fees are going to be collected, but how they're going to be used.
And I can share with you, as I've talked to folks around the country, that folks are very, very supportive of the idea of paying fees, as long as they know those fees are going back on the site, they can actually see some tangible results.
As Mrs. Chenoweth pointed out, we are just the in process now of beginning to implement some of those fees and actually make some of these improvements. We had projects on, in fact at Flaming Gorge, where the ranger, as soon as he started collecting fees, began making significant improvements on boat docks right away, even though he didn't have all the fees in hand. And, you know, so that people could visibly and tangibly see that these fees were actually showing some improvements on the facilities that they used.
Let me just capture a few points that I think are significant, and then, I think we can answer any questions you might have. As I look at what's happening in the National forests, we're just continuing to see increased demands for recreation. And, as we have pointed out with, with the Committee in the past, the demands are far outreaching our abilities to deliver the services, in terms of providing the basic attention to the services that people expect. But I think, more importantly, the investment we need to be making as we protect America's resources, I think this is one of the significant tools that has come to us as a result of the fee demonstration program. That it does, in fact, give us the opportunity to make not only investments to serve people, and also to protect these resources so that future generations are going to be able to enjoy many of the same things that we're experiencing today.
Page 32 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The recreation use on the National forests, as well as all public lands, are significant contributors to the gross domestic product, and as we begin to rack up, across agency lines, contribution that takes place on public lands as a result of recreation is significant. That, that use on local economies is extremely significant. I was in Glenwood Springs yesterday, and listened to folks from the community talking about the importance of the National forest in that community's economy as it relates to the use that takes place there. And as we look at how we can invest to make sure that those resources that draw and attract people to these lands are sustainable. Our trails are an excellent example. If we're not able to sustain trails, these folks that normally would hike, are going to make choices to go somewhere else. And that's where I think the value for us in being able to return these resources and funds back to the sites to improve and maintain these systems is critically important.
I'd like to just share maybe with you a few ideas that we would recommend that you consider long-term engagement of a fee bill. And the values that we have learned, and we would capture that, as we aggressively moved on implementing the fee program. Back in 1996 when the Congress passed the opportunity for us to do this, we moved right along. And we actually implemented projects in 1996. And we have learned a lot. We viewed this as a test, and we have, we went through a very structured process in terms of how we started. We required business plans, we required communication strategies, and setting up the whole financial and cash management accountability part, which I think is extremely crucial for us as we implement the program. And if I could just take a couple minutes, I'll be done, and then we can start.
Mr. HANSEN. Nancy, maybe you want to turn the light off.
Mr. LAVERTY. This is a great conversation. We, we really viewed this as a test, and the places where we have been successful, we have found that that up-front communication has been absolutely crucial. Where people could really understand why we're collecting the fees, but more importantly how we're going to use those fees.
Page 33 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I was talking to the ranger on the Clear Creek Ranger Districtthis is the Mt. Evans project. One of the ideas that he has to better communicate with the folks on what we have actually collected in 1997, but on the other side of this little hand-out that he's going to distribute to the folks that actually pay the fees, is going to show exactly how those funds are going to be used. So we have that accountability, not only internally, but also with the people that pay those fees. And I think that's our key for our success.
Let me just suggest there's four elements that I would, I would capture that you want to consider, at least as we've learned from the past. The first is that, I would recognize that this, this joint agency effort. And I would hope that as you consider long-term consideration on this bill, or permanent legislation, if you could give us some clarity and some authorities where we could even cross across lines, not only with Federal agencies, but even with some States and counties. We've got some projects that, that we're doing this, but it's been really tough because we have folks that think we don't have the authority to do that. That would be most helpful.
I think in terms of building a long-range planning, some of the things that Mr. Berry spoke about, as we know that we have a more permanent authority coming that we can carry over some of those funds to take on larger projects than simply one year at a time type of projects. I think the idea, perhaps, for you to consider broadening the fee demonstration authorities, where we could expand to include the recreation-related activities, such as some of the fees that we collect off of outfitter and guide permits. If we were able to keep even a portion of some of the fees from some of the ski areas, that we could put back into the administration and improvement and enhancements. Right now, all those funds simply go back into the Treasury.
Let me just close it off, because I know that we need to have some conversation about some of the questions you might have. But I would just close by saying that we aggressively and totally endorse the concept of the fee demonstration program. It's been a great tool for us, and, you know, we're just in the process right now, I think, of beginning to demonstrate that government works, and that government can work well. And I think this is really key. We've got some bumps in a road that we're addressing, and as we pick these up, we've aggressively gone back to take care of that.
Page 34 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I think the piece I would just share with you, comments from the people that are paying the fees has been very, very positive. Certainly, as Mr. Herger pointed out, we've got some folks that still don't agree with the fee, period, but I think as we begin to show and demonstrate the results, folks are going to accept that. I appreciate just the chance to share with you, and would love to get you out and show you some of our projects on the ground.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Laverty may be found at end of hearing.]
Mr. HANSEN. Thank you, Mr. Laverty. I appreciate your comments. You folks that are standing back there, if you're so inclined, this bottom tier, no one's going to use it, if you'd like to sit down, we'd be more than happy to have you do that. If you want to stand, that's up to you, but I'm embarrassed to see you standing there.
We'll start with members of the Committee to question this panel. Mr. Hill from Montana, you're recognized for 5 minutes.
Mr. HILL. I thank you, Mr. Chairman. I just have a couple of questions about the fee structure.
Are any of the concessionaire fees retained within the park for the purpose of the park services, or, or are they, or do they go to the general treasury?
Mr. LAVERTY. I'll speak on the Forest Service side. Right now, those all go into the general treasury.
Mr. HILL. Those all go to the general treasury?
Mr. LAVERTY. Yes, sir.
Mr. HILL. And how do those fees compare with the other fees that you charge directly to people who, either admittance fees or user fees. Could you give me some indication of what that relative amount of money is?
Mr. LAVERTY. I don't have those figures here, but I could certainly pull that up. I used to know those figures, but I've forgotten that stuff.
Page 35 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. HILL. I mean, obviously, the concessionaire fees are indirectly fees that are charged for people who use the parks. It just seems to me that if we're going to be talking about trying to create an entrepreneurial climate within the parks, we ought to consider whether or not some portion of concessionaire fees or something ought to be retained within the park. What do you think of that idea?
Mr. LAVERTY. I think if we were able to keep some of those fees in the fee demonstration program, it could go a long ways. I think it could help us do a couple of things. We could enhance the administration that goes on right now in terms of how we administer those special-use programs, particularly outfitter and guide programs. And if we were able to get some consistency, I think we would find our relationship with many of the outfitters would even improve.
Greg was just telling me that our, our special use fees that we collect, are about $37 million. Last year, we collected about $8 million under the fee demonstration program, and we expect that to go up significantly as we begin to implement the program. We have 40 projects underway that we actually implemented in 19961997, another 5 ready to go on line in 1998 and 1999, so, I think we'll see that fee collection increasing to be probably comparable over time.
Mr. HILL. Is there any relationship between the fees the concessionaires pay, and the use of infrastructure they have? For example, sewer and water costs, and those sorts of things within the park or within thenow, I would ask any one of the three of you to respond to that. Are those fees, do they bear any relationship to the services that they also consume?
Mr. BERRY. Yes, sir, Mr. Hill. Each concession contract in the Park Service is an individually negotiated contract between the concessionaire that accounts for opportunities and other costs that are subject to that. In response to your last question, in the Park Service, the general rule is that our concession funds are returned to the Treasury, but there are instances in certain concessions in certain parks where we have the ability to keep some of those funds on park site. And we can get you a more detailed break-out of that, I think, in an answer to the record.
Page 36 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. HILL. I would appreciate having that.
Noting that, you know, a lot of the backlog is associated with infrastructure needs, and, I mean, how do you fund those infrastructure needs? Substantially, now, they're being funded, obviously, by the Treasury, I mean, just general taxpayers. Some of it's going to be funded from increase in user fees. Seems to me that, if we're going to address this whole issue, that we ought to look at that again. I'm not making a case for more concessionaires' fees; I want to make that clear. I'm just saying, though, that there ought to be some relationship there, and those, it seems to me, those dollars ought to stay within the park, too.
Mr. BERRY. You raise an excellent point, Mr. Hill, and the administration, we're working now between the departments and the Office of Management and Budget on preparing some concession approaches similar to what you're talking about, so that we can submit those for your consideration. But you, you've hit on a very god point.
Mr. LAVERTY. One of the points I would also make, Mr. Hill, that relates to outfitters and guides on the National forests is that most of those folks do an incredible amount of volunteer work for us, just doing basic maintenance that we would not be able to do ourselves. That's not part of the permit, but, you know, that's work that's being contributed by the folks, you know, for, oftentimes in addition to what the fee that they pay. So that probably doesn't cover all that.
Mr. HILL. Thank you. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. HANSEN. Thank you. The gentleman from Minnesota, a member of the Committee, is recognized for 5 minutes.
Mr. VENTO. Thanks, Mr. Chairman. I didn't make an opening statement, but I did read yours and noted your concerns with regards this experimental program, and specifically with regard to trying to guide the use of the entrance fee and user fee type of programs. It's really pretty confusing for those that are not familiar with this. And, of course, when my colleague from Montana, introduces concessions into the process, you can really, I'd suggestand I think that, you know, he had some very good points with it, but that if we're going to deal this, we try to deal with the user and entrance issue. And what you were removed from, like, for instance, I mentioned Mr. Laverty that you actually have broad authority to implement user fees, in almost many instances. Is that correct?
Page 37 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. LAVERTY. That is correct, yes.
Mr. VENTO. And this, this gave you flexibility to put in more user fees, not entrance fees, because you hadn't had that except in the special units that we designated in 1993. Is that correct?
Mr. LAVERTY. That's correct.
Mr. VENTO. And so the, the point is that this freed you up in terms of not being limited by the land water conservation law, in terms of where you could charge user fees. These user fees are generally designed to pay for what the actual use is of a campsite, and they go directly into that site. Is that right? Or a parking lot or some other activity?
Mr. LAVERTY. That's correct. We have used those for trail fees, where those funds are going back for trail maintenance, and that's one of the significant
Mr. VENTO. So none of that goes to the Treasury, does it?
Mr. LAVERTY. That's correct.
Mr. VENTO. That does not. I mean, it's only these entrance fees that the new issue. You hear, someone's going to give you some advice now.
Mr. Berry, have you been around this a little bit so you get the difference here?
Mr. BERRY. At the Parks and Fish and Wildlife, and Public Lands, there is a distinction between the departments in this regard in that we generally approach it from the entrance fee approach, as opposed to the service approach.
Mr. VENTO. Well, I think we have in the Park Service, I think the othersof course BLM recently in 1993 was granted authority for special units. I don't really know the Fish and Wildlife Service, but obviously it's a small amount of revenue there. We look at these figures, and then there's also a county sharing in terms of some of the type of fees that are present here, that the counties actually, under normal law, would get some sharenot under the user fee, I don't think, but underI don't know if under user fees or not. Mr. Laverty, do they get part of the user fees too?
Page 38 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. LAVERTY. Under the fee demonstration, they do not.
Mr. VENTO. They don't, but otherwise they would, is that right?
Mr. LAVERTY. That's correct.
Mr. VENTO. Well, that's sort of problematic, especially if we want the money to go into the purpose for which it's intended. Of course, it isn't enough but, you know, I'm a littlethe concern here, of course, asking for more specificity, you know, is going to end us up at the Appropriations Committee again. And then when you get the revenue comes all to the government, then it gets to be an offset in the appropriations bill. And, of course, that's one of the problems with this concessions policy, you know. They're trying to find a balance between the superintendent, or the supervisor of a forest, or the other administrator, and the OMB and appropriator type of process. Because the money just doesn't seem to get back once it comes to Washingtonat least not all of it.
And, of course, there are a lot of units that don't have any collection of fee money. I notice that these ideas seem to be a better idea in Washington than sometimes in the field.
Mr. LAVERTY. I have spent the last two-and-a-half months talking to a lot of the folks in the field, and I can tell you that there's a lot of enthusiasm and great support among agency people, you know, with this, with this program. I wish we could have some of the folks that I talked to yesterday, that were just talking about the project that they have at Vail Pass. These folks are enthused about it, but also, more importantly, is that they're finding that there is a great support from the public that is paying that. And, you know, I can't share that
Mr. VENTO. No, no. I understand that but I think there is some, I think as I said that the public is on the learning curve and you have to become acquainted with this. For instance, in the case that our colleague presented in his testimony, it looks to me there is no pass that would be applicable. You have the authority and have exercised the authority to provide a single pass for multiple units. Hasn't the Forest Service done that?
Page 39 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. LAVERTY. Yes, we have.
Mr. VENTO. You haven't done it in northern California or Oregon, I guess, is the problem.
Mr. LAVERTY. Southern California has one, and northern, the Oregon
Mr. VENTO. So they do have it, so it's just a matter of misunderstanding at this point, at least in term of the pilot program?
Mr. LAVERTY. That's correct, and I think we also share, though, the point that I believe you're going to make is that we've got 40, maybe a hundred projects on the national forests; we've got 40 or a hundred projects on the national parks and BLM. And at some point in time, we need to begin look at, you know, should there be, whether it's a State pass that covers all agencies, or should it be a Federal pass.
Mr. VENTO. Well, I hope my colleagues
Mr. LAVERTY. I think those are some of the things that we can learn.
Mr. VENTO. Yes. I hope my colleagues will be patient with this and try to work it through. I think there's nothing worse than having something start in fits and starts and maybe we can get the insights from this, and then proceed. But to completely just pull it back because there is a misunderstanding or political reaction to it, I think would be the wrong thing to do. This wasn't my baby; this was Ralph's, but I've been through this before, and I think that there's nothing worse than having something that goes in fits and starts, especially on an issue like this. And I think that we should try to build the consensus on the Committee, and to be reasonable where we can, look at these factors more carefully, and give some guidance, but, hopefully, keeping the money in the, in the land management units, and with the type of flexibility. I think, obviously, the comments you made, Mr. Chairman, about what's happened with some of the money, you know, fall right in line with why there are the certain requirements in the Land, Water Conservation Fund. They may not be perfect, but they're better than nothing.
Page 40 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. HANSEN. Thank you. The gentlelady from Idaho is recognized for 5 minutes.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. If I didn't make myself clear in my opening statement, I want to make it clear now. I think that for us to look at the possibility of charging fees, user fees, in the Park Service is one thing. But for the record, I am adamantly opposed to user fees, or fees being charged by the Forest Service and by Department of Interior for anything other than National parks, and anything other than an experimental demonstration fee program.
It's creating tremendous reaction in my district. In fact, or in my State. In Mr. Crapo's district, there's a little city named Salmon, Idaho. And the mayor and the city council adopted a new vehicle use fee test program. And the proposal is that the city of Salmon is proposing to charge all U.S. Forest Service vehicles using city streets to a use fee. The purpose of the fee is to replace declining funds and to provide finances to ensure we provide quality road experiences while traveling on city streets. The current allotted funds do not adequately cover the cost of maintaining the highly used streets, and the U.S. Forest Service was chosen as a test group because they have established user fees on the Salmon River, and several Forest Service-operated areas and must believe this is an accepted method of raising funds.
They go on to say the city of Salmon will share the information gathered from this project, and will provide, free of charge, to any city, the procedure used and the amount of funds brought into the city budget. The city will receive comments until May 29, but just like the Federal Government, it doesn't matter what you say. The fee will begin on June 1st.
It's a little half-serious, tongue-in-cheek, but the fact is that the mayor of Salmon wrote to me and said this is an area where the average family income is about $18,000 a year. And the mayor says the fees that are being charged means that, if I'm traveling from Boise to my home in Salmon, Idaho, and choose to stop along with my wife and three children for a picnic under a tree, I will have to pay $10. And if I need to stop along the road at one of the outdoor toilets, I will be expected to pay two dollars a person.
