Would You Pay to Ride the Best Trails?|
Tuesday, June 20, 2000
Four years ago, the federal land management agencies launched a nationwide recreation fee demo project to evaluate the feasibility of requiring visitors to pay for access to public land. Since that time, the program has sparked considerable debate.
Last May, IMBA solicited comments from our members to help shape the formal IMBA position on user fees. Thanks to everyone who responded. In February, the IMBA board agreed on the following user fee position statement.
IMBA at this time opposes expansion of recreation user fee programs on federal public lands. We oppose fees for several reasons.
At the national level, recreation user fees are likely to be offset by decreases in congressional appropriations, causing no net increase in recreation funding. Some members of Congress have explicitly stated that fees should replace general appropriations to pay for trails and other recreation facilities on public lands. Although other members have promised that fees will not offset appropriations, IMBA believes that these offsets are likely to occur.
It is the federal government's responsibility to fund the basic facilities and management personnel necessary to assure public enjoyment and preservation of federal lands. The Congress is currently cutting all domestic spending during a time of national economic prosperity. Recreation programs are particularly hurt. The USDA Forest Service estimates that 75% of the jobs and economic benefits created by the national forests are derived from recreation, but recreation receives far less than 75% of the Forest Service budget. By consistently providing inadequate funding for maintenance of our nation's trails and recreation facilities, Congress has created an enormous backlog of deferred maintenance needs. The recreation budgets of federal land agencies should increase.
Recreation user fees present a problem for the nation's poor and middle class. If the public lands are truly meant for everyone, then the Congress and agencies should not create barriers to visitation and enjoyment of these lands. Contrary to the agencies' own surveys, which included only individuals who had already paid for access, at least one study has demonstrated that a significant number of people are not visiting recreation fee sites because of the fees. Also, fees could further reduce the diversity of visitors to our public lands because a disproportionate number of Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans and other ethnic groups are poor.
In addition, our public lands are symbols of freedom. They are the last bastion of free movement, the place where a person can generally go where he or she wishes, so long as the person does no harm. They are the birthright and heritage of every citizen. We own them.
We should not have to pay additional fees for the mere act of visiting our public property.
IMBA does not object to fees charged for facilities such as campgrounds or marinas. Our position primarily addresses fees for use of trails and roads. We also acknowledge that local communities and organizations may support fee projects for the specific local benefits they may provide, and we encourage our membership to participate in decisions about management of local federal lands.
The Fee Demo Program created by the Congress has been a worthwhile experiment that has provided much valuable information. However, this demo program alone does not suffice to resolve the debate. Congress has not held hearings on the program, or on its possible expansion. The three reports filed by the federal land agencies do not even discuss arguments in opposition to fees. The agencies, Congress and the public must more thoroughly explore all sides of the issue.
For these reasons, IMBA does not support the collection of user fees on federal public lands.