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Fee impacts potentially huge for Forest Service

Sidebar by Bob Berwyn

Forest Service Fees – June 2000 – Colorado Central Magazine

When and if the recreation fee program is made permanent, the greatest impact will likely be felt on lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service, simply because the agency is by far the largest federal provider of outdoor recreation.

The Forest Service manages 191.6 million acres of national forest and grassland in 154 national forests, including 412 wilderness areas totaling 34.7 million acres. The agency manages more than 100,000 miles of designated trails, along with 23,000 developed recreation facilities, including more than 4,000 campgrounds, trailheads, picnic areas, boat ramps and visitor centers. More than 120 major ski areas are managed under special-use permits.

National Forests tallied more than 900 million visits in 1999. Over the years, the recreation fee programs established under the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act of 1965 (for the use of developed facilities) have generated about $9 million in revenues each year. These revenues have declined in recent years because many developed sites have been turned over to concession management and, more recently, to the Recreational Fee Demonstration Program.

The Forest Service collects an additional $37.5 million per year under special use permits from ski areas, outfitters and guides, and recreation residences. Essentially all these funds in excess of a 25% payment to local counties are returned to the General Treasury.

The Recreation Fee Demonstration Program began in 1996 at four sites, collecting $43,000. In 1997, collections from 40 operating fee demonstration projects rose to $9.3 million. By 1998, 67 fee sites generated $20.8 million in revenue. In 1999, the number of operating sites increased to 81, with gross revenues totaling $26.5 million. All together, the agency has collected $56.6 million since 1996, with $8.1 million, or about 14% of the total, spent on collection costs.

(Information compiled from the U.S. Forest Service rec fee demo Web site.) –BB