Page 41 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC So this is the kind of thing that I'm receiving in my, in my district, Mr. Chairman. Actually, if we wanted to paint a great big, huge sign in the name of the free market system and charge fees, which is what we're doing, we might as well paint a huge big ''keep out'' sign to all of the citizens with regards to what's happening on our National forests. Our trails are being shut off, access to the river is being shut off, our roads are being shut off, maintenance is declining. And because the Federal Government, this Congress, has failed to fence funds, which we didn't because we trusted the administration and the Federal Forest Service, funds are being shifted from those areas that we have allocated moneys for to other areas that are unauthorized, unappropriated programs such as the American Heritage Rivers initiative, the Inner Columbia Ecosystem Management plan.
And I think that the idea of trying to utilize Ludwig von Meese's theory of freedom of the marketplace with a Federal agency is ludicrous. And I think we need to look in another direction to raise funds. Now, if we charge fees for the Park Service, I think also that we ought to reduce the general fund by an appropriate amount, by a corresponding amount. Because we have increased funding to Interior and to the Forest Service for several years now. And we're seeing the services to the general public decline.
And I just want to make one final statement, and that is that many of the user groups are willing to put forth their own effort, and their own funds, and their own time to help improve roads and trails and facilities. So, I just wanted to make that clear.
And, Mr. Chairman, I have 12 questions that I would like to ask, especially of Mr. Laverty. My time is up, so with your indulgence, I wonder if I might submit those to the Committee to ask the questions for me.
Mr. HANSEN. All the questions from members of the Committee, I'm sure, our witness would be more than happy to respond to those in correspondence. And if they do it, I wish they'd correspond to all of us so we can all get the answers to it.
Page 42 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The gentlelady from the Virgin Islands.
Ms. CHRISTIAN-GREEN Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I don't really have any questions. I just wanted to make a brief statement.
St. John in my district is a very beautiful island, with some of the more beautiful parks, but its facilities are also in very bad disrepair. We have a new superintendent, who quickly moved on coming to St. John to get the last slot, I believe, in the fee demonstration program. And so now meetings are being held in my communities, one as late as last night, and I haven't heard how it went. But I listened with a great deal of interest to the fact that across the country the fee demonstration programs are being received with broad acceptance. I'm not too sure that that's going to happen in St. John, because when the parks were turned over, when the land was turned over to the National Park Service, it was with the understanding that the residents of St. John, and I believe the entire Virgin Islands, would never be charged a fee for the parks.
And so, Mr. Chairman, this is a very timely hearing for me. I thank you for holding it. It's also very informative. I really don't have any questions, but I do share some of the concerns that were voiced already, that the fees that are collected be returned to the park for maintenance and other uses in the park, and that it not be used to replace appropriations, but be a supplement.
Mr. VENTO. Will the gentlewoman yield to me briefly?
Ms. CHRISTIAN-GREEN. Sure.
Mr. VENTO. I was just going to point out that most of the units, when they were established in terms of parks, if they had a Native American or, in fact, an indigenous community that actually was involved, that there are exceptions, usually, for them not to be charged fees. In a sense, I don't know if this particular measure overrode that, this experiment overrode that.
Page 43 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC But, of course, as I said before, I think the distinction between user fees is very important, because user fees, they have general authority always to put into effect user fees. And so the real authority here might be that they have more flexibility with regards to what user fees, where they're charged, and what parcels. But entrance fees would be, obviously, a different matter, and there's a whole list of these fees, if we'd look at this study we have, in terms of reservation fees and other charges that are accumulating to the cost of the Forest Service for providing recreation. And one of the laments we often hear is that the recreational user is not carrying his fair share, and this means that costs are being shifted in different directions.
Here we've got a minuscule amount of money that's been collected so far in the Forest Service. I mean, compared to its overall budget, it's I think, like a $2 million increase, and we got a
firestorm, really, in terms of, I think a lot of misunderstanding and, about it. But it, you know, there's many of us that would like to find a way to permit these units to be used and not charged. But that is predicated on the funding. I'd be happy to yield back. But I just wanted to point out that there is an opportunity for, many times, from parks or other units that are created for non-charging for certain populations.
Ms. CHRISTIAN-GREEN. OK, thanks. I'd like to just reclaim my time, and I would ask that question. Because, in talking with our superintendent, he was saying that we could not waive the fees for residents. Is that true, or can there be a fee but the residents, because that was the understanding when the park was created, be exempted from the fee?
Mr. BERRY. There is flexibility with each park, Congresswoman, so that we look into that situation with you. We do try to respond and provide flexibility to local residents in some of the instances that were described, when construction people have to drive through public lands to get to work, or other things. So there is clearly flexibility. We need to look at your specific situation, and let me find out with you. We'll work with the ranger and we'll get back to you on that.
Page 44 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. CHRISTIAN-GREEN. Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. HANSEN. Thank you. The gentleman from Michigan, Mr. Kildee.
Mr. KILDEE. I see the bell has rung for a vote over in the House, but I'd just like to indicate that, now that the President and the Congress are balancing the budget, I hope this Committee some time, Mr. Chairman, would have a hearing on my bill, which would take the Land and Water Conservation Fund totally off-budget. Let us use the Land and Water Conservation funds for what they were originally intended. So I hope you will consider my bill on that.
Mr. HANSEN. That should be interesting.
Mr. KILDEE. I yield back the balance of my time.
Mr. HANSEN. Thank you. We appreciate this panel. Let me just say this: This is an experiment. We tried it out. This oversight hearing is to try to determine if we want to continue, we want to leave it as-is, where we want to go. You can see we're fraught with problems in a thing like this. You heard all the testimony.
It's rather easy to take a park that is isolated and have an entrance fee. That's pretty simple. We expand it to user fees that the gentleman from Minnesota has talked about. Reservation fees, we're talking about. You have problems like Mr. Kildee just brought up, drive-throughs, which we're talking about Yosemite right now. Zion's National Park in my district has the same problem. One in Florida has the same problem.
We're trying to figure out how do we work this out. You go to the Park Service, that Mr. Laverty has pointed out. It's probably got bigger problems. Camping fees, you're in that area; how do we do user fees. Now we get into recreation areas, like we have at the Flaming Gorge and we have a the Glen Canyon Recreation Area. We have reclamation problems. I've got something here that talks about the two dollar fee at Flaming Gorge just isn't making it anymore. That's two dollar vehicle per day fee.
Page 45 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC So how do you make a fit-all, and I think Mr. Berry's right. There is no thing where you can make it fit everything. So as we look at this, we're going to have to be very careful in figuring out how we do this. If we could just take what the Department of Interior has under the Park Service, and even that would be, those remote parks that you drive to.
Mr. Gallegly made an interesting point. What about these western, drive-to parks. They don't have walk-in people in those areas. People that go in those areas do go in with a lot of money, pulling their Suburban with their Winnebago, and all that type of thing. And to think that they can't pay a few bucks is unbelievable.
Yet, on the other hand, how do you handle it in a historic park, where there's no way to stop anybody from coming in. Then it becomes a rather difficult situation. So I worked with Mr. Regula on this first experiment. We may have to move along very carefully as we do this, but the input has been very valuable today, and I would hope we could all work together. And the next panels coming up, of course, will have some very interesting approaches to it. And that's all this is, is we're trying to figure out how to do this so it benefits the people in America.
We hear a lot of folks say, doggone it, I pay my taxes, I shouldn't pay anything for these things. Well, that's kind of hard to believe in some instances, because other people who don't use them say, well why should I pay for them? So we find ourselves in kind of this interesting position.
We do have a vote on. I do appreciate the excellent testimony from our first panel. I'll recess the Committee briefly. I would urge all members to come back, and I'll try to collect a few more, and we'll come right to the second panel as soon as we return. So we stand in recess.
Mr. HANSEN. [presiding] The meeting will come to order.
Page 46 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We are happy that on our second panel we have Derrick Crandall, president of the American Recreation Coalition, Philip David Voorhees, Associate Director of Policy and Development, National Parks and Conservation Area, and our friend from Arizona, Gaylord Stavely, vice president, National Forest Recreation Association.
It's always good to have you gentlemen with us. And Derrick, we'll start with you. Is that all right? You have all been here many times. You know the rules. Try to stay within 5 minutes. We want your testimony, however.
STATEMENT OF DERRICK CRANDALL, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN RECREATION COALITION
Mr. CRANDALL. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. It's a delight to be here to talk about a topic on which you have such a strong and positive role. As you know, ARC represents a range of interests that include companies and associations representing the manufacturers of tents and motorhomes and canoes, bicycles and much more, as well as enthusiast organizations that represent millions of Americans involved in downhill skiing and camping and fishing and many other kinds of activities.
In fact, fees were catalysts for bringing the American Recreation Coalition into existence in 1979. We've told you before that we would like to continue a policy of free lunch. However, we have learned that the free lunch comes with a price. It's hard to demand a great menu and top food when you are not paying the tab.
We also understood that other consequences arise. We found that without paying we could not justify the demands for continued recreation excellence. We found that campgrounds in our national forests were opening later. And millions of people who came to use those campgrounds during the shoulder seasons found locked gates. We saw declines in the numbers of interpretive programs and declines in the quality of trails across this country.
During the time of the President's Commission on Americans Outdoors the Nation engaged in a debate, and I believe we came to a consensus that while we shouldn't support the entire Federal recreation program on the basis of recreation fees, it was legitimate to look to the direct beneficiaries, those people who actually come to the public lands, for a greater share of the cost of providing those recreation programs.
Page 47 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In fact, our studies show only about 26 percent of the American public visits a Federal recreation site of any type administered by any agency in any year. We heard that agencies had little incentive, though, to charge higher recreation fees, since the fees they now collected disappeared into a variety of special accounts in the black hole, and it left the Forest Service, the National Park Service, BLM managers on the ground unable to respond to a very simple question from the visitors: Where do our fees go?
This Subcommittee provided leadership that ultimately was acted on by Chairman Regula to create the fee demonstration program that is the subject of this hearing. Its design work largely came through your work here in 1995 on your bill H.R. 2107.
In general, we believe that the fee demonstration program which resulted is laudable and has been successful. The report to the Congress on the first full year of the fee demonstration program displays a range of new approaches, which together are increasing recreation program budgets of four key agencies by some $150 million each year.
For the first time Federal recreation program personnel now have the incentive to go out there and listen to their customers. As we've told you in the past, we support Federal recreation fee programs which meet five tests.
First, fees need to be equitable. Second, the fee system itself needs to be efficient. Third, fees need to be convenient for the recreationist, and we've heard some concerns about that topic already this morning. Fourth, the fee system needs to be coherent, flexible and integrated. Finally, the fee revenues need to be returned to benefit the resources, facilities and programs utilized by those paying the bill.
In general we find that the fee demonstration implemented by the four agencies have met these goals. We are excited about the use of the fee demonstration program, for example to preserve the lookout towers in western national foreststhat's an exciting story that the Washington Post recently toldand to provide new interpretation services on the Pike, Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests for families coming to cut their Christmas trees and finding a nice surprise, people who could share with them the learning opportunities that they could find as a family on the national forest.
Page 48 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We find that effective fee programs will help Federal agencies become more consumer-focused, which is hard to accomplish when 95 percent of the budgets previously had been determined a year in advance here within the beltway.
We are proud to say that ARC and the Recreation Roundtable are actively involved in providing guidance and advice to the Federal agencies across the country. We've provided top marketing and communications executives from Disney, REI and other companies to work with the Enterprise Forests in southern California, for example, and in developing communication efforts for dozens of Forest Service fee sites across the country.
We also give our warm thanks to you and to Chairman Regula for upholding a commitment to making the fee demonstration receipts supplemental to the general appropriations for Federal recreation programs of the four agencies.
But we can't praise the program in its entirety. We have several concerns. First, we believe that the program has several specific fee flaws that need to be rectified. Most reflect poor communications, but some have deeper roots. Second, we believe that there have been some outstanding innovation already by the agencies involved, but far more ideas and approaches can and should be tested.
Let me just quickly run through some of our concerns. There is an inequity in fee collections going on out there right now. Those enjoying the services of outfitters, guides and other commercial services end up paying more, and more consistently.
This is largely because they are already assessed a fee through the concession's special use permit on the agencies' part, as opposed to the non-outfitted guest on the national forest. Second, because they are identifiable through the commercial service they are universally assessed, whereas those coming on in a non-outfitted way are subject to the enforcement efforts of the Federal agencies and, frankly, oftentimes get a free ride.
Our second concern involves use of the new fee demonstration authority in ways which undercut and jeopardize the operation of commercial providers on public lands. We have sparked the entrepreneurial fires of Federal employees throughout the Nation. We are finding, however, that sometimes this entrepreneurial spirit blinds the Federal agencies to the benefits of long-term partnerships with other agencies at the state and local level or with companies, for example those who are providing concession campgrounds and other kinds of services.
Page 49 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We don't believe that the Forest Service should lose sight of the fact that even though they might be able to collect all the revenues from a Snowbird, it would make no sense for the Forest Service to try to operate a ski area like Snowbird directly.
We think that our concerns are largely the result of a new tool being handed to Federal officials who are very hard-pressed to meet growing and changing demands for recreation. They think of it, in many cases, of fees as a universal wrench able to fix all problems, and it is not.
Thanks to you and to the Congress and to the agencies themselves, we know that providing high quality recreation in America will take a number of tools, including encouragement of volunteer efforts, use of funding from ISTEA and other kinds of Federal programs, partnerships with private sectors as concessionaires and special permittees, partnerships with states and local agencies in a wide variety of ways, corporate support through sponsorships and work with non-profit organizations.
In general we believe that the fee demonstration program has already been a great success and deserves to continue for at least two more years so we can learn through the process of the projects underway. We think that there are some additional needs to develop a broad recreation strategy for the Federal agencies, and I want to encourage you to recommend to the agencies to do that.
Among those lessons that still are unlearned would be use of differential pricing between peak and non-peak periods of the years, and linkages between the rich and the poor sites. We heard today, for example, evidence that some national park and some national forest areas will certainly be able to bring in enough revenue to run well the recreation programs at that site.
However, there are other sites which will never be able to implement a strong fee program. There are ways, though, to link those. For example, to use an example here in Washington, we could reward volunteers working on the C&O Canal or on the mall here in Washington with free access to Shenandoah National Park. There are ways to combine this program with other mechanisms to increase overall the opportunities for recreation in this country.
Page 50 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We heard repeatedly concerns about the social equity and whether local people or the economically disadvantaged are being priced out of our public lands. Certainly we don't want to see that occur. However, we now, under the fee demonstration, could see enhanced use of such devices as free access days, where we simply decide that during certain non-peak periods families and individuals alike could come in without a fee as a way to encourage them to use their land.
And there are other things in our testimony that we are suggesting. We appreciate the opportunity to do so.
Finally, we would suggest just a couple of changes that you might well be able to work either with the Chairman Regula or through stand-alone authorization for this program coming through the Resources Committee.
First of all, we would suggest strongly a prohibition on the use of the authority of the fee demonstration program to ''replace, disrupt or jeopardize the provision of public recreation services on Federal lands by permittees and concessionaires.''
Secondly, we would encourage new direction on the type of fee strategies to be tested during the demonstration period, including as I mentioned peak and off-peak pricing strategies to encourage volunteerism and free access periods.
Third, a provision for modest growth in the number of sites permitted under the program. At this point the agencies are limited to no more than 100 sites. The Park Service has shown that they have 100 sites up and running right now and may deserve an increase beyond that.
Fourth, a refocusing of the use of receipts in needed, because there is some concern about the need to show the public where their funds are going, and we've suggested some language that we think would help to encourage the visibility of use of the fees.
And finally, we specifically endorse allowing inclusion of special use permit revenues as fee demonstration projects, and that has been addressed in questions of the previous panel. Such things as outfitter guide permits would be specifically allowed.
Page 51 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We thank you very much for the time to be with you here this morning and look forward to working with you on this exciting program. Thank you.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Crandall may be found at end of hearing.]
