User fees help land managers

  Recently, High Country News published an article critical of the Recreational Fee Demonstration Program (HCN, 1/19/04). The article overlooks program benefits and neglects key improvements that address problems that surfaced in the early years of the program.

Since 1985, recreation demand has increased approximately 65 percent on BLM lands and 80 percent at national wildlife refuges. Over the same time period, the Bureau of Reclamation estimates an increase of 10 million recreation visits, for a total of 90 million visits to its 288 lakes.

With this increase in visitation is an increase in visitor demand for better visitor facilities and services. This increase in visitor use also creates a greater need for funds to protect natural and cultural resources. Tax dollars supply basic services and resource protections. But many recreation amenities provide special benefits to those using them — and carry price tags that go beyond what tax dollars can realistically supply.

Despite a few missteps at the outset of the program, land managers now selectively apply fees only where they are providing clear and direct benefits to users. Development at all sites must occur within the established agency planning processes that involve public participation and environmental assessment.

The federal government is not divesting itself of these important natural resource assets nor turning the management of these assets over to private parties. Indeed, additional fee revenue can make continued public management more viable.

Lynn Scarlett and Mark Rey
Washington, D.C.

Lynn Scarlett is an assistant secretary at the Interior Department. Mark Rey is an under secretary at the Agriculture Department.