Help Wanted!: FS Recreation Funding

Hwy. 2 sunset facing south in the Angeles National Forest.

What I like about this post is that it acknowledges that there’s a problem if the FS can’t charge fees and doesn’t get funding from Congress.

Our ire at the Forest Service has nothing to do with whether or not the government agency is properly funded. For decades now, in fact, it has been severely underfunded. We don’t object to creative ways to get it more money to protect our wildlands. In fact, we would wager that many if not most avid hikers, backpackers, car campers, fishers, hunters and other forest users would be more than glad to pitch in with their charitable donations to keep their mountain, desert and other wild lands clean and safe – perhaps to a nonprofit organization specifically set up for that purpose.
Put a donation booth at every trail head with a smiling volunteer and watch the money roll in – voluntarily.

I think the FS already has many donation booths at trailheads.. does anyone know of studies or data ata on how much money people donate?

The idea of a not for profit is interesting.. what are people thinking the not-for-profit would do that the FS couldn’t do..keep the funds for local improvements? General mistrust of the FS? I’m hoping people can point NCFP readers to what is known about this topic. Everyplace I know recreation is important and faces shortfalls; don’t we communally need to work on some solutions?

Or could the partners like the REI or the OIA (discussed under “roadless” in a previous post) to donate 5% of all of certain kinds of outdoor equipment to go to a recreation not-for-profit to benefit FS recreation? it seems like we have a) creative and brilliant minds around who recreate on the national forests and 2) lots of people using the forests, including 3) corporate entities and their associations; somehow that seems like it ought to translate into enough money to take care of our recreation sites.

Does anyone know of ideas that have been successful or that might be worth trying?

Here’s the whole piece:

Our View: Good riddance, Adventure Pass
Posted: 02/18/2012 06:15:20 AM PST

http://www.sgvtribune.com/opinions/ci_19994719

WE’VE known it all along, and have been saying so since 1998. But sometimes it takes literally making a federal case out of an injustice in order to make common sense into law.
Speaking for a unanimous panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in a ruling this month in favor of four hikers who objected to paying a fee to visit an Arizona forest, Judge Robert Gettleman wrote: “Everyone is entitled to enter national forests without paying a cent.”
Of course we are. These federal lands are paid for by our tax dollars. (For that matter, we welcome into them foreign hiking and sightseeing buffs who don’t pay American taxes at all. Good PR for America’s great outdoors.) The absurdly concocted Adventure Passes all but a few protesting conscientious objectors have been forced to pay these past 14 years are nothing more than a case of double taxation that never should have been cooked up in the first place.
Technically, if you even pulled your vehicle over to the side of the road on Highway 2 through our Angeles National Forest and took a stroll to a lookout point, you had to fork over $5 for the privilege – or $30 for an annual “pass.”
We already have that right. It’s not something you can extort money from us to do. This ruling clearly marks the end of the Adventure Pass once and for all.
Even so, the curmudgeonly local Forest Service isn’t ready to, as it were, buy in.
“I don’t have anything officially on that at this time,” said Sherry Rollman, spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service in Arcadia.
“It happened in another state and we haven’t assessed it yet.”
What planet is the USFS living on? This isn’t a state matter. It’s not the California Forest Service. Its workers are federal employees, and this ruling was made by a federal judge. We’re one big country, and a happier one for the ruling that we have a right to walk on our own land without being nickled and dimed in order to do so.
Our ire at the Forest Service has nothing to do with whether or not the government agency is properly funded. For decades now, in fact, it has been severely underfunded. We don’t object to creative ways to get it more money to protect our wildlands. In fact, we would wager that many if not most avid hikers, backpackers, car campers, fishers, hunters and other forest users would be more than glad to pitch in with their charitable donations to keep their mountain, desert and other wild lands clean and safe – perhaps to a nonprofit organization specifically set up for that purpose.
Put a donation booth at every trail head with a smiling volunteer and watch the money roll in – voluntarily.
The 9th Circuit ruling hedges a bit. Those who go to a place in the forest with “a majority of the nine amenities” offered in developed areas such as picnic tables, permanent toilets, garbage cans and running water, may be charged, the court said.
We’re not sure about that logic, and not sure how such uses can be quantified. But we’ll take the present ruling and run with it – and perambulate, cycle, swim and more through the lands that are owned by us all together.