Mr. HANSEN. Thank you Mr. Crandall. Mr. Voorhees.
STATEMENT OF PHILIP DAVID VOORHEES, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF POLICY AND DEVELOPMENT, NATIONAL PARKS AND CONSERVATION AREA
Mr. VOORHES. Mr. Chairman, thank you very much for the opportunity to testify. Again, I know NPCA was before you just 2 days ago testifying on the film fee matter. I appreciate the access they provide us.
Since its initiation in 1996, the demonstration fee program has proven valuable by almost any metric that you want to use. It's brought more revenue into the national parks, and it has begun to educate park managers about the public acceptance of entrance and use fees, options for fee collections and the kind of collateral benefits that increased fee collections or fee collections of any kind can bring.
The program has also been dynamic in raising a variety of issues that Congress should address once the program reaches its conclusion. Some of those issues include the appropriate method of interagency revenue-sharing, the appropriateness of specific types of use and entrance fees, the possibility of eventual fee caps and the distribution of revenues within the National Park Service.
In my testimony today I want to limit my comments to the National Park Service fee program alone, inasmuch as we concentrate fairly closely on NPS.
First, with regard to entrance fees, I think there's no question but that the public has been broadly accepting of the fees that have been raised at the 100 sites or nearly 100 sites that have been included in the demonstration fee program.
Page 52 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Before the program began in 1995 NPCA conducted a national survey asking the question of the public's acceptance of fee increase. We found that 70 percent of those surveyed responded they were not opposed to an increase from an average, at that time, of $5 per carload for a visit of up to 7 days.
A year later, still before the fee demonstration program began, we conducted another survey and probed a little bit more deeply into that, and I think the results here are telling. Based on per person rather than a per carload assessment, we asked at a variety of different levels what is the public's tolerance, if you will, to pay certain increases.
We found that 56 percent of respondents would support an increase of $5 per person and as support gradually dropped to about 20 percent, that increase rose to about $10 per person.
I don't think the specific dollar figures here have a tremendous amount of relevance because we are talking about apples and oranges and per person as opposed to per carload and such, but they do clearly show that there is a limit of public acceptance of fee increases, obviously the higher you go.
So my question would be in this form, and I implore the Committee to consider how much is too much. Now in some circumstances in some parks the fees have been doubled or even tripled. In some circumstances that may be well be warranted, but there clearly are limits. And as the Committee considers where to go next with regard to the fee program, I think that close consideration ought to be given to exactly what are the upper limits.
Now use fees might be in some circumstances a little bit different kind of situation. There have been circumstances in the Park Service's program in which use fees have met somewhat more limited acceptance.
I think the best example is the private boater fees at the Grand Canyon, and the Private Boaters Association is going to be here testifying I am sure to that effect today where currently, I believe, before you even dip an oar in the water, if you are a private boater and waiting an average of 8 years to get on the river, you pay $200 in waiting fees, if you will, while you are waiting and then another $100 before you get on the river. So before you ever dip an oar in the water you've paid $300 for the privilege of getting on the river.
Page 53 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC That seems a little bit excessive. I don't necessarily want to damn the Park Service for exploring this kind of exercise, this kind of use fee, because I think that's exactly the purpose of the demonstration fee program, to specifically explore the parameters of what the public acceptance is and what kinds of fees should and shouldn't be charged.
I just would say that as the Committee moves forward with its consideration of how the fee program has been moving along, they should look closely at examples of excess and provide some moderation where it's warranted.
Given the fact that there are clearly some hitches if you will as the fee program progresses, I wonder if the length of time that's been allowed the demonstration program to lay out or to roll out is really adequate. NPCA would ask that the Committee consider extending the program for perhaps another 5 years and in fact broadening the scope for the Park Service beyond the 100 units that are now authorized to include all units.
Now that doesn't mean that I am saying all units should charge fees, but rather the Park Service should be given the authority to extend it to any and all units they see might work. That way you can develop a much more sophisticated baseline, again, of what is and isn't appropriate, what is and may not be the levels of public tolerance for fees in specific circumstances before the Congress steps in and makes the program permanent.
Another question is distribution of fees with the Park Service. There are a limited number of sites that have had spectacular success in the fees that they've raised. In fact the Grand Canyon again is a good example in which the fees they have collected have exceeded their operations budget. Now that's fairly alarming notation. I think there might be others here today who would say, ''Well why not cut them free and let them float and not support them with tax revenues?''
I would say that for those folks who would make that argument that they look at the purpose of the fee program which is to address the backlog. In the Canyon alone the backlog for maintenance and infrastructure exceeds $15 million, which if you never added to the backlog would take 10 years to resolve given the current fee stream.
Page 54 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC On the issue of additional of additional research, the Park Service constructed the program as it is essentially in going out to the units that were charging fees now and gave them an open question as to how they should proceed.
Before the Congress makes this a permanent program I would implore that they ask the Park Service to do some more sophisticated analysis, which would explore what are the limits of public acceptance but also what are the limits of fee collection at which you start to have some demographic impacts on who can and cannot go to the national parks.
In no circumstances should we construct a fee program that would affect the demographics and affect the willingness of anybody in America to go and use the national parks, no matter what their economic or social mean.
Lastly, I'd like to say that public fees, use fees, entrance fees are really only a part of the equation. The Park Service certainly is facing a broad number of financial issues and has for quite some time. Public fees are a part of that. When the issue of raising entrance fees and use fees was first considered in the Congress some years ago, we came and said then that private fees have to be a part of this. When I say ''private'' I mean concessions fees, filming fees, which the Committee is now addressing.
In the last Congress we again came close on the issue of concessions reform, and I thinkand I hopethat before the Congress moves any further with more public fees or raising the public fees or making the program permanent, that we would again sit down and finally resolve the issue of concessions reform.
With that I'd like to conclude my comments with one final caveat. It has been expressed before here, and that's that the Committee always keep a close eye on the fact that these fees should remain supplemental and not supplant existing appropriated funds. I think there's broad recognition on the part of the Committee and I believe on the part of the Congress, but I think that there's reiteration.
Page 55 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC With that I'll conclude. Thank you very much for the opportunity.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Voorhes may be found at end of hearing.]
Mr. HANSEN. Thank you. Appreciate it. Mr. Stavely.
STATEMENT OF GAYLORD STAVELY, VICE PRESIDENT, NATIONAL FOREST RECREATION ASSOCIATION
Mr. STAVELEY. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you for the opportunity. The National Forest Recreation Association represents private sector business persons who own or operate, developed sites such as resorts, lodges, pack stations, campgrounds and marinas on the national forests for the use and enjoyment of the public. Those include both public and private facilities.
There are by Forest Service count some 1,700 private businesses on the forests. Overall they have a multi-billion dollar investment in structures, facilities and equipment used to serve the visiting public; and they contribute millions of dollars in privilege fees to the Federal treasurer every year.
NFRA's interest in the recreation fee demonstration program springs from harmful effects the program has already had on a number of these businesses and could have on them and others in the future. NFRA is not presently opposed to the recreation fee demonstration idea. It may be good for a recreation-managing agency or a unit of that agency to have more than one source of revenue, and it's certainly not unfair to ask a visitor to pay for the use of a facility or an amenity on a national forest.
We do however strongly object to the use of fee demonstration projects to harm, displace or subrogate concessioner operations. There has for some time been a faction within the Forest Service that advocates taking back the visitor services, both public and private, that have been concessioned out to the private sector, believing that the jobs and revenues at those sites would then go to Forest Service employees. Some in the agency now see fee demonstration as an income base for taking back those sites and have begun using it that way.
Page 56 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC During the first year we've seen fee demonsatration used to displace or subrogate concessioned operations in a number of ways which include the following: The stripping, shortening or otherwise changing of an existing permit (for which the Forest Service euphemism is ''permit renegotiation,'') refusing to renew a permit for which there is a pattern of past renewals, setting a new fee and taking the revenue from it while shifting its related maintenance costs over to a concessioner, pressuring the concessioner to manipulate concession fees up or down so the Forest Service fee will seem less objectionable or more affordable.
Many Forest Service field employees ignored the parameters of the 1996 fee demonstration authorization. A year ago the Chief of the Forest Service was finding it necessary to issue a letter to his regional foresters prohibiting displacement of concessions based on recreation fee demonstration projects.
The Chief's letter notwithstanding, new instances of fee demonstration impingements on concessionaires continued to be reported throughout the summer of 1997. By September there was sufficient concern in the Senate that in a September 18th Colloquy on the Senate floor Senator John Kyl said that, ''at some fee demonstration sites there appears to be an intent to discontinue reliance on the private sector for delivery of recreation goods and services.''
Senator Larry Craig cited a new Heritage exhibition program that essentially puts the Forest Service into the outfitter guide business. Senator Slade Gorton reiterated that ''concessioner displacement was not an intent of the fee demonstration program.''
Toward the end of the last session an amendment to the 1988 Appropriations bill was being discussed, to assert the parameters of fee demonstration. The Forest Service opposed that amendment on the grounds that they don't want to relinquish their authority to take back concessions.
Mr. Chairman, in summary, not enough is yet known about how or whether fee demonstration funds and appropriated funds can be blended to assure the continued availability of safe, enjoyable visitor services on the Federal lands. More demonstration is needed that the fees will be used for resource protection and maintenance and not as a Forest Service jobs program. More assurances are needed that the Forest Service cannot use the fee demonstration program to damage, displace or compete with its concessionaires.
Page 57 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC If fee demonstration were permanently authorized and then at some point the Administration or the Congress were to renege on earlier promises and treat locally collected fees as an appropriation offset, we believe the Forest Service would then feel they have a legislated license to extract as much money as possible from concessionaires without regard for the ability of the private sector to pay those fees and still continue to provide safe facilities and quality service.
The Forest Service needs private sector business and financial help and is likely to need them increasingly in the future. Fee demonstration was sold to the concessioner community on the basis that it would provide new flexibility to the agencies and attract more private investment to the improvement of recreation and visitor facilities and services on the public lands.
The effect of fee demonstration thus far has been to discourage private investment and employee tenure at national forest recreation sites. We would like to see the fee demonstration program or something like it succeed, but we urge that it not be permanently authorized at this time or without legislated direction.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Staveley may be found at end of hearing.]
Mr. HANSEN. Thank you. I appreciate the excellent testimony from all three of our panelists. I do have some questions, but we've go two more panels to go. We may submit those to you if that's alright. We'd appreciate a response from you. We'll thank you and excuse you from the front table there in terms of our next panel.
Mr. James D. Santini, a former Member of Congress from the National Tour Association; Craig Mackey, Public Policy Liaison, Outward Bound; Mary Margaret Sloan, Conservation Director of the American Hiking Society and Holly Fretwell, Research Associate, Political Economy Research Center.
Page 58 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC If you folks would like to come up and take your places, we'd appreciate it. We appreciate your being with us. Do your best to stay within your time, I'd appreciate it if you could. We are going to run out of time for this room, which has got me a little concerned.
Our former colleague, Mr. Santini, it's good to see you. We'll start with you. Is that all right?
STATEMENT OF JAMES D. SANTINI, WASHINGTON DC REPRESENTATIVE, NATIONAL TOUR ASSOCIATION AND FORMER MEMBER OF CONGRESS
Mr. SANTINI. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I'll do my best. I adhere to the same clock that Mr. Crandall was speaking to. I offer this testimony on behalf of the NTA, a Lexington, Kentucky-based international package travel association of 627 companies.
Over the last 2 yearsI should say probably 12 yearsNTA has been working closely with the National Park Service to make demonstration fee programs and public-private cooperation a success.
Most of our associations' tour operator members regard the national parks, historic, heritage sites as lifetime experiences for their group clients who are traveling together for economy, efficiency, security and social interaction. That is the basis of packaged travel. For many of America's senior citizens and school-aged travelers, this is the only way they will ever be able to share the natural and historic wonders offered by park destinations.
NTA membership also includes 850 local, state, provincial, destination marketing offices, the convention and visitor bureaus; and 2,255 tourist suppliers that include attractions, hotels, motels, restaurants, bus companies, airlines and receptive operators.
In the 1996 DavidsonPeterson Association economic study packaged travel industry generated over $11.6 billion to the U.S. economy, of which $9.6 billion was spent at the local level.
Page 59 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Today, Mr. Chairman, NTA will respond to your request for oversight commentary on the demonstration fee program. At the outset we applaud the innovative attempt by the U.S. Congress to create opportunity for public land agencies to apply on-the-ground, real world experiences in crafting the greatly expanded entrance and use fee program.
Since the adoption of the fee demonstration program it has been NTA's predominant experience that the National Park Service has established an agency policy to do whatever it can to make the congressionally mandated fee demonstration program succeed.
Regrettably NTA cannot express the same positive experience with the United States Forest Service during this same demonstration fee period.
At the Committee's May 11, 1995 hearing on recreation fees on public lands, NTA's President, then Secretary-Treasurer, Keith Kerfall enunciated four basic appeals to the National Park Service in adopting any kind of fee program.
First, there should be equitable fee comparison between the individual and commercial group visitor. Second, Kerfall pressed for adequate notice because most tour operator's package 12 to 18 months in advance. Third, NTA urged the opportunity to be heard for all impacted individual, group, and recreational park visitors before the fee is adopted. And finally, Kerfall appealed for uniform commercial and business use fee structures throughout this 370-plus units of the national parks.
From the industry's initial commercial fee crisis of September 19, 1994 in which the National Parks Conservation Associates incidentally an ally in resolution, to the Yosemite National Park use permit panic of March 1995, the National Park Service has made constructive efforts to respond to NTA's basic fee fairness concerns.
This ongoing communication culminated in the December 1996 announcement of the individual and commercial visitor fee program. With that fee program there was certainly an attempt to establish equity or parity as between the individual visitors and all other users of the national parks. There was a 12-month deferred period to enable the tour packager to catch up with the impending increase in fee. And while all problems with demonstration fee programs have not been ironed out, all parties have experienced substantial progress toward the practical implementation of the public-private goal.
Page 60 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Further, the National Park Service took the NTA 1995 plea for park uniformity seriously and established thetier structure system. Our park partnership interaction continues with meetings that continue this last month in PhoenixAnother meeting in the upcoming month in Phoenixto work out some of the park fee problems at the Grand Canyon National Park, as between the various tiers of commercial entrants.
Mr. Chairman, you asked me to address another realm of less successful fee demonstration resolution with the ill begotten air tour commercial fees at Grand Canyon, Haleakala and Hawaiian volcanoes. These fees were adopted without any industry opportunity to be heard or even Park Service support testimony by the former National Park's authorizing committee in the 1993 budget reconciliation Act.
I have included in my testimony, Mr. Chairman, an enumeration of all the fees that are presently being paid as a consequence of operating an air tour to and from the Grand Canyon. The cost per visitor is anywhere from $20.35 to $24.13, which is double the comparative cost for any other park entrant. The largest percentage, 70 percent estimate, air tours do not land and take off from NPS ground. There is a comparative user inequity for the air tour fee.
The air tour viewer utilizes no services, receives no direct benefit of any kind. The air tour leaves no footprints, sandwich papers or evidence of restroom use at the Grand Park or the Hawaiian Park. It is without a question one of the most environmentally sensitive ways for a disabled, physically limited, time-constrained visitor to see the aerial grandeur of both the Grand Canyon and the Hawaiian parks.
There is no precedent for an entrance fee for only visual appreciation of a national park. There is a fleeting air noise impact that has almost been totally eliminated by Public Law 10091 and SFAR 501. This is proven by the 1993 Park Service survey in Grand Canyon National Park. Ninety-five percent of the ground visitors reported no aircraft noise from whatever source. Interference with their park experience in 1996only 25 written complaints out of 5 million park visitors about aircraft noise from the plane.
Page 61 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC At least to date no other Federal agency has attempted to start taxing airspace users for sound impacts. With your direction and reinforcement, Mr. Chairman, I believe we can find a sensible resolution to the 1999 National Park authorizing legislation.
