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July 10, 2013

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America Outdoors Association Bulletin

Drafts of Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act Reauthorization Increase the Fee Burden on Permittees, Exempts Private Users from Backcountry Fees

Governor Cuomo and Mayor Bloomberg Having Fun with Rafting Competition in Upstate New York

Drafts of the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act Reauthorization Raise the Fee Burden on Outfitters, Exempt Private Users from Backcountry Fees

Two separate drafts of the FLREA reauthorization legislation are floating around Congress. Fortunately, neither has much chance of passage in their current form but they do give you some idea of what is at stake for your business if you operate in National Forests, BLM lands, in Refuges and in National Parks. FLREA is the authority for issuing outfitter and guide permits in National Forests, Refuges and BLM lands and governs some aspects of fees and concessioner operations in National Parks.

Both bills exempt non-commercial users from backcountry fees. Rep. Grijalva's bill provides free noncommercial backcountry permits. Sen. Risch's bill also provides free private, non-commercial permits for backcountry users, except for whitewater boating, but does allow a charge for the costs of the permit reservation system.

While exempting private users from backcountry fees, Rep. Grijalva’s (D-AZ) draft would require outfitters and other permitted users to pick up the tab for recreation planning, environmental analysis, resource monitoring, trail maintenance, permit administration and other costs necessary to execute federal agencies’ recreation programs. In other words permit holders would likely be driven out of business by fees and cost recovery in National Forests, on BLM lands and in Wildlife Refuges.

Below are some relevant citations from Rep. Grijalva's legislation.

SEC. 806 B. specifically prohibits recreation fees for non-commercial, private hiking, boating, non-motorized sports, horseback riding, rafting, canoeing, kayaking, and other backcountry uses.

Then Section 807 requires permittees to foot the entire bill for planning recreation, maintaining trails, restoration, resource monitoring, environmental compliance, trail and facility construction.

 ‘‘(a) SPECIAL RECREATION PERMIT FEE.—The Secretaries may issue a special recreation permit and charge a special recreation permit fee on Federal recreational lands and waters under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, and Forest Service in order to recover costs associated with the following specialized recreation uses, where they are otherwise authorized:
(1) Off-highway vehicle use.
(2) Snowmobile use.
(3) Permits for group gatherings (such as weddings, sporting events, rallies, competitive gatherings, and reunions).
(4) commercial outfitting and guiding...."

The Secretaries may give special consideration to recovering the costs associated with the activities authorized under 807(a), including—
(1) trail and facility construction;
(2) maintenance;
(3) natural and cultural resource monitoring;
(4) restoration;
(5) emergency response and law enforcement;
(6) environmental compliance;
(7) signage and user education;
(8) planning; and
(9) permit administration...."

The bill seems to expect permit holders and concessioners to provide discounts for holders of the National Park and Federal Lands Recreation Pass.

The Secretaries shall require clear and consistent posting of all privately operated sites that do not accept the National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass for a discount on recreation facilities or services.”

Rep. Grijalva’s bill has one merit in that it provides fee credits for trail clearing projects for permit holders and groups paying fees.

Senator Risch (R-ID) has a discussion draft floating around with some similar problems although not as severe. The Risch draft of the FLREA reauthorization:
•    Requires consideration of the direct and indirect cost of providing recreation activities when setting fees, which is a very broad mandate and could include planning costs;
•    Gives the agencies authority to rent recreation equipment among other things for a fee;
•    Prohibits fees for private, backcountry activities except for whitewater boating at some locations, although it would not interfere with state licnsing for fish and game;
•    Requires public involvement in the fees and charges for services offered by concessioners and permittees, but this is a little unclear in its intent;
•    Requires public involvement in permit fees for permit holders.
•    Waives fees for biological monitoring.
•    Improves accountability by requiring reports from individual units.

The exemption for other backcountry users from fees and inclusion of direct and indirect costs for recreation activities will result in higher fees for commercial outfitters in many locations.

You should not worry too much about these drafts at this point. Both bills are floated as discussion drafts, so are not meant to be final and are likely to be changed.  Niether represents the relevant Congressional committee's majority position. They do indicate the issues and the depth of the battle ahead along with the desire of some private recreationists to have commercial recreation pay for recreation management on public lands. The majority in the House and Senate authorizing committees are expected to draft their own bills for introduction later this Fall.

Governor Cuomo and Mayor Bloomberg Having Fun with Rafting Competition in Upstate New York

You may have heard of Governor Cuomo’s unique strategy to promote whitewater rafting in upstate New York with the Adirondack Challenge on the Hudson River. Governor Cuomo challenged Mayor Michael Bloomberg to a raft race. The event will take place on July 22nd near the town of Indian Lake. While the two rivals are not yet trash talking, their surrogates are. One political commentator gave Governor Cuomo the edge in the race because his team will not be limited on the amount of sugary energy drinks that the New York City Mayor once tried to restrict. Read this article about the Adirondack Challenge from the New York Daily News.

Tags:  Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act, outfitter permits, recreation fees

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