11 Comments

  1. There are those who argue that, in fact, the Forest Service recreation budget has actually held steady, and that the real problem is that most of the budget allocated to recreation ends up being spent on administrative functions rather than active, on-the-ground recreation management.

    As for the last paragraph of the op-ed, it’s not about the judge’s opinion. FLREA is one of the most narrowly written, prescriptive laws ever passed by Congress and it’s pretty clear what the agency can and can’t charge fees for.

    Why does the Forest Service spend money on fighting these cases rather than putting the money into managing recreation? Nickel and diming is exactly right.

    Five bucks to park at the Cataract Lake trailhead and hike in the wilderness? No thanks!

    Ten bucks to park and picnic at the Heaton Bay day use area at Dillon Reservoir just so 1,000 Trails can make a profit? I’ll pass.

    Mt. Evans is next. After this Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling, it’s very hard to imagine any court upholding the broad fees being charged just to drive up a mountain road and look around. The Forest Service will have to rethink the way it allocates its scarce recreation dollars and the way it manages the Mt. Evans area.

  2. Well, Region 5 should have a BUNCH of timber dollars they aren’t going to spend, for the next few years…….

    if the fire folks don’t burn it all up, first.

    We’re way behind in precipitation, this year. We’re due for a BIG fire season, and a return to enhanced bark beetles.

  3. There is an amazing amount of recreation data collected on every national forest through NVUM (national Visitor Use Monitoring). I know of many non-profit groups that try to restore and use different historic sites but there is often a lack of consistency. I don’t think management or maintenance should be the responsibility of volunteers just like I don’t think the FS should be relying on volunteers to log out and build trails. There is definitely a shortage of field workers.
    It seems odd to me that the public doesn’t object to paying fees at a ski resort on National forest land but they seem to object to paying fees for any FS run sites. I do think there is a confusing problem with the many different types of fees and passes required at developed sites.
    I also think the FS will prioritize money for recreation when the FS starts taking the public serious as a stake holder.

    • From interviewing many forest vistors about this topic over the past severa years, I don’t think a lot of people object to paying for camping at a FS campground, or for the use of other developed facilities. The battle is over fees that appear to be mainly for parking and hiking.

  4. Sharon says, “…this [article] acknowledges that there’s a problem if the FS can’t charge fees and doesn’t get funding from Congress.”

    Perhaps. Who says that the Forest Service can’t charge fees? Not the Ninth Circuit. All the Judges said was that the Forest Service can’t charge fees that violate the law:
    The Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (“REA”)
    prohibits the United States Forest Service from charging fees
    “[s]olely for parking, undesignated parking, or picnicking
    along roads or trailsides,” for “hiking through . . . without
    using the facilities and services,” and “[f]or camping at unde-
    veloped sites . . . .” 16 U.S.C. § 6802(d)(1)(A), (D) & (E).

    And the Forest Service ought to take some lessons from the National Park Service if it wants to get recreational funding from what it may perceive to be a reluctant Congress.

    Full Ninth Circuit Decision is here, pdf

    [2/23 update: I woke up in the middle of the night, regretting my comment last evening that the FS ought to take lessons from the Park Service. I like my FS recreational experiences very primitive, so NO I don't want the FS to take lessons from the Park Service on how to better approach the Congress for money. What I do want to see, via collaboration is better enforcement of OHV abuse (including mountain bicycles), and other abuse that is destructive to forest ecosystems. "Light on the land" needs to be a watchword for re-creational and other uses on national forests. I hereby "reverse" myself on this matter, not waiting for a higher "court" to do so.]

    • Exactly! This decision is worth a read, by the way. Love the contrasting example the judge used between someone sitting on a gravel pile beside the road eating an old baloney sandwich and someone else who glides into a developed picnic area to enjoy a champagne and caviar snack.

    • Bob,
      You said “the real problem is that most of the budget allocated to recreation ends up being spent on administrative functions rather than active, on-the-ground recreation management.”
      Of course, what I see is NEPA, appeals and litigation on recreation projects; don’t know if you see this as “administrative” or not.
      I think it would be easy for someone (an academic or journalist) to “follow the money” and see where it goes. It could be useful for everyone to understand better.