Finally, again, speaking to the overall program, Mr. Chairman, the NTA applauds this unprecedented opportunity to work together with all the land management agencies. We hope you will authorize this partnership problem-solving program for at least 2 more years beyond the 3-year termination date for the existing program.
Thank you for the opportunity to share my experiences and recommendations with you, Mr. Chairman.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Santini may be found at end of hearing.]
Mr. HANSEN. Thank you very much. Mr. Mackey.
STATEMENT OF CRAIG MACKEY, PUBLIC POLICY LIAISON, OUTWARD BOUND
Mr. MACKEY. Good afternoon. I represent Outward Bound USA, which is a non-profit educational institution and a leader in wilderness and experiential education.
For 37 years Outward Bound has had the privilege of conducting extended back country expeditions to teach leadership, self-reliance and wilderness skills.
Quite simply, parks, public lands and wilderness are our classroom. The Outward Bound system in this country has five wilderness schools and two urban centers. With operations in 25 states and on scores of Federal resource units, we witness the fully array of agency policies, procedures and fees.
I represent a leader in wilderness education. I also speak to you as an outfitter. Outward Bound and other leading educators such as Wilderness Inquiry and the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) operate as full commercial users of the public land.
Page 62 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In my comments I will address our support for fees and Outward Bound's experience with fees in the fee demonstration experiment, including the issues of multiple fees, notification on fees, consistency of fees, and the need for equitable fees.
On our support for fees I'll be brief. Public lands, as I said, are our classroom. Outward Bound pays fees, probably more fees on more units than any single entity in the country. We recognize the need for and the merits of proper administration and maintenance of our public resources.
That is why outdoor groups such as Outward Bound, NOLS, the Outdoor Recreation Coalition of America, and others supported the fee demonstration program.
To talk about the Outward Bound experience with fees, I'll touch on four issues. First, multiple fees. Fee demonstration has quite simply produced fees upon fees. The most I've seen paid on a given unit is five. Four is not uncommon. The usual suspectsfranchise fees, back country and camping fees, entrance and trail head fees, parking fees and per-head-per-day fees. For each fee the time, point or method of collection may vary.
Also, as fees increase, we need to remember and ensure that our Federal lands remain open to all economic classes among the public.
The second issue I would mention is notification. When you think of outfitters, think of small business. We set budgets, establish costs, market and advertise. At Outward Bound our catalogs go out a year in advance. The competition is quite simply brutal.
In one national park we are staring at a new fee that will increase Outward Bound's costs from $303 in 1997 to over $7,000 this summer. The fee is proposed to start in May. As of this testimony today we have no written notification from the Park Service.
In another example, both Outward Bound and NOLS have had a van-load of students stranded outside an entry station while our field instructors located cash to pay a new or increased fee.
Page 63 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The third issue is consistency within each of the agencies. The discrepancies in how fees are calculated, assessed and paid are dizzying. One unit requires a single permit and a single fee for sea kayaking, mountaineering and ice climbing activities. Another unit will charge a separate fee for each of those activities.
The fourth issue I would mention is equity. And here I'll highlight compliance. Focus on Outward Bound for a minute as a back country user. Our students comply with fees at a rate of 100 percent. In the case of the BLM and Forest Service, other back country users typically pay no fees or only voluntary fees. This includes the public and most institutional groups such as scouts, church groups and university programs.
If fees are the future, will the agencies find the resources to monitor and manage dispersed recreation such as Outward Bound's use or will the outfitter continue to carry the load? If fees are indeed the future, fee demonstration must answer these and other fundamental questions.
In fee demonstration there have been successes. Public acceptance is higher where fees are equitable, stay with the resource and the results from agency-reinvestment are tangible. We know the Park Service is issuing directive to eliminate some of the duplicative fees that I talked about, and local Forest Service staff revamped a significant per-head-per-day-fee in the boundary waters based on public and outfitter input.
In summary, Mr. Chairman, many questions remain. Outward Bound is here today in support of fees and in support of the fee demonstration experiment. Outward Bound would recommend that this experiment run its course. It's too early to make the program permanent based on 1-year's performance, and we'd ask that oversight activities such as this hearing today and the report that was submitted on January 31, continue.
And in the future at the appropriate date Outward Bound and other members of the outfitter community would be happy to sit down with members of this Committee and help draft permanent fee legislation.
Page 64 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Thank you for the opportunity.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Mackey may be found at end of hearing.]
Mr. HANSEN. Thank you. Mary Margaret Sloan, you have the floor.
STATEMENT OF MARY MARGARET SLOAN, CONSERVATION DIRECTOR, AMERICAN HIKING SOCIETY
Ms. SLOAN. My name is Mary Margaret Sloan, and I am the conservation director for American Hiking Society, a national nonprofit organization serving 10,000 individual members and the more than 500,000 members of our 120 affiliated clubs.
American Hiking supports the current recreation fee demonstration program for a number of reasons. Revenues stay in the unit, the oft-stated intent that appropriations will not be offset by the fees, and because the fees address the enormous need for on-the-ground funding. However, it is our opinion that the demonstration program is not being implemented with uniform, good success.
The purpose of the demonstration program is to encourage the land management agencies to creatively implement different fee collection projects. Some of these projects are just now getting underway. We have not had an opportunity to adequately evaluate the effectiveness of the fees or how the agencies are spending their revenues. We urge the Subcommittee to let the demonstration program run its course and wait until 1999 or beyond to propose a permanent program.
In order for this Subcommittee and the Congress to create a successful and positive recreation fees program, the concerns of hikers and other recreationists paying the fee should be carefully considered. To that end, American Hiking suggests several principles which can contribute to a successful program, some of which are a part of the current demonstration program and some which should be added or changed.
Page 65 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC First, the fees must be fair and equitable and not prohibit anyone from visiting our public lands. Second, the fee collection must be convenient and not unduly interfere with the recreation experience sought by the park visitor. Third, any fee system must consider and encourage park volunteers, and fourth, the legislation should clearly state that fee revenues should not offset general appropriations.
Fees which are assessed against the general public for parks and forests must be fair and equitable. Multiple layers of fees are onerous and may discourage lower-income Americans from visiting our public lands. I have excerpted a letter from an AHS member from Austin, Texas, and I quote:
''May 8, 1997. Perhaps you can't be of help, but I just need to know what can be done, if anything. During the first week of June 1997, I'm taking my oldest daughter, her husband, and six of their children to the Grand Canyon. My daughter is a cafeteria aide and her husband is a porter at a local car dealership. These are obviously low-income people, and it's because of my determination that they're going on this trip at all. I have already paid $60 for two campsites at Mather Campground at the Grand Canyon, but I am hoping there is not an additional entrance fee or per-person fee like I read. Since I'm also planning on taking them to the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert, and possibly some other natural parks and monuments on the way there and back, including Carlsbad Caverns and Guadalupe Mountains, this means additional entrance fees, et cetera. At any rate, all of these entrance fees will take a heavy toll on my daughter and her husband.
''Is there anything you can advise me to do to help cut the expense of this family vacation? We had started planning this last year, well before the demonstration fees were mentioned, and my children were rather discouraged when they took effect.''
That's the end of the letter.
Page 66 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Because of the cumulative fees, this woman did not take her grandchildren to the Grand Canyon in 1997. This letter demonstrates the need for more sensitivity to those who are less well off. Even so, this woman's complaints transcend income. Simplicity and affordability should be the order of business for the Federal agencies. Fees, particularly in popular parks like the Grand Canyon should be re-evaluated for their impact on lower-income communities.
Entrance and user fees should be reasonable and convenient and unobtrusive into the hiking and trail experience. Fees should apply to as wide an area as possible. Regional or statewide fees are optimal.
In November 1997, the Mountaineers, a 15,000-member outdoor recreation and conservation group based in Washington State, hosted its second annual user fee conference. Attendees voiced strong support for a regional fee requirement. They also complained about the current multiplicity of user fees, with a different sticker required for every trailhead, which leads to frustration, makes compliance difficult, and will likely result in keeping all but the wealthiest citizens off of public lands.
All of the land-managing agencies should actively cultivate and pursue volunteers as one way to offset budget shortfalls and to generate public support and goodwill.
May I have one more minute to conclude?
Last year, the USDA Forest Service issued a forestwide memorandum encouraging the forests to work closely with current volunteers when implementing a new fee, and also to use fee waivers to encourage increased volunteerism. American Hiking thinks fee waivers for on-the-ground volunteer work will prove to be a useful tool for the forests.
American Hiking Society feels quite strongly than any revenue generated from the fees should not be used to offset appropriations. We hope that this intent will be made clear and prominent in any recreation fees legislation.
Page 67 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Thank you for the invitation to testify. I look forward to answering any questions the Subcommittee may have.
[The prepared statement of Ms. Sloan may be found at end of hearing.]
Mr. HANSEN. Thank you.
Our next, Holly Fretwell, we turn the time to you.
STATEMENT OF HOLLY FRETWELL, RESEARCH ASSOCIATE, POLITICAL ECONOMY RESEARCH CENTER
Ms. FRETWELL. Thank you. First, I'd like to commend Congress for creating the fee demonstration program. It is a great step toward self-sufficiency in our popular national parks. The program has already generated in excess of $45 million for selected national parks. These parks have been able to keep 80 percent of the new fee revenues. New legislation offers even greater potential for self-sufficiency by allowing participants to retain 100 percent of fee revenues.
I'm here today to urge Congress to make additional reform, so that our popular parks can become totally self-supporting, at least operationally. Why self-supporting? Requiring parks to be self-supporting will motivate managers to create more services for visitors, maintain our parks in better condition, and importantly, to become financially responsible in this process. Right now we have very little incentive for financial responsibility at our parks. Exorbitant spending for our employee housing and $330,000 outhouses are simply two examples of wasteful spending in our parks.
It's not very well-known, but our early national parks were created on the premise that they would be operationally self-sufficient. In 1916, five of our national parks, indeed, were operationally self-sufficient, with fee revenues exceeding operating expenses.
Here are some of the remaining shortfalls that stand in the way of our parks to become self-sufficient:
Page 68 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
First, only one-fourth of our parks are now part of the fee demonstration program. There are a lot more parks that could be added to this.
Second, despite the recent fee hikes, entrance fees are still unrealistically low in many parks. For example, the Golden Eagle Passport costing only $50, allows a carload of passengers to enter as many national parks as they like, as many times ad they like in a single year. This fee could be considerably higher. The Golden Age Passport allows senior citizens the same right. It costs them only $10 for an entire lifetime. Now this is a group that is being subsidized greatly here, and I do believe they are capable of paying at least a reasonable fee.
Entrance fees at Yellowstone and Yosemite are still fairly low, even with the fee demonstration program. It costs only $20 for a family of four to visit Yellowstone for seven consecutive days. In comparison, that same family would pay $40 to visit Disneyland for a single day, and they would pay an equivalent or more than the $20 to see a movie for a dayor for several hours at that. Changing fees in our parks to reflect market prices would not only raise revenues in our parks, but it would also begin to address some of the overcrowding problems that plague our national parks.
Third, we need stronger incentives for park managers to spend funds wisely. Presently, managers are motivated to spend all the funds they are allocated. We could change this motivation by allowing cost savings to remain as a future budget enhancement in our parks.
Our State parks are a great example and show us self-supporting parks are a realistic goal. There are now 16 State parks that generate more than half of their operating costs from user fees. New Hampshire and Vermont are 100 percent self-sufficient in their park operations. Dramatic changes have taken place in many parks. Texas and California, for example, have encouraged increased fee revenues and budget cost savings. State parks are becoming better stewards of the land, and they are responding to visitor demand. Many parks are making greater efforts to manage the resource amenities.
Page 69 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Thanks to Congress, the National Park Service is making progress for autonomy at selected national parks, but further changes are, indeed, needed. I recommend the following:
Congress should begin by holding appropriations to individual parks at current levels. Future budget increases would come from higher revenues and cost savings. Congress must allow managers to institute their own fees, taking into account rising demand and park resources. This could address some of the facts we've discussed today, such as resident and nonresident fees and peak-season and shoulder fees.
Congress must also allow park managers to keep all costs savings as an enhancement for subsequent year's budget. For responsible capital spending, each park should have a park endowment fund. This could be spent at the discretion of park management for capital maintenance and improvement. Funds could come from a portion of concession receipts or user fees or private investment in the form of bonds.
Again, I would just like to reiterate that allowing parks to be self-supporting motivates managers to respond to park visitors and park resources, and at the same time it encourages fiscal responsibility.
Thank you so much for allowing me the opportunity to speak today.
[The prepared statement of Ms. Fretwell may be found at end of hearing.]
Mr. HANSEN. Thank you.
The gentlelady from Idaho.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. I have no questions, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. HANSEN. Thank you. That was very interesting testimony. I'd be very curious how we would work that endowment fund. We've thought about that around here a few times.
Page 70 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I have a few questions, but I'm supposed to get out of this room in a little while. So if it's OK with everybody, I'll dismiss you and move to the next panel.
Panel No. 4: Mr. Bachrach, Mr. Dingman, and Mr. Coyne. Would they all come forward, please?
Is that right; is it Bachrach?
STATEMENT OF JOHN CHRISTOPHER BACHRACH, TREASURER AND BOARD MEMBER, GRAND CANYON PRIVATE BOATERS ASSOCIATION
Mr. BACHRACH. Bachrach.
Mr. HANSEN. You're first.
Mr. BACHRACH. I've heard way worse.
Mr. Chairman, thank you for this opportunity to share our thoughts on the demonstration fee special use cost recovery programs. My name is John Bachrach, and I've come from Flagstaff to represent the Grand Canyon Private Boaters Association. We are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation that was formed in 1996 to give a voice to the private, noncommercial, or self-guided river-running population who, until now, have had no voice in Park Service policy matters that affect the boating community.
Briefly, I will outline the fees a person must pay in order to conduct or participate in a private, self-guided river trip on the Colorado River. These fees include two different authorities: cost recovery and fee demonstration.
First, the cost recovery program: In order to be accepted onto the Grand Canyon National Park's wait list, you must pay $100. Then
to remain on this list until your turn has come up, you will have to pay $25 per year. The current wait is likely to be 18 years. Therefore, you will pay a total of $550 before you ever see the river. When you're finally able to launch, you'll pay another $200.
Page 71 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Second, the demonstration fees: Under this authority, you and each participant in your trip will pay $10 for entry into the park and $4 per night for every night spent in the park. Combined, these river-running fees constitute a 1,200 percent increase and were implemented with no public input.
Before the Grand Canyon Private Boaters Association could support continued advocation or further expansion and implementation of the fee demonstration program, we would need to be assured that the program meets several important criteria. They are as follows:
One, fees must be applied equitably and fairly to all persons, businesses, and corporate entities engaged in similar activities on America's public lands.
Two, fees must not be used as a tool to limit access to America's public lands or waterways.
Three, fees must be consistent in both their assessment and administration.
As a group, we are very concerned that the fee demonstration program does not currently pass any of these fairness tests. In the case of the Grand Canyon River-running, fees are not presently applied fairly to all users engaged in similar activities. Most of our members and the private boaters we have surveyed have no objection to paying their fair share of the park's operating costs. In contrast to the collected noncommercial fees, fees paid by the commercial outfitters are not used to recover the Park Service's management expenses. Outfitters pay franchise fees, and in the case of the Grand Canyon, river-runners payriver outfitters pay into the Colorado River Fund. Neither of these is used to offset river operations costs.
Consequently, outfitter patrons pay no fees directly to the park. A system that provided for the commercial patrons to pay the same fees for similar uses as the self-guided, in our view, would be a fair system.
Page 72 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The imposition of fees has apparently been used as a tool to limit access for the private boater in the Grand Canyon. The Department of Interior's press releases assure the public that they would be involved in the development of the fee demonstration program process, but as far as the Grand Canyon is concerned, not one public hearing was conducted before the announcement and implementation of the new fee structure. This sudden and enormous fee increase took the boating public by surprise and resulted in slowing the growth rate of the park's wait list by 30 percent.
