The Wilderness Society Urges Congress to Use Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act to Ensure Access to Outdoor Activity

Apr 2, 2014
Groups Push to Reauthorize the Federal Fee Law but Limit Excessive Fees and Cost-Shifting.

In comments submitted to a congressional subcommittee this week, The Wilderness Society and other groups recommended changes to Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA) policy and restoration of funding to ensure access to public lands for outdoor recreation and educational opportunities.

The comments were submitted to the House Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation by The Wilderness Society and four outdoor recreation and education organizations including the Association of Outdoor Recreation and Education, the High Mountain Institute, The Mazamas and The Mountaineers.

FLREA allows federal land management agencies to charge fees for recreational use of federal lands. The law also authorizes the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to issue “outfitter-guide permits” and to charge special recreation permit fees for use of federal lands.

The comments to the Subcommittee from the five organizations noted that, “FLREA has become an important source of revenue for federal land agencies. Because of recent reduction in agency funding, the agencies are increasingly dependent on FLREA revenue to offset the costs of maintenance of federal lands.” While increased agency appropriations would reduce the need to charge fees, the group said FLREA should be reauthorized to provide agencies with much-needed resources.

The comments to the Subcommittee included a number of specific recommendations for improving FLREA:

Don’t shift costs to outfitter-guides. Reduce the broad authority to shift costs onto outfitter-guide permit holders in the national forests, as outlined in the discussion draft released by the Subcommittee. These permit holders play an important role in getting people outdoors for rafting, climbing, horse-packing and educational experiences on public lands, including Wilderness areas, throughout the U.S.

Provide more transparency to ensure greater public access. Congress should require agencies to provide the public with more information about the availability of outfitter-guide permits. For many education and recreation groups, the process of applying for an outfitter-guide permit is complicated, cumbersome and opaque. FLREA should establish better public notification requirements for these permits.

Don’t over-use day use fees. While some fees are necessary, agencies should ensure that fees do not proliferate in places where they are not warranted.

Apply fee revenue to trail maintenance. Congress should amend FLREA to clarify that fee revenues may be used for trail maintenance, which has suffered in recent years.

Develop a pilot program for stewardship credits. This program would test the idea of incentivizing special recreation permit holders to perform trail maintenance and other work on public lands. The groups support the concept as described in the discussion draft, but with additional safeguards.

Paul Sanford