It is clear that even flush times don't lead legislators to significantly increase base funding when programs like "fee demo" appear to be working. When federal appropriations decline again, and belts have to tighten, these fee programs will be an excuse for reducing base appropriations.
Managers would be better served by clearly explaining their needs, and asking congressional appropriators to do their job by appropriating the funds needed. Maybe this sounds simplistic, but it can work.
Yellowstone Park's Mike Finley has done a good job of securing increased appropriations in part because he's done such a good job of explaining why he needs the money.
Ultimately, my opposition to fee demo is more than simply my criticism of it as a questionable fiscal strategy. I fear that fee demo will further erode the mission of land management agencies by turning them more into "service providers' than resource managers. And in a country of increasingly savvy consumers, paying customers are going to demand more and more "satisfaction" from the agencies.
Once upon a time, the mission of park and forest recreational managers was to provide people an opportunity to experience the life-altering qualities of the wilderness and to develop self reliance. I am troubled by the fee-for-service trajectory that will have resource managers developing front-country facilities to cater to the tastes of consumer society while other key resource management needs go wanting.
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