In 1998, for the first time in the history of the Colorado River running, the total number of hopefuls on the wait list declined by more than 1,000. This is the number of people out of 6,000 who did not renew their names on the waiting list. If the point of raising the price was to discourage self-guided use of the Canyon, then the fee demonstration program has been a success.
The long wait, coupled with the high fees, has nurtured the feeling among the river community that the annual fee is actually a penalty meant to discourage them from future participation. Current and former Park Service employees at the Grand Canyon have stated that they felt fee demonstration charges were being used to curb the growth of the park's private boating wait list. Park staff had calculated an attrition rate of up to 30 percent for the noncommercial boating wait list.
The current fee demonstration program is inconsistent and unfair when compared with other fee programs imposed on public lands. Comparing the use of public lands by cows to humans would seem ridiculous, but those of us living in the West know from simple observation that overgrazing by itself causes more damage to the resources in question than wilderness use by most humans. Boaters and hikers are now paying $4 per night for every night they spend in the Grand Canyon. Presently, it costs less than $10 for a cow to spend a year in the wilderness. This comparison looks even more extreme when fitted into the larger picture that includes annual fees for mining, logging, and other resource-consuming activities that take place on public lands.
Page 73 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Additionally, we are concerned with the classification of river-running at Grand Canyon National Park as a special use and the precedent that special use classification may set for other low-impact, human-powered activity on public lands. Because Grand Canyon National Park has classified noncommercial river-running as a special park use, the park attempts to recover 100 percent of the cost of managing this use, in contrast to other park activities, which receive almost all their funding from the park's general fund.
Special park use includes activities that are outside of the normal range of activities in a parkfor example, holding a wedding ceremony or filming a movie. Historically speaking, one of the first uses of what eventually became Grand Canyon National Park began with river-running and a character named John Wesley Powell. A river trip on the Colorado is a special experience for sure, but river-running is definitely not outside the normal range of activities in the park, and therefore, we feel that it is not a special use.
In closing, before private boaters can support the fee demonstration program, we need to be sure that the criteria for fairness is in place. We once again submit the following as guidelines:
One, fees must be applied fairly to all users engaged in similar activities.
Two, fees must not be used as a tool to limit access.
And, three, administration of fees must be consistently assessed to all resource users.
We sincerely thank Representative Hansen's office for this opportunity to present our perspective.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Bachrach may be found at end of hearing.]
Page 74 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. HANSEN. Thank you very much. That's an interesting comparison you had there.
Mr. BACHRACH. Thank you.
Mr. HANSEN. Mr. Dingman?
STATEMENT OF ROBERT DINGMAN, AMERICAN MOTORCYCLIST ASSOCIATION, WASHINGTON, DC
Mr. DINGMAN. Mr. Chairman, my name is Robert Dingman, and I'm the Washington representative of the American Motorcyclist Association, an organization with over 222,000 motorcycle enthusiast members. I have a written statement, which I will summarize, and ask that it be included as part of the official hearing record.
Derrick Crandall discussed five essential principles which must be contained in any recreation fee proposal. We would like to lend our voice to the call for a fee program which contains those elements.
Many of the fees imposed under the recreational fee demonstration program, however, have not met the essential criteria that the fees be coherent and integrated. My comments pertain specifically to the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, as the other agencies don't provide recreational opportunities for off-highway vehicle enthusiasts.
Several States have for many years had user fee programs that are funded by the payment of registration fees for off-highway vehicles, and a small percentage of State motor fuel tax, which are returned in the form of grants to various land management entities, including Federal land management agencies, for the development, operation, and maintenance of recreational facilities.
For example, as Mrs. Chenoweth already mentioned, the State of California has perhaps the best-known such program, which is commonly referred to as the Green Sticker Program, named for the registration sticker required on vehicles ridden in areas funded by the program.
Page 75 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Both the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management are beneficiaries of the program. According to data provided by the Off-Highway Vehicle Division of the California Department of Parks and Recreation, over the last several years Federal land management agencies have received an average in excess of $10 million per year in grants from the Green Sticker Program. Another such program can be found in the State of Utah. According to Utah's Department of State Parks and Recreation, the income generated in 1997 from both the $12.50-per-year off-highway vehicle registration fee and a portion of the State motor fuel tax is in excess of $1.2 million. Of this amount, $175,000 was available in 1997 to Federal agencies for grants to off-highway vehicle facilities. The Forest Service applied for, and received, just $74,000 of this money. The BLM didn't even apply for any grants, leaving over $100,000 unexpended. With this amount available to land management agencies going unexpended, it doesn't seem necessary to impose any additional fees on the off-highway vehicle community.
When the AMA last provided testimony on the subject of the imposition of fees at public recreation facilities, we expressed a lack of confidence in the ability and willingness of the land management agencies to conduct a program which provided the necessary protection against the duplication of fees. We cautioned against providing the agencies the latitude to impose a redundant fee on the user group already paying for access to a particular facility, simply because it was easy to charge them again.
The progress report on the fee demonstration program has proven our concerns to be well-founded. When the Forest Service and the BLM issued their initial proposals for areas to be included in the fee demonstration program, both proposed to charge fees at some of the most popular off-highway vehicle areas, ranging from $3 to $10 per day per area, while continuing to submit grant requests from State-imposed user fee programs that amount to an average of $1 million per grant per area. That's right; our worse fears were realized.
Consider, if you will, the motor fuel tax and the registration fee comprising two layers of fees. The agency has proposed to impose what amounts to a third layer of fees on a single group of users who has been paying their way all along. As you can imagine, the outcry from the off-highway vehicle community was intense. As a result of this outcry, some of the most popular areas in the California desert district, managed by the BLM, were temporarily taken off the list. I understand, however, that they are slated to be reproposed in the near future.
Page 76 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In fact, over the President's Day weekend, fliers were apparently distributed by the BLM which announced that fees would be imposed beginning this April at the popular off-highway vehicle area, Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area. This area already receives nearly three-quarters of a million dollars a year from the California Green Sticker program. The Forest Service only gave the off-highway vehicle community lip service when it came to discussing the areas they had proposed for inclusion in the pilot program, which were already being funded with user fees. They publicly expressed a willingness to evaluate the areas they had chosen, but never took any areas off the list.
One good example of this is the so-called Enterprise Forest, or the Southern Province Forest, comprised of the four national forests in southern California. The situation on the Enterprise Forest illustrates the third layer of fees that the off-highway vehicle community has been asked to pay. Since the demonstration program, in addition to needing a green sticker on their vehicles, off-highway vehicle enthusiasts have needed to purchase an adventure pass in order to park their trucks and tow vehicles in staging areas that were built and maintained with Green Sticker dollars.
Recently, an AMA affiliate, the Central Coast Motorcycle Association, held a Sunday event in Los Padres National Forestif I might, I have just a little bit moreheld a Sunday event in the Los Padres National Forest, one of the Enterprise Forest units. Forest Service agents were on hand to sell the adventure passes to early arrivals on Saturday, but due to the popularity of the event, the agents ran out of permits early Saturday afternoon. The Forest Service could not find any agents willing to work on Sunday to sell the passes, but did manage to find law enforcement officers willing to write tickets to every attendee. Even those who had managed to buy a pass on Saturday before the supply was depleted were not left out. The passes were for calendar days, not for 24-hour periods. Since they had by then spent the night camping out in the forest, the unlucky participants were now in violation.
Page 77 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Neither the Forest Service nor the Bureau of Land Management has done an acceptable job of ensuring that the fees they impose are coherent and integrated. The AMA would only support permit fee authority for the land management agencies provided that safeguards were put in place to ensure that our essential criteria are met.
Perhaps permanent fee authority could be provided in a manner which would allow fees imposed by States and then transferred to Federal agencies in the form of grants to be scored as a fee generated by a land management agency for the purposes of satisfying their responsibility for developing revenue from fees.
The challenge for land management agencies, it seems to me, is to develop innovative ways of collecting fees from visitors to the facilities they manage, who have not traditionally been asked to pay for the privilege of visiting those facilities. Instead of meeting this challenge to their fullest potential, the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management have, from our perspective, taken the easy way out and imposed fees on individuals from whom they have already figured out a way to get fees.
Thank you for the opportunity to provide these comments as part of the official hearing record today. I'd be happy to answer questions.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Dingman may be found at end of hearing.]
Mr. HANSEN. Thank you very much.
STATEMENT OF ALASDAIR COYNE, CONSERVATION DIRECTOR, KEEP THE SESPE WILD
Mr. COYNE. Mr. Chairman, it is my honor to appear before you today, to discuss Forest Service access fees, and my responsibility to inform you that this well-intentioned program threatens many of the principles held dear by Congress and the Forest Service, while eroding public confidence in the government's ability to serve our common good.
Page 78 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In several decades of civic activism, I have never seen so many people so outraged at a government program. The program is upsetting a great number of people, far out of proportion to the minimal fees collected. Democrats are upset at the commercializing of public land. Republicans are upset about the inefficiency of a program rooted in the idea of running government like a business. Hunters and fishermen are incensed at an additional fee on top of their licenses. Hikers are upset at the very principle of being forced to pay, to enter our National Forests. As one outdoor enthusiast was quoted in The Ventura County Star, ''The Adventure Pass has proven wildly unpopular with forest users.'' I have always believed that Forest Service lands belonged to all Americans. How meaningful is the land of the free, when they are charging us just to walk in our National Forests?''
I believe that this fee-for-access program should be abandoned out of respect for the 100-year tradition of free and unfettered access to our National Forests. I believe that this is a principle truly worth fighting for.
Let me make a few important points about the Progress Report you received in January. This program is not generating nearly the funds projected, nor does it apply the funds that are raised to Forest maintenance, as promised. The Forest Service stated when this program was initiated, that it would generate a wealth of new revenues and would allow ''80 percent of all the fees collected to go into the recreation maintenance budget of the National Forest where collected.''
The best attempt at whitewashing cannot cover the fact that this is a tremendously inefficient program. Despite its lofty goals, a mere third of the fees collected were available for recreation facilities in southern California, after the first summer. For Los Padres Forest, next to my home, Forest Service documents put that figure at only 12 percent. This is despite the fact that the costs of the program have been severely underestimated and do not include the considerable dedication of time by district rangers, recreation officers, and Forest police, whose salaries are not subsidized by the fees.
Page 79 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The Report does not indicate how much of the fee income went to staffing and enforcement, often the largest expenditure. In fact, the Report is not even clear on how much was collected through these fees. The Forest Service has two sets of figures for fee receipts in 1997 in the same Report: $9.9 million and $8.7 million, for the same period of time.
Forest Service usage figures are also inconsistent. The Report states that fee demonstration sites totaled only 4 percent of total 1997 visitation. The Forest Service has elsewhere estimated that California represents 22 percent of nationwide Forest recreation use. How, then, can it be that the four participating southern California Forests, covering half of the State's population, can comprise only a fraction of 4 percent of total visitation? The Forest Service simply has no idea about true usage rates, and dangerously less about the impact of this unpopular program on those rates.
The anecdotal evidence is strong that this program is generating distrust of the Forest Service and disuse of the Forests. Any survey which concludes that the majority of Forest users support access fees is a work of fiction. Evidence supposedly based on comment cards, cannot hope to capture the opinion of most users, when the majority of users are not estimated to be complying with the program.
The Report calls for the development of a customer communications package. Meaning the need to find a better way to sell something to the public that it clearly doesn't want to buy. Forest Service materials now refer to us as ''customers,'' and Forest Service Chief of Staff Francis Pandolfi says, speaking of recreation, ''For the first time, we are selling a product.''
But the public already owns the land. We don't want to buy it back a la carte. We expect Congress and the Forest Service to manage it without doubly taxing us through both access fees and annual Federal income taxes.
Here the Report gives the lie to the entire fee-for-access program. The maintenance backlog for the Forest Service is currently estimated at $1 billion. Expected contributions to this backlog from the 40 participating sites for 1998, will constitute only 0.38 percent of the backlog. At that rate, this program will take over 250 years to successfully replace the failed responsibility of Congress to adequately fund Forest recreation facilities.
Page 80 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Forest users are not dumb. We are willing to pay more for campground facilities, but not to surrender all Forest access while the Forest Service loses approximately $400 million a year through road building and below-cost timber sales to logging corporations. It is impossible to miss the corporate interest in privatizing the Forests and ''Disneyfying'' public lands through concessionaire rights.
What is difficult to understand is the need to surrender the public trust to these corporations. Government should be efficient, but it cannot hope to be a business. Forest rangers should not be meter maids, and their Supervisors should not be PR flacks. The Forest Service mission is, frankly, more important than any commercial enterprise. It begins with protecting the land and ends with enabling everyday Americans to enjoy nature without commercialization. When Congressman Jim McClure of Idaho warned that people would not want to pay to see the sun-set, he hit the nail on the head.
Mr. Chairman, you are here today because you have demonstrated, with members of this Subcommittee, great skill in reading the public mind and responding to its will. It is my belief that my presence before you can help serve that purpose by bearing witness to an unpopular, unsuccessful program that is unworthy of your continued support.
I thank you for your time, and hope to commend your good judgment.
I will leave for the record these 14,500 petition signatures against Forest access fees, collected from the San Bernardino Forest.
[Signatures are on file at the Committee office.]
[The prepared statement of Mr. Coyne may be found at end of hearing.]
Mr. HANSEN. Thank you. We appreciate your comments, Mr. Coyne.
I know many of you have reduced your testimonies to stay close to the time. We appreciate that. Feel free to submit to us, though, whatever you may have.
Page 81 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC It's very difficult to come up with a way to analyze all of these things and take care of all the needs of all the public lands, and it's not an easy task. So we'll muddle our way along. Hopefully, we can do something fairly right, and see where we go. Keep in mind there's 535 people up here that will have a hand in this. So we'll hope it comes out right and is fair to the American taxpayers.
All of you have made excellent point, and I really truly appreciate it. Thank you for coming. I know it's sometimes frustrating to come to these hearings. You wait while we go out for votes and you're cutoff on time. That's the frustrations of Congress; we go through the same thing.
I thank you all for being here and appreciate your testimony.
And this hearing will now stand adjourned.
[Whereupon, at 12:53 p.m., the Subcommittee adjourned subject to the call of the Chair.]
[Additonal material submitted for the record follows.]
STATEMENT OF JOHN BERRY, ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR POLICY, MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET
Thank you Chairman Hansen and members of the Committee. I am pleased to talk with you about our experiences, mostly positive I might add, as we have implemented the Recreational Fee Demonstration Program over the last year and a half. As you know, this program has been a joint effort on the part of three bureaus within the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture's Forest Service. These agencies manage a variety of resources under a variety of authorities. Yet, for this experiment, they have worked closely and have found that they have a great deal in common.
Mr. Chairman, I have a prepared statement that summarizes our experience. I will be pleased to answer any questions to the best of my ability. With me are Maureen Finnerty, Associate Director of the National Park Service for Park Operations and Education, Dr. Richard Coleman, Director of Refuges for the Fish and Wildlife Service, and Roger Schmitt, Group Manager for Recreation in the Bureau of Land Management. Each of these persons has a working knowledge of the day-to-day operation of the fee demonstration program and may be able to address more specific questions.
Page 82 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Quality service to the public and accountability are two primary themes for my tenure with the Department of the Interior. Quality service to the public demands that, when we charge a fee for the public to enjoy and recreate in our special natural and cultural areas, the value of the recreation experience is equivalent to or exceeds the fee.
Accountability demands that we use recreation fee revenues wisely and in a way that enhances the quality of our visitors' experience. I am working closely with the bureaus in the Department of the Interior to develop approaches to priority setting so that we give priority to those projects that affect the public's or our employees' health and safety. I am confident that recreational fees in our Federal recreationsites remain a ''bargain'' and I am pleased with the progress we are making in applying fee revenues to projects that reduce our maintenance backlog.