      At the risk of stepping out from under the litigation cone of silence,
      My feeling about Mt.Evans and Maroon Bells is that those are Park- like experiences; scenic road, stops and hikes, visitor interpretation and from the feeling of common sense, not REA, I don’t mind paying and I like the improved facilities. That is to say, I guess I don’t agree with Congress on this one.

      Erin- you said “I also think the FS will prioritize money for recreation when the FS starts taking the public serious as a stake holder.” I think Congress gives the FS two related pots of money, NFRW and NFTR. Now as Bob says, folks could argue with how those pots are spent, but the FS is required to follow Congressional intent with the $,

      Dave- sometimes BLM and FS sites look like ratty low-rent versions of National Park sites.It could be the budget structure as we’ve talked about elsewhere. It could be the success of the National Parks lobbying arm, which the FS and BLM are lacking.

      Finally, I have to wonder whether people interested in recreation are not bringing, for whatever reason, the required lobbing clout to Congress to advocate for a recreation budget. I’ve seen the State Foresters get funding; I’ve seen the folks interested in CFLRP get funding; why isn’t every community near forests, every outdoor industry and association, every group of recreationists (hikers, hunters, Mountain Bikers, OHVers, horseman) committed to a long term full court press to lobby for funds?

      What’s up with that?

      Here’s a previous post talking about “do we need a better lobbying organization”
      http://ncfp.wordpress.com/2011/12/13/needed-blm-and-fs-lobbying-organization-national-reserve-conservation-association/

      and other recreation budget woes.
      http://ncfp.wordpress.com/2011/05/05/privatization-and-forest-service-recreation-again/

      • I can’t disagree about more lobbying for recreation funding. I’d like to see the outdoor industry focus on that instead of their current focus on roadless preservation. And your point about local communities being part of that effort is well-taken. I’ll talk that up a little bit at county meetings.

        I’ve tried getting my head around FS budgets, but have never had much luck. I always get very complicated answers about how funds are allocated on the local level. I suppose if I were more persistent, I could probably figure it out.

        I think you’re partially right about Maroon Bells and Mt. Evans. I spoke with Rich Doak about the concept of charging for the individual amenity sites within Maroon Bells rather than access to the whole area, and he delicately said it would be challenging – and would increase the costs of collecting the fees. The same would happen at Mt. Evans. Trying to collect and administer fees at individual sites sounds like an expensive nightmare.

        But the Forest Service started down the slippery slo
        pe of the fee program, then abused it by charging fees at places like Cataract Lake, which generated a backlash and resulted in the overly prescriptive FLREA.

  5. I woke up in the middle of the night, regretting my comment that the FS ought to take lessons from the Park Service. I like my FS recreational experiences very primitive, so NO I don’t want them to take lessons from the Park Service on how to better approach the Congress for money. What I do want to see, via collaboration is better enforcement of OHV abuse (including mountain bicycles), and other abuse that is destructive to forest ecosystems. “Light on the land” needs to be a watchword for re-creational and other uses on national forests.

  6. Dave- I think recreation funds are used for enforcement as well as campgrounds, picnic areas, trailheads, etc. I think it would be tough (and dangerous or potentially illegal) for volunteers or collaborators to do law enforcement.

    Here’s a previous post on “sustainable recreation” which I think is the same as “light on the land.”

    It sounds like you’re saying “as long as recreation funding involves things I don’t like as well as things I like, I won’t support it.”

    If others feel that way, then perhaps the solution is a not for profit that helps with only the projects that you like.

    At its extreme, and I think we’re getting close to this, there will be no people funded in recreation on some districts to open campgrounds. this seems to be to be a serious situation, given that recreation is the #1 use of the national forests by most Americans.

    Another example is travel management. I think you would agree with the intent of the rule, to manage OHV’s. Nevertheless, doing travel management is complicated, timeconsuming, requires extensive EIS’s and then can get litigated by one or both sides if they feel that their views are not used. Travel management can be paid by fund codes outside of recreation, but still is a drain on recreation funds and people- still, a good thing to do. But it takes money to do it, plus all the day to day work.

    Like Bob, I think it would be illuminating to know where recreation funds are spent. If that’s what it takes to build trust and public support, I’m all for it.

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