The Fee- No Fee- Park Cycle: Is There a Better Way?

Is this a pattern? A heavily used recreation area managed by the FS charges fees, and the charges get struck down in court. Here’s an editorial about Red Rocks on the Coconino. As the writers note, it isn’t clear where the funding is going to come from.

The last time we were discussing this, it was with regard to a newspaper article here, about an effort to make part of the Angeles NF a park or recreation area. I think that the piece is an excellent description of real-world urban forest 21st century problems. Here are some quotes:

Torres blames part of the lack of resources on the fact that many of the canyon’s users are Latino.

“If these people were Anglo, there would be more resources. It is a big social justice issue,” she said.

By comparison, the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area spends about 15 times more on recreation than the Angeles National Forest, according to a Michigan State University study.

Dumpis said the comparison isn’t exactly fair because of the types of recreation in question.

“I think we are getting our fair share compared with other forests. But I imagine they would all say they need more resources,” he said.

Federal funding is allocated based on park usage and park acreage, he said.

The Angeles National Forest also supplements its budget with the sale of Adventure Passes, amounting to about $1.2 million a year. And a team of volunteers also dedicate thousands of hours to the forest, Dumpis said.

I asked the author about the study she cited (“spends 15 times more”), and she gave the cite, but I couldn’t find it on the web. The study was by Robert Richardson and called Recreation Use in National Forests, Urban Population Growth and Demographic Change: The Case of the San Gabriel Mountains. If you find it, please send a link.

In my simple mind, it seems like there should be a better way to deal with intense recreation use than making an area a National Park or Recreation Area. Those designations still cost the people who will use the land, but the designation generally comes with a lot more restrictions- plus the cost to the taxpayer of changing maps, bureaucratic institutions, etc.

It just seems to me like there ought to be an easier way to get the funding that is obviously needed to manage national forests, than the painful process of watching an area degenerate until a “make the area a park so it will be treated better” movement begins.

6 thoughts on “The Fee- No Fee- Park Cycle: Is There a Better Way?”

  1. There’s an interesting line in that editorial:

    “It was understandable that the USFS would want more money for taking care of this neck of the woods.”

    Really? Imagine swapping out ‘USFS’ for ‘Department of Defense’ and I begin to wonder whether it would be as clearly understandable. I find it hard to think of the government as an entity that must find the money to fund its activities. Isn’t that what appropriations are for? Or, maybe, the aforementioned Department of Defense will start evaluating the spoils of war before they launch the next offensive?

    Let’s be clear. The costs of recreation management are relatively small. A few rangers here, a new picnic shelter there, a sign or three and an occasional search-and-rescue – these things aren’t that expensive. Likewise, the fees charged in places like Sedona and on the Angeles aren’t all that pricey – compared, say, to a super bowl or opera ticket.

    So, if these forests are so popular for recreation (which can only be a good thing in our society), then why isn’t the USFS allocating more towards managing that recreation?

    p.s. the Richardson report is for the Sierra Club, but I also can’t find a copy on the web. He’s an assistant professor at Michigan State, so maybe we should email him for a copy.

  2. The are, indeed, TONS of costs sometimes associated with recreation. For example, the Giant Sequoia National Monument is riddled with hazard trees over 300,000+ acres. Who will pay for the substantial costs of non-commercially (it’s not worth the trouble trying to sell logs…lawsuits WILL happen, otherwise) dealing with these mega-tasks?? Fire managers there have already stated that they won’t send their folks into snag-filled fire traps.

  3. Granted, Fotoware, there are expenses associated with managing units of the National Park Service. (The NPS has many mandates, including protecting wild life.) But, the costs of providing opportunities for recreation is relatively small compared to other costs of the USFS (or other branches of government, for that matter).

  4. But, that aside, perhaps you are getting at something Sharon alluded to in the original post – the policy of uncoupling one of the multiple uses of the USFS.

    That is, if recreation has to pay more of its way (independent of timber, wildlife, range and watershed) then how well do other management activities fare? Would fire management be able to re-coup the costs of fuels management? Who would pay for protection of endangered species? Etc. Etc.

    There’s evidence that USFS projects that can be charged to multiple activity codes (meeting multiple management objectives) have a greater likelihood of being chosen and conducted. If we chop the activities and designations of the National Forests into smaller and smaller pieces, then the success of inter-disciplinary projects (let alone ID planning) probably goes down.

  5. Bill- these are all very interesting questions. In our part of the country, we have lots of proponent-driven activities (ski areas, oil and gas, powerlines) that are mostly paid by the proponents, with fees going somewhere in the US Government. I should probably know where but I don’t.

    I’m not sure about what you said about projects with multiple activity codes being chosen and conducted. I could see that about vegetation management projects of the treecutting or prescribed burning persuasion, but not so much grazing.

  6. Just so you know, the Giant Sequoia National Monument is administered by the Sequoia National Forest, but purely un-managed, only for recreational use. Lawsuits prohibit managing the Monument in the same way as the rest of the California National Forests (which banned clearcutting and high-grading all the way back in 1993!) Giant Sequoia groves already had absolute protections before it became a National Monument. (My old boss was the Timber Management Officer for the old Ranger District.)

    Back to the Angeles, I’ll bet their recreation revenue will drop precipitously, with 250 square miles of burned forest. The Ventana Wilderness has had almost all of its area incinerated, with all sorts of trail maintenance issues. In Lake Tahoe, the Forest Service issued a press release about the dangers of walking in the Angora Burn, with multiple trees falling per hour.

    The McNally Fire burned for weeks, in sometimes extreme terrain and fuel loading. The world’s second largest Giant Sequoia was severely damaged, as the fire burned for miles before it nearly killed that legacy tree. A small crew could have jumped in there and done some quick fuels work to ensure that this huge tree could better defend itself.

    Regarding management codes, departments have become so very protective of their budgets, rarely helping other departments, as they did in the past. However, each Ranger District is different. I had the great pleasure of working on a tree marking crew that sometimes included a wildlife biologist and an archeologist, happily wielding paintguns, feeling very much empowered to be shaping the longterm future of their forests.


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