Visitor response to the demonstration fees has been positive. Both the National Park Service and the USDA Forest Service conducted surveys to assess visitor reactions during the first full year of the Recreational Fee Demonstration Program. Overall, 83 percent of national park visitors surveyed said that they were either satisfied with the fees they paid or thought the fees were too low. In the Forest Service, over 64 percent of people who completed a survey card said that the opportunities and services they experienced were at least equal to the fee they paid.
We believe that the strong support, so early in the program, is primarily because the fee revenues have not been offset by reduced appropriations, and because receipts remain in the recreation areas in which they were collected, to be used to improve visitor services and to protect resources. Our visitors seem to be responding with greater care of the recreation resources, for there is increasing evidence that incidents of vandalism have decreased in areas where we collect recreation fees.
We also believe that much of this public acceptance came about because we involved and communicated with the public early in the process in a variety of ways. There was a lot of national press, of course, and a surprisingly large proportion of positive and supportive editorials in the newspapers. At the local levels, our agencies spent a great deal of effort working with the public through formal communication plans, news releases, meetings with local community leaders, constituent groups and advisory councils, information leaflets, explanatory videos, open houses, public workshops, comment cards, and signs and bulletin boards. These efforts were important to the success of the Recreational Fee Demonstration Program.
Page 83 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Though the fee authorities under the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act have for many years applied to several Federal agencies, interagency cooperation has blossomed under the Recreational Fee Demonstration Program. The participating agencies have established a record of cooperation that I believe is unprecedented in the arena of recreation fees. This is true not only among bureaus of the Department of the Interior, but also with the Department of Agriculture's Forest Service.
Throughout the process of implementing the program, fee managers from the four agencies held regular meetings to discuss progress, approaches, problems, and solutions. They have developed common approaches for evaluating the fee program. They have initiated a number of joint projects with each other, and with states and counties.
Mr. Chairman, I could go into great detail about our accomplishments, but these are already described in the joint Interior-Agriculture progress report to the Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on Interior. Copies were made available to members of this Committee. Let me simply highlight some of the findings in that report.
First, a very large majority of visitor levels have been sustained during the initial year of the new fees. Our Federal recreation resources are truly public treasures. Accordingly, we must be concerned that we don't unwittingly price the American public out of the use of their resources. The initial data that we have on visitation during the first full year of the program indicate that fees appear to have a negligible impact on visitation levels. Of course, we will not be satisfied with the results of a single year's experience. We will continue to evaluate visitation as it relates to fees. We will look at those sites where visitation increased and those where visitation went down, and try to determine why. We will also try to determine whether certain income, ethnic or other groups are affected by the fees.
Second, recreation fee revenues have increased significantly in all four agencies administering the Recreational Fee Demonstration Program. Between fiscal year 1996 and fiscal year 1997, recreational fee revenues increased by 57 percent in the National Park Service, by 35 percent in the Fish and Wildlife Service, and by 11 percent in the Bureau of Land Management. We expect further revenue increases during fiscal year 1998. The U.S. Forest Service has also experienced significant revenue increases. This is good news, for it identifies a new source of revenue, in addition to public appropriations, that will allow us to improve visitor services.
Page 84 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Third, the agencies are evaluating a wide variety of types of fees. Some are variations of entrance fees, ranging from the individual and carload fees that are typically collected at an entrance kiosk, to the Golden Eagle passport, unit-specific annual passes, and also multi-unit passes that allow entry into several sites of the same Federal agency or several sites operated by different Federal, state and local agencies. We also are evaluating several types of user fees, for such uses as parking, hunting, camping, boat launching, dumping of sanitary wastes from recreation vehicles, and outfitter and expedition fees.
Fourth, the agencies are evaluating a wide variety of methods for collecting fees, from the typical ''ranger in the kiosk'' to automated collection machines, and collection by mail. We are looking at using different parties for collecting fees, including our own employees, partnership arrangements with other agencies, using volunteers, and consignment sales by vendors, concessionaires, and other private entities inside and outside of the recreation area boundaries. We have many instances in which fees are being collected under an honor system on a self-serve basis. What we learn will help us to design efficient and effective ways of collecting fees in the future.
Fifth, the agencies have found that some of the initial collection costs for new fees are higher than expected, and certainly higher than they will be over the long run. The reason for these higher costs is largely the startup and capital costs for new fees that include kiosks, entrance stations, and new equipment and supplies. The agencies are working on approaches to amortize capital expenditures over their useful life, which will give an accurate representation of their annual impact on collection costs. In addition, the agencies will look for ways to reduce the cost of fee collection. Cost effectiveness may not always be possible. In some sites, for example, the particular mix of low visitation and multiple access points may make it impractical to institute any fees at all.
Finally, the agencies have begun the process of financing maintenance backlog projects. Considering that we are only now into the second full year of the Recreational Fee Demonstration Program, and that many of the revenues were only available to the demonstration sites toward the end of fiscal year 1997, the participating agencies have begun a significant number of projects that will reduce the backlog maintenance requirements and provide public service enhancements at their recreation sites. I refer you to the initial lists of backlog projects that are detailed in the Appendix section of our report to Congress.
Page 85 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I would like to highlight some examples of the types of backlog projects that are underway using Recreational Fee Demonstration Program revenues. Yellowstone National Park is rehabilitating deteriorated electronic infrastructure for safety and resource protection, repairing utility systems, replacing deteriorated docks, rehabilitating trails and overlooks, interpretive exhibits and backcountry campsites, and restoring the Turbid Lake road. At Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia, the Fish and Wildlife Service is revising and updating kiosks to facilitate better visitor orientation, constructing hands-on environmental education learning centers, and installing photo blinds to enhance opportunities for wildlife viewing and photography. In Paria Canyon, on the Arizona-Utah border, the Bureau of Land Management used fee revenues to maintain and upgrade sanitation facilities at trailheads.
The Recreational Fee Demonstration Program has been a positive experience for the participating agencies. The agencies agree that long-term implementation of this fee program is desirable. We wish, however, to emphasize our strong desire that any permanent authority should not take effect until after the current temporary authority expires at the end of fiscal year 1999. The test is entering its second full year, and our current findings and observations are preliminary. The full evaluation of the program will not be completed until March 1999. Yet, even at this early stage, we are pleased with the results, and would like to design a program that builds on our positive experience in implementing the demonstration effort. The Administration proposed permanent fee authority as part of the President's fiscal year 1999 Budget, with the pay-as you-go costs offset within the overall budget, and stands ready to work with Congress to enact this legislation.
There are several elements that we would recommend for permanent legislation. These elements are presented in more detail in the report, but I wish to highlight some of them. First, we would emphasize the need for flexibility to tailor fees to meet specific management and visitor needs. Recreation facilities, resources, and primary users are not alike from agency to agency, and even within agencies. When it comes to designing fee programs in the face of such differences, we simply caution that one size does not fit all. At the same time, of course, we don't want to burden the recreating public with a confusing array of fees. But we should have the flexibility to balance the needs of the recreation resources with those of the user.
Page 86 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Second, we think it is crucial to recognize the importance of incentives in the design of recreation fees. The provision in the demonstration program that fees be applied to on-site backlogged maintenance projects provides a substantial incentive for recreation managers to collect fees and to keep the cost of fee collection down. It also appears that the public is highly supportive of this provision. People seem much more willing to pay the fees if they know the revenues will directly benefit the resources that they enjoy.
Third, the provision that allows agencies to utilize the revenues over more than a single fiscal year can help agencies do long-range backlog reduction planning, and to implement these plans in a systematic way. The assurance of multi-year funding also strengthens agencies' ability to enter into partnership arrangements with states or non-governmental entities so that backlog reduction becomes a community effort. Such funding stability encourages long-term planning, including investment in more efficient fee collection infrastructure.
Finally, we believe that the provision that sets aside some of the fee revenues for addressing broader agency priorities would be an important element of permanent legislation. We caution that a fixed formula that returns a high percentage of revenue to the collecting site could, over the long run, create undesirable inequities within an agency. We need to consider this possibility in determining the appropriate balance between the needs of the fee collection site with the backlog maintenance needs of the entire agency.
In our final report at the end of March, 1999, we will be able to provide to Congress much more detailed findings on visitors, management issues, revenue potential, impact of fees on communities and the less fortunate, and other issues. I believe that this information will help the agencies in implementing permanent fee authority to maximize public service and accountability.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I or my colleagues will be happy to answer any questions you may have.
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STATEMENT OF LYLE LAVERTY, REGIONAL FORESTER, ROCKY MOUNTAIN REGION FOREST SERVICE, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee: I am pleased to be here today to discuss how the Forest Service is implementing the recreational fee demonstration program. I am accompanied by Greg Super, the national Recreation Fee Demonstration Program Coordinator for the Forest Service.
Every year, almost 95 percent of all Americans engage in some sort of outdoor recreation. As the largest single supplier of public outdoor recreation, the National Forest System hosted over 850 million visits to its 191 million acres of national forests and grasslands in fiscal year 1997. People are drawn to national forests for a variety of activities, including white water rafting, hiking, camping at developed sites, skiing, sightseeing, mountain bike riding, and seeking the solitude of the primitive backcountry.
Demands for recreation opportunities are becoming increasingly complex. Forest visitors include more senior citizens, people of diverse ethnic backgrounds, urban dwellers, and people with disabilities. To meet this demand, we need more specialized resources to provide the quality experiences our visitors expect. While our fiscal year 1999 budget request increases for recreation, appropriations have remained static while demand has increased. Increasingly, we must meet our recreation objectives through creative and innovative approaches, such as the recreational fee demonstration program and working jointly with our partners and through volunteers.
Outdoor recreation and tourism play a significant role in the national economy and are key to the economies of many local communities. Spending by recreation visitors contributes billions of dollars to the Nation's Gross Domestic Product and thousands of jobs. In addition to receipts from the recreation fee demonstration program, other revenues from National Forest System recreation fees exceed $45.2 million annually. Outdoor recreation provides the largest contribution to national economic activity of any National Forest System program.
Page 88 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC From fiscal year 1994 to fiscal year 1998, the Agency's recreation budget averaged $217 million annually, but total annual needs for operation, maintenance, backlog reductions, and capital investments are much higher. We need additional resources to meet demands for activities as diverse as managing caves and wild and scenic rivers, providing more interpretive services, and trail maintenance. In fiscal 1997, the recreational fee demonstration program provided a much needed $8 million to address critical resource needs and enhance customer services. We expect the fees collected to increase significantly this year. For these reasons, the Forest Service strongly supports the recreation fee demonstration program (RFDP), an essential part of meeting the increased demand for quality recreation facilities and services to the public. It is critically important that base level appropriations funding continue in conjunction with the RFDP to demonstrate a clear added value to the public for their fees.
Now let me turn to the implementation of the recreational fee demonstration program.
Recreational Fee Demonstration Program
Congress authorized the landmark recreational fee demonstration program in fiscal year 1996 through enactment of the Omnibus Consolidation Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 1996. The RFDP authorizes the USDA Forest Service, and the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Land Management of the Department of the Interior to test the collection, retention, and reinvestment of new recreation admission and user fees on up to 100 projects in each Agency. Before the RFDP, the Forest Service was limited to charging user fees at a limited number of developed sites and none of the collections were retained for Forest Service use. This new authority was a major positive departure from historical practice. Initially, the RFDP authority allowed agencies to retain all of the new fees in excess of a fiscal year 1995 base figure, with 80 percent of the retained fees to be used at the sites where they were collected, and 20 percent to be distributed nationally to any site under the jurisdiction of the collecting agency. However, the fiscal year 1998 Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Act removed the base year requirement, thus allowing the agencies to retain all recreation fee revenues from the fee demonstration projects, not just the revenues in excess of the fiscal year 1995 collections, greatly increasing our ability to improve recreational sites and services. The demonstration authority expires at the end of fiscal year 1999, with receipts being available to complete projects through September 30, 2002.
Page 89 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The Forest Service began to agressively implement the RFDP in June, 1996, as indicated in the interagency report recently provided to Congress. By the end of fiscal year 1997, with 40 projects collecting funds, receipts from the RFDP grossed well over $8 million. An additional 45 projects will begin collections in fiscal years 1998 and 1999. Projects are being tested in 28 states in all regions of the country, including Puerto Rico.
The agency is testing a variety of fees in both developed and dispersed recreation areas. Based on survey results, public acceptance is increasing over time as people adjust to the new fees and begin to see results.
Project Selection and Approval
As I previously mentioned, the Forest Service had 40 approved projects collecting fees in the RFDP in fiscal year 1997; 45 additional projects have been approved and will be operational over the next 2 years. Before we approve the projects, we develop a business plan and a communications plan describing the project and how we plan to use the additional fees, we evaluate local community effects, estimate the startup costs and the cost to improve the project, explain the fee calculation rationale, involve the public in the planning process, and develop customer service feedback mechanisms.
Along with the RFDP came more responsibility and the need for tight fiscal accountability. In order to track accurately the RFDP funds, the agency had to incorporate new collection and cash management procedures, and improve local and national accounting systems to report revenue and expenses by project, forest, and type of recreation activity.
Recreation Backlog and Enhancements
Page 90 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The House Appropriations Committee directed us to use the revenues from this program primarily to reduce the maintenance backlog and provide public service enhancements. The Forest Service currently has a deferred maintenance backlog for recreation facilities and trails estimated at about $1 billion. This backlog continues to grow each year with ever-increasing use pressures and insufficient operations and maintenance resources. We spent $638,500 of RFDP collections in fiscal year 1997, addressing less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the total deferred maintenance backlog. We expect the RFDP revenues generated in fiscal year 1998 will address an additional $3.9 million of recreation and trails backlog.
Addressing the backlog component is a priority for this Administration, which is why the President included the President's Environmental Resources Fund for America Initiative in his fiscal year 1999 budget. Such an initiative would help address the deferred maintenance backlog in Forest Service facilities and provide increases for such activities as restoration and replacement of water and sanitation facilities at major recreation sites and trails. The President's budget also proposes making the fee authority permanent, which will help ensure that reducing the deferred maintenance backlog will continue to receive high priority.
The RFDP has provided a unique opportunity for close coordination and collaboration between the four agencies implementing the program. National fee managers hold regular meetings to share information and provide common guidance for collecting public feedback, so that each agency's evaluations are comparable for implementing joint projects.
Working jointly across jurisdictional boundaries has proven to be very effective and less burdensome and confusing to the public. All four agencies are proud that we were able to produce a quality interagency progress report to Congress on the RFDP in a timely manner.
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Mr. Chairman, one important characteristic of the fee program is that it is a ''test'' which has allowed the Forest Service the flexibility to be innovative, while making needed adjustments based on public concerns and experience. Since we began testing the RFDP in June 1996, we have learned that most of our visitors accept paying fees if the majority of those fees are returned to the local project and visible results are evident quickly.
While we have had many successes, there have also been some challenges. An example of a problem we faced was making the distinction between admission fees and user fees. According to the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act, admission fees are fees charged for general access into a recreation site or area. User fees are charged for use of specific facilities, programs or resources, some of which are within a recreation site. For many of our visitors who possessed a Golden Eagle passport or similar pass, this subtle distinction became a problem since these passports can only be used for admission fees, but not for user fees. In response to public comments identifying this concern, the Forest Service changed its policy and began to accept the Golden Eagle passport for admission to all national monuments, national scenic areas and national recreation areas on national forests participating in the RFDP. Although this reduced collections, we felt it was an important customer service improvement.
All of the participating agencies faced a number of other issues such as negotiating regional and multi-agency entrance fees; questions about reasons for collecting recreation fees; financing startup costs for new projects; cash management and employee safety; compliance regarding payment of fees; communicating with our visitors; inequities within or among agencies; local community effects; agency liability; project tracking systems; and gaining critical business and communications skills. The agencies are jointly working to address these concerns as new projects are implemented.
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Legislative and Management Improvements
After almost 2 years of testing the RFDP, we have a number of suggestions for how the fee program can be improved and strengthened. The President's fiscal year 1999 budget assumes permanent legislative authority, which we strongly encourage the Committees to consider. I will highlight a few of the significant improvements and refer to the progress report for the detailed list of other suggestions.
fJoint Agency Effort: Congress needs to clarify authority to provide for increased joint agency efforts across Federal, state, and local jurisdictions in administering the fee program. Specific statutory authorization could help clarify the agencies' authority to enter into multi-agency and multi-governmental fee agreements, and how fees should be distributed under these agreements.
fBetter Long Term Planning: Permanent authority could allow agencies to set aside funds toward expensive backlog projects that could not be funded with only 1 year's revenue. Permanent authority would strengthen the agencies' ability to enter into cost-sharing or other partnership arrangements that make backlog reduction a cooperative effort.
fBase Level Appropriations: Congress should preserve the added value provided by the fee demonstration by not offsetting appropriations with fee receipts which would undermine local public support and agency incentives.
fBroadening the Demonstration Effort: The RFDP could be expanded to explicitly include recreation-related activities, such as ski area special use permits and permits for outfitters and guides, which currently may be outside of the scope of the RFDP.
Page 93 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCClosing
Mr. Chairman, we agree that long-term implementation of the RFDP is desirable. The interagency progress report highlights many successes on the ground since we began implementing the RFDP and also draws to your attention several areas that need improvement.
We will continue to evaluate during the testing period so that we may further explore ways to better administer this program.
We are pleased that overall visitor response has been generally positive. This program represents a significant step toward improving customer services and recreation facilities for those who visit our national forests.
This concludes my statement. We would be pleased to answer your questions.
STATEMENT OF PHILIP H. VOORHEES, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR FOR POLICY DEVELOPMENT, NATIONAL PARKS AND CONSERVATION ASSOCIATION
Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee, my name is Phil Voorhees. I am Associate Director for Policy Development for the National Parks and Conservation Association, America's only private, non-profit citizens organization dedicated solely to protecting, preserving and enhancing the National Park System.
NPCA appreciates the opportunity to testify today on the issue of the fee demonstration program. Since its initiation in 1996, the demonstration program has proven valuable. It has brought more revenue into the national parks and has begun to educate park managers about public acceptance of entrance and use fees, options for fee collection, and collateral benefits and costs of increased fee collection. The program has been dynamic in raising a variety of issues that Congress should address once the program reaches its conclusion. Some of those issues include the appropriate method of interagency revenue sharing, the appropriateness of specific types of use fees, eventual fee caps, and distribution of revenues within the National Park Service. It is our hope that between this hearing and the filing of the final report on the progress of the program, this Committee will consider the issues identified below, adjust the program accordingly and make the authority permanent.
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Public Acceptance of the Demonstration Program: Entrance Fees
The land management agencies' Recreation Fee Demonstration Program Progress Report to Congress notes that the demonstration program has met with generally high levels of public acceptance for increased entrance fees to the national parks. In 1995, prior to initiation of the program, NPCA conducted a national survey asking about the public's acceptance of fee increases. Seventy nine percent of those surveyed responded that they were not opposed to an increase from an average (at that time) of $5 per carload for a visit of up to 7 days. In 1996, NPCA again conducted a survey exploring the public's willingness to pay specific levels of fee increases. Based on per person, rather than per carload assessments, the 1996 survey showed that 56 percent of respondents would support an increase of $5 per person, with support gradually dropping to 20 percent as the increase rose to $10 per person.
The 1995 survey accurately predicted the general public support for fee increases. The 1996 survey, however, should raise some questions for the National Park Service and for Congress as the agency moves more aggressively into fee collection. The question is how much is too much. Clearly, the public acceptance for fee increases has limits. At many units of the park system, entrance fees have been doubled and in some instances tripled. Yosemite's fee, for example, climbed from $5 per car before the initiation of the program to $20 per car. If the NPCA survey is any indicator, the current fee levels may be approaching or may have already reached the limit of what the public finds acceptable.
National Park Service fee revenues have grown under the program from $75.7 million in fiscal year 1994 to an estimated $142 million in the current fiscal year. With 97 sites participating in the program, broadening the base of the fee program (i.e. authorizing more units to participate) should be examined before any consideration is given to raising entrance fees even further.
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Public Acceptance: Use Fees
Unlike entrance fees, the new and elevated use fees established under the demonstration program have received mixed reviews. The Grand Canyon Private Boaters Association, testifying today, presents perhaps the most cogent examples of where the National Park Service has already stepped some distance across the line of public acceptance for fee increases. At the Grand Canyon, for private boaters, the wait to get a slot on the Colorado River is as much as 8 years. NPS has instituted a place-holding fee of $25 per year and a $100 application fee so that, on average, private boaters would pay $300 before ever dipping an oar in the water. Additional use fees apply once the boaters are on the river. While it is true that charging a fee to wait in line thins the list of those who are less serious (or less patient) about running the river, requiring $300 up-front, before ever experiencing the Colorado and the Grand Canyon seems a little excessive.
Nonetheless, this and other examples of excess can and should be an active learning experience for the National Park Service as it explores the boundaries of public acceptance of use fees. The demonstration program was well crafted, in that it allows NPS and the other land management agencies to explore different opportunities and occasionally fail without penalty any venues, use fees are a new concept both for the public and for the agency. As Congress evaluates the success of the program and considers making the program permanent, it should pay careful attention to examples like the Colorado River wait list fee and evaluate what kinds of fees are acceptable to the public and what kinds are not.
Broadening the Scope of Fee Collection
Page 96 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The National Park Service is authorized to collect fees under the demonstration program at 100 sites and currently collects at 97. Those 97 units include some that had previously prohibited collection, like Cape Canaveral NS which now charges a daily use fee. Other areas have discovered that, if appropriately applied, use fees can have collateral benefits unrelated to revenue generation. When Glen Canyon NRA established a fee at Lone Rock Campground, within 1 year assaults dropped by 71 percent, disorderly conduct violations dropped by 88 percent, quiet hours were enforced for the first time, littering decreased and family use of the campground increased. Although it is unfortunate that the parks experience any crime, clearly the fees assessed here have had a beneficial impact. In addition, smaller units, like Cape Canaveral were able to generate supplemental revenues that proved useful in addressing backlogged park needs.
In response, the Congress should consider expanding the program to all units of the National Park System and extending the demonstration period for another 5 years. This expansion would allow the Park Service to explore further both the opportunities and pitfalls of fee collection, building a more accurate record of where, what kind and what level fees are appropriate, while at the same time providing parks with badly needed supplemental revenue. At the conclusion of an expanded program, Congress would have a more accurate record to guide future decisions on where, when, how and how much the public should be asked to contribute for use of its park lands.
Distribution of Revenues Among Agencies and Within NPS
For the land management agencies, one of the most contentious aspects of the demonstration program has been distribution of the revenues resulting from the Golden Eagle passport. Purchase of the Golden Eagle passport allows free entry to all fee areas across the land management agencies. Under the demonstration program, the price for the Golden Eagle passport was raised from $25 to $50 in 1997, resulting in an increase in total NPS revenues from $5.4 million to $9.6 million. Currently, revenue from the sale of the passport is retained by the agency making the sale. When sale of the passport is opened to third parties the calculus will become far more complex, as none of the agencies will be directly selling at least some portion of the passports. The fee demonstration program was specifically authorized to spend the resulting revenues on projects visible to the fee paying public. As a matter of equity, revenues should therefore be applied to the agencies based on their share of fee-generating visitation.
Page 97 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Within the Park Service, the level of revenues received at some of the ''crown jewel'' parks matches or exceeds the total annual operations budget for those units. Grand Canyon NP is the best example, generating $19.4 million in fee revenues in fiscal year 1997, compared with an operations budget for that year of $14.6 million. There are not many units in this category, but all of the high visitation units participating in the program generate similarly high revenues. To advocates of a fee-funded National Park Service, this presents a tempting target. Those advocates, however, should realize that many of the most highly visited units also have the most substantial backlog of maintenance and infrastructure needs. Not surprisingly, visitation has a price. Grand Canyon NP alone has an infrastructure and maintenance backlog exceeding $154 million. Even with an annual contribution of an additional $15 million (the park currently retains 80 percent of the revenues), it will take Grand Canyon 10 years to address its outstanding maintenance project needs, assuming future maintenance budgets meet the needs of the park and the backlog does not grow. And Grand Canyon, like many other parks has substantial cultural and natural resource protection needs as well.
Nonetheless, as Congress considers the success of the demonstration program as it moves forward, it should consider the equity of high levels of supplemental revenues flowing into the high visitation, crown jewel parks. Units throughout the system suffer from similar problems of decaying infrastructure and delayed maintenance. The demonstration program currently distributes 80 percent revenues to the parks that collect the fees. The remaining 20 percent is distributed to the non-fee demonstration units and is used to support the management of the national fee program. As the need for additional studies (discussed below) emerge, Congress should consider evening the distribution so that the less visited and non-fee units do not, in effect, end up supporting the additional research and management of a program that generates revenues disproportionately benefiting the high visitation crown jewels.
Page 98 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCAdditional Research Needs
When the National Park Service finished its plan for the demonstration fee program, the Service made relatively heavy use of parks that already charged fees and simply raised them. This avoided generating some of the controversy that the Forest Service has experienced, but it also provided a narrower scope for the demonstration program than could have been achieved. Before the Congress considers making the program permanent, some additional research may be warranted to improve the agencies' level of understanding about the public's willingness to pay for entry to and use of parks supported by tax dollars.
In addition, little is known about the impact specific levels of fees have on the inclination of people to visit the parks from specific demographic and economic groups. The national parks are for all of us to enjoy and to learn from, no matter the individual's economic or social circumstance. Visitation figures since the initiation of the demonstration program indicate that the increases have had little or no impact on the public's willingness to visit the national parks.
But as the Congress, the agency and the public becomes more comfortable with higher entrance and use fee levels, we must remain always cognizant of the impact that fee increases of any and all kinds have on Americans with limited means. Additional research would help delineate at what point fees become problematic for those visitors and begin to affect adversely the demographics of park visitation. For both issueswillingness to pay by the general public and impact of fee levels on economic and demographic groupsthe National Park Service should understand the effect of its actions before proposing changes, rather than proposing changes and evaluating the impacts after the fact. Acknowledging that research costs money, all such research could be covered by the revenues generated by the existing demonstration program.
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Supplementing Appropriations Beyond Public Fees
A separate, but equally important concern for NPCA is the balance between assessing fees for the public enjoyment of the national parks and collecting appropriate fees from concessioners and other private users of the national parks who gain financial profit from their use of the parks. On Tuesday, this Committee conducted a hearing on H.R. 2993 to apply fair market value-based fees to the production of commercial photography and films in the national parks. For fifty years Hollywood and Madison Avenue have leveraged the image of the parks to improve their bottom line and have provided very little to the parks in return. It is our hope that this Congress will move to correct this imbalance before it adjourns next fall. Similarly, national park concessions reform has been on the agenda of each of the past four Congresses and has yet to pass.
Senator Bumpers has voiced his concern for the need for reform for two decades, repeatedly introducing legislation to accomplish that reform. On this side, Chairman Hansen has also expressed an interest and was helpful in addressing reform proposals in the 104th Congress. Since 1965 and the passage of the Concessions Policy Act, NPCA has been working and waiting for reform. When the last Congress was discussing new fee authorities for the National Park Service, we were outspoken in noting that fees should not be increased for the public before a more fair return to the taxpayer was achieved from the businesses that profit from the park visitors themselves. Any reform that Congress seriously attempts should increase the competition for park concession contracts, should address the standing debt to the Federal Government in the form of possessory interest held by the concessioners and should make the resulting revenues available to the parks themselves.
Our view on this issue has not changed with the passage of the fee demonstration program. Before the conclusion of the demonstration program and the consideration of implementing the experimental program on a permanent basis, Congress must address and resolve the issue of concessions reform. Failing to do so would be profoundly unfair to the park visitor and to the American taxpayer.
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Thus far, the fee demonstration program has proven to be a success by almost any metric. Fee revenues have increased 88 percent since fiscal year 1994; the application of fees has shown some collateral benefits; and the participating parks have begun to address their backlog of maintenance and infrastructure needs through the new revenues, albeit at a very measured pace. But the program is still relatively new and a broad variety of questions remain unanswered.
When fee proposals were discussed in the 104th Congress, many comparisons were made between the cost of a visit to the fee collecting parks and the cost of a variety of other forms of public entertainment. The comparisons provided an interesting diversion but avoided addressing the central question of what defines an appropriate fee for visiting the national parks and using the legally available resources. National parks are not entertainment outlets comparable to Disney World or the latest Hollywood blockbuster film. They serve a very different purpose, focused on education, inspiration and preservation for the future.
Given those differences, before the Congress moves toward permanent authority for the National Park Service to set and adjust fees on its own judgment, it should require a full analysis of how the NPS expects to use and develop its authority, how it sees that fees will need to be adjusted in the next 10 years, and where (if anywhere) it intends to draw the line on fee collections for the National Park System. Before Congress provides permanent authority similar to the demonstration program, whether next year at the conclusion of the demonstration program, or after an additional 5 year extension, the National Park Service should be asked to provide a coherent plan for the fee program, detailing where and when fees will be applied, at what level fees will be applied, how quickly and to what level fees will be increased over time, and if there are any program types or areas that NPS or the other agencies have learned from experience should remain free to the public.
Page 101 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Above all, when Congress moves to extend the demonstration program or make the authorities permanent, it must reaffirm its intent that the resulting revenues be provided to the parks and public lands as supplemental revenues, in addition to the annual appropriations that the National Park Service and the other agencies currently receive. Despite the impressive revenue performance of a small collection of high visitation parks, the National Park System as a whole will never and should never be asked to support itself with fee revenues. In the same 1995 survey, NPCA asked respondents about their willingness to pay more in taxes to support the national parks. Overwhelmingly79 percentsaid they would. This is a strong indication of the value that Americans place on their tax-based financial support for the national parks.
STATEMENT OF GAYLORD STAVELEY, VICE PRESIDENT, NATIONAL FOREST RECREATION ASSOCIATION
Mr. Chairman, my name is Gaylord Staveley. I'm Vice President of the National Forest Recreation Association. In our view, this oversight hearing on the Recreation Fee Demonstration Program is much-needed and very timely. We thank you for the opportunity to testify.
Our comments deal almost entirely with the Fee Demo program as it is operated by the USDA Forest Service. NFRA, established in 1948, is a national association of private-sector business owners or companies who construct and/or operate resorts, lodges, campgrounds, marinas, and pack stations for the use and enjoyment of the public, under permits from the Forest Service. There are, by Forest Service count, some 1,700 such businesses serving the National Forest system nationwide. Overall, these businesses have a multi-billion dollar investment in structures, facilities and equipment used to serve the visiting public. They contribute millions of dollars in privilege fees to the Federal treasury every year.
NFRA's interest in the Recreation Fee Demonstration Program springs from harmful effects the program has, in its very first year, had on a number of those private sector businesses, and our concern that those effects will continue if not curbed.
Page 102 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We are also concerned about the effects of a permanently authorized Fee Demo program on the safety and quality of national forest recreational experiences.
When in late 1996, Congress authorized the selection of Recreation Fee Demonstration Program, it was as a three-year pilot project during which Federal land management agencies could test new access and user fees at certain sites of their choosing, to learn more about possible ways of reducing the size and scope of government while continuing to provide for the use and enjoyment of Federal lands.
By February 1997 even before the fee demo program had been implemented in many locations, some proponents were describing it as being ''highly successful.''
At that same time, some wild interpretations and applications of the fee demo concept were occurring in the field. Many Forest Service employees clearly considered the newer and higher fees ''found money.'' Despite the guidance provided with the initial authorization, it appeared there was little consideration for what the market would bear, or the effect of higher fees on local communities. Moreover, the program impinged heavily on a number of private-sector businesses to whom the Forest Service had issued concession permits.
At this point I want to emphasize that NFRA is not opposed to the Recreation Fee Demonstration Area Program. In this time of limited appropriations, it may be good for the agency to have more than one source of revenue. And certainly it is not unfair to ask visitors to pay something for the use of a facility or amenity on a national forest. What we object to are the abuses of this the program and the potential for future abuses.
Fee Demo is being used to displace and subrogate concessioner operations, and in the absence of top-down administration and oversight, we believe it will continue to be use that way.
There has, for some time, been a faction within the Forest Service that advocates taking back the visitor services that have been concessioned out to the private sector, so those facilities could be operated directly by Forest Service personnel.
Page 103 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The notion of taking back the concessions initially arose from resentment at seeing private sector employees beginning to do forest-based jobs that had traditionally been done by ''green shirts,'' i.e. Forest Service employees. Some of those Forest Service employees continue to view Fee Demo as an income base for regaining those jobs by taking back the job sites, and have begun using it that way.
During Fee Demo's first year, we have seen it used as a take-back device in the following ways:
The peremptory modification of current permits. The Forest Service euphemism for this is ''renegotiation.'' When Forest Service officials withdrew the Trinity Lake Recreation Area in California from an established campground concession program, and indicated they intended to do the same thing at Lake Shastaand were stopped from carrying out that plan the Forest informed the concessioner that the terms of the concession permit will be ''renegotiated.'' Other concessioners who questioned Forest Service interpretations of Fee Demo have been told they are going to have the number of one-year renewals reduced as a consequence, or that ''if they make waves, they will be eliminated from the forest.''
Refusal to renew a permit that had in the past always been renewed. Several months ago the permitter who had operated the Table Mountain Campground for many years simply disappeared. When we couldn't find her we telephoned the Forest Office administering her permit to ask how she might be contacted. The Forest Service person on the other end of the line said ''oh, we have that campground nowfee demo, I think it's called.'' This occurred in a four-forest complex the Forest Service calls the Enterprise Forest project where they are doing what we consider to be ''cherry picking'' concessioned sites on four urban national forests, taking back the higher-revenue sites.
Setting a new fee and taking the revenue from it, while shifting its related maintenance cost to a concessioner. In one situation we observed, the Forest Service began charging visitors a fee for parking in a lot that has historically been free, while requiring a nearby concessioneras a condition of a permit at a totally different locationto pay the costs of cleaning this Forest Service parking lot, its toilets and trailhead.
Page 104 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCPressuring the concessioner to lower its fees so the Forest Service fee will be more affordable. An alternate tactic has been to ask the concessioner to raise its fees so a new or higher Forest Service fee will seem less drastic to visitors. These tactics were used in connection with parking and boat launching.
Refusing for several years to allow a concessioner to raise prices, so that he or she will abandon the permit; the Forest Service can then take over the business ''in the public interest.'' One such situation has been going on for 9 years.
A year ago, even as Fee Demo was being hailed a success, the Chief of the Forest Service was finding it necessary to issue a letter to his Regional Foresters under the subject: ''Prohibition Against Displacement of Concessions Based on Recreation Fee Demonstration Projects.''
However, many Forest Service field employees ignore the Washington office. The Chief's letter notwithstanding, new instances of fee demo impingements on concessioners continued to be reported throughout the summer of 1997.
By September, there was so much concern in the Senate that in a September 18, 1997, colloquy on the Senate floor, Senator Jon Kyl, a member of the Forests and Public Land Management Subcommittee, noted that ''as private permit terms expire, it appears that at some fee demo sites there is an intent to discontinue reliance on the private sector for delivery of recreation goods and services.''
Senator Larry Craig, also a member of that Subcommittee, then noted that Senator Kyl had identified a serious problem that is also occurring in Idaho. He noted the development of a new Forest Service ''Heritage Expedition'' program that essentially puts the agency into the outfitter-guide business.
Senator Slade Gorton, Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations, then stated that concessioner displacement was not an intent of the fee demo program.
Page 105 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Near the end of the first session of the lO5th Congress, the 1998 Appropriations Bill was nearly amended to reassert the parameters of fee demo. The Forest Service opposed that amendment, on the grounds that ''they don't want to relinquish their authority to take back concessions.''
The Fee Demonstration Project is too new to receive permanent authorization.
Not enough is yet known about the extent or manner that fee demo funds and appropriated funds can be blended to assure the continued availability of safe enjoyable visitor services on the Federal lands. It may be that the fee demo concept works better where there are gated chokepoints, as in national parks, than where entry in predominantly uncontrolled, as in the national forests.
We need to learn more about what level of fees are reasonable: Clearly, the Forest Service has a different view of reasonability than does the publicas evidenced by the fact that in many instances the public objected to demonstration fees called ''fair,'' but did not object to them when they were lowered.
We need more assurance that demonstration fees will be used for resource protection and maintenance, and that they will not become a source of income for a Forest Service ''jobs program.''
Demonstration fees on a per-vehicle basis fall unfairly on escorted groups, especially those in partially filled coaches and vans. When transportation, tour, or ecotour companies must bypass national forests because of excessive fees, the public, the tour companies, the forest based concessioners, and the adjoining rural economies are all adversely affected.
If the Administration was to renege on earlier promises and treat locally collected fees as an appropriation offset, the Forest Service would be left with no other funding source for recreation and maintenance backlog reduction. We believe they would then use Fee Demo authority as a license to extract as much money as possible from visitors and concessioners, without regard for the effect on resource protection or the ability of the private sector to afford quality service.
Page 106 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC If Forest Service recreation managementunder which the concession permit system is administeredwere required to operate solely on revenue from the Fee Demo program, we are certain the number and type of Forest Service demands on its private-sector permitters, already substantial, would increase further.
Many forest-based businesses are already being subjected to extraordinary financial or labor requirements as a condition for favorable consideration on issuance or renewal of a permit. For the most part these requirements are not commensurate with the term of the permit; they would have to be amortized against a longer permit or a renewed permitneither of which can be relied on.
NFRA would like to see the Fee Demo program succeed, but we urge that it not be permanently authorized at this time or without legislated direction.
The Forest Service is experiencing financial and staffing problems as well as a huge maintenance backlog. More than ever, help from the private sector is needed. The Fee Demo project was sold to the concessioner community on the basis that it would provide new flexibility to the agencies and attract more private investment to the improvement of recreational and visitor facilities and services on the public lands. The effect thus far has been to discourage private investment at national forest permitted sites.
The Forest Service continues to compete against and undercut its concessioners whenever and wherever it chooses to do so. The charge to be ''entrepreneurial,'' fed by the fee demo program, is encouraging Forest Service employees to free-lance. One Forest Service field officer told a concessioner ''we don't care what Washington says, we're going to do (fee demo) any way we choose.''
Page 107 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The program needs more time to mature, and during that time it needs the oversight of Congress and the people who will be affected by it.
Late in 1997, consideration was given to amending the 1988 Appropriations Bill to provide that:
Projects undertaken under the Recreation Fee Demonstration Program shall not result in:
(a) the modification of a current concessioner authorization without willing consent of the holder of such authorization;
(b) failure to renew, to extend, or to offer a new prospectus for an existing concession authorization; or
(c) the displacement of an authorized concessioner operation.
We urge the adoption of that language, along with legislation that standardizes and codifies the forest Service developed-site permit system and its developed-site concessions policies and practices.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify in this very important matter.
STATEMENT OF JOHN BACHRACH, GRAND CANYON PRIVATE BOATERS ASSOCIATION
Mr. Chairman, thank you for this opportunity to share our thoughts on the Fee Demonstration/Cost Recovery program implemented in 1997. We recognize the importance of this issue to the huge population of people who cherish and seek to access our public lands.
My name is John Bachrach and I have come from Flagstaff, Arizona to represent the Grand Canyon Private Boaters Association. The boating public is one component of the outdoor community. We are a 501C3 non-profit corporation that was formed in 1996 to give a voice to private/non-commercial or self-guided river running population who, until now have had no voice in NPS policy matters that affect the boating community.
Page 108 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Briefly I will outline the fees a person must pay in order to conduct or participate in a private, self-guided river trip on the Colorado River. First, in order to be accepted onto the Grand Canyon National Park's wait list and secure a position on that list you have to pay $100. Then to remain on this list until your turn has come up you will have to pay $25 per year. The current wait is eighteen years so you will pay a total of $450. When you are able to launch you will pay another $200 for that privilege. You, and each participant in your trip will then pay $10 for entry into the park, additionally each of you will be assessed $4 per night for every night you spend in the park.
The current structure was implemented after the December 1996 Fee Demonstration and Cost Recovery Programs were authorized by Congress. River running fees were raised 1200 percent with no public input.
The concept of paying fees at Grand Canyon National Park to recreate is not new to non-commercial river runners, however the new fee program at Grand Canyon National Park is inconsistent with other recreation and use fees on public lands. Before the Grand Canyon Private Boaters Association could support continued application or further expansion and implementation of the fee demonstration program, we would need to be assured that the program meets several important criteria. They are as follows:
(1) Fees must be applied equitably and fairly to all persons, businesses and corporate entities engaged in similar activities on America's public lands
(2) Fees must not be used as a tool to limit access to Americas public lands or waterways
(3) Fees must be consistent in both their assessment and administration
As a group we are very concerned that the fee demonstration program does not currently pass any of these fairness tests.
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(1) In the case of Grand Canyon river running, fees are not presently applied fairly to all users engaged in similar activities.
Most of our members, and private boaters that we have surveyed have no objection to paying their fair share of the parks operating costs, but in contrast to the collected non-commercial fees, fees paid by commercial outfitters are not used to recover the NPS' management expenses. Outfitters pay franchise fees, and in the case of the Grand Canyon, river outfitters pay into the Colorado River Fund. Neither of these fees are used to offset river operations costs. Consequently, outfitted patrons pay no fees directly to the park, thereby being insulated from the increased awareness generated by direct contact with park staff and park needs.
Policy should be crafted that brings to all users greater awareness of the costs involved with our public lands operations and would help instill a sense of participation, ownership and preservation among all users. Making sure commercial patrons paid the same fees for the same kinds of uses as the self-guided could help to raise awareness and would be fair.
(2) The imposition of fees apparently has been used as a tool to limit access for the private boater in the Grand Canyon.
The Department of Interior's press releases assured the public that they would be involved in development of the fee demonstration program process, but, as far as the Grand Canyon is concerned, not one public hearing was conducted before the announcement and implementation of the new fee structure.
The sudden and enormous fee increase to the boating public by surprise and resulted in slowing the growth rate of the parks wait list by 30 percent. In 1998, for the first time in the history of Colorado river running, the total number of hopefuls on the wait list declined by more than 1000 people out of 6000 did not renew their names on the waiting list. If the point of raising the price was to discourage self-guided use of the canyon, then the fee demo program has been a big success. The long wait coupled with the high fees has nurtured the feeling amongst the river community that the annual fee is actually a penalty meant to discourage them from future participation.
Page 110 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Current and former NPS employees at Grand Canyon stated they felt fee demonstration charges were being used to curb the growth of the Park's private boating wait list, and that park staff calculated an attrition rate of up to 30 percent for the non-commercial boating wait list.
(3) The current fee demonstration program is inconsistent and unfair when compared with other fee programs imposed upon public lands.
Comparing the use of public lands by cows to humans would seem ridiculous, but everyone of us living in the west knows from simple observation that cows do far more damage to public lands than do humans. Over grazing, by itself causes more damage to the resources in question, than wilderness use by humans. And let's not forget the cows trampling of archeological sites. Boaters and hikers presently pay $4 per night for every night they spend in the Grand Canyon, contrast that to the cost of grazing a cow for a year on public lands. If grazing were to be assessed at the same rate people are, it would cost $1460 to graze a cow for a year. Presently it costs less than $10 for a cow to spend a year in the wilderness. Hikers and boaters would be better off if they were treated equally to cows!
This comparison looks even more extreme when fitted into the larger picture that includes annual fees for mining, logging and other resource consuming activities that take place on public lands.
Additionally we are concerned with the classification of river running at GCNP as a ''special use,'' and the precedent that ''special use classification'' may set for other low impact, human-powered activities on public lands.
Because GCNP has classified non-commercial river running as a ''special park use'' the park attempts to recover 100 percent of the costs of managing this use, in contrast to other park activities which receive almost all their funding from the parks general funds. ''Special park uses'' include activities that are outside of the normal range of activities in a park, for example holding a wedding ceremony, or filming a movie. Historically speaking, the first use of what eventually became GCNP began with river running and a character named John Wesley Powell. A river trip on the Colorado is a special experience, for sure, but, river running is definitely not outside the ''normal range of activities'' in the park, it is most definitely not a special use.
Page 111 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The Grand Canyon Private Boaters Association would like to encourage the distinguished members of this Committee and Congress to reexamine Federal funding policies that make it necessary for our National Park system to resort to drastic and sudden measures like the Cost Recovery/Fee Demonstration program imposed upon non-commercial boaters and hikers at GCNP in order to survive and continue to provide American's and our visitors from all over the world access to these natural treasures.
In closing before private boaters can support the fee demonstration program, we need to be sure that a criteria for fairness is in place, we once again submit the following as guidelines:
(1) Fees must be applied fairly to all users engaged in similar activities.
(2) Fees must not be used as a tool to limit access.
(3) Administration of fees must be consistently assessed across all resource users.
We sincerely thank Rep. Hansen's office for this opportunity present our perspective and we are sure you will give our thoughts consideration.
STATEMENT OF HON. ROBERT F. (BOB) SMITH, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF OREGON
The Endangered Species Act is the most powerful law in the country today. Its impact on private property, economic production, and our standard of living is unprecedented; because of its power, the enforcement of this law must be carefully scrutinized. I commend you on your decision to hold this important hearing.
The total impact of the implementation of the Endangered Species Act is sometimes difficult to ascertain. We do know, however, that it has led to a greater reliance on imported wood products, higher energy costs, restrictions on the use of our nation's waterways, and more rigid regulations on the use of private land. Ultimately, my biggest concern about the Act is the emotional burden it places on hard-working farmers who have been forced to deal with a question fundamental to their very existence: will they have enough water to grow their crops and provide for their families?
Page 112 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC This is a critical aspect of the law that is too often overlooked. As Federal agencies focus on the rigid regulations written to implement the Act, they often lose sight of the fact that we are placing people's livelihoods at stake over a biologist's judgment. This is an awesome responsibility. Do we cut off water to a farmer and ruin his crops because one biologist believes that a lake ought to have six additional inches of water in it? Or for an additional 50 cubic feet per second of flow in a river? If such a decision is made, Federal agencies bear the burden of proof. Solid scientific evidence must be driving these issues; too often it does not.
The listing of a species must contain two key components. First, we ought to have rigid standards placed on the scientific evidence being used to support the listing. The data should be collected using commonly-held scientific practices, peer reviewed by a broad array of experts in the field, and closely scrutinized by agencies and affected interests before being adopted. If the Federal agencies rush to judgment under the threat of a lawsuit, the burden of proof to delist then falls on landowners. This is wrong. It should be the agencies' burden to prove that a species merits listing, not a landowners' burden to prove it does not. Second, there must be a comprehensive plan adopted that specifies realistic numerical targets for species recovery. Without such a common understanding of the goals, how can landowners participate in the species recovery? If they are forced to comply with an ever-expanding list of Federal requirements and shifting standards, the Federal Government will lose the most effective partner they have in the effort to save legitimately threatened species.
When the Federal Government's efforts degenerate into incrementalism and loosely defined goals, the recovery of species will never be successful. If, however, we can adopt a common understanding of the key issues that lay before usprincipally, the adherence to strictly scrutinized and peer reviewed science, and a detailed recovery planwe can make progress. The need to provide more stability to the victims of misguided agency decisions requirethat we act to make this law better. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Congress to achieve this goal.
Page 113 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. Chairman, thank you again for calling this very important hearing, and I look forward to discussing this matter in greater detail with our witnesses.
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