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Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act

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Publication Date: March 2007

Publisher(s): Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service

Series: RL33730

Topic: Environment (Parks, nature reserves, and open spaces)


The Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (REA in P.L. 108-447) established a new recreation fee program for five federal agencies -- the Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation), National Park Service (NPS), Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in the Department of the Interior (DOI) and the Forest Service (FS) in the Department of Agriculture (USDA). The law authorizes these agencies to charge fees at recreation sites through December 8, 2014. It provides for different kinds of fees, criteria for charging fees, public participation in determining fees, and the establishment of a national recreation pass. The agencies can use the collections without further appropriation. Most of the money is for improvements at the collecting site, such as operation, maintenance, and capital improvement projects.

This program supersedes, and seeks to improve upon, the Recreational Fee Demonstration Program. Recreation fees have been controversial for decades, and there continues to be a difference of opinion as to the need for recreation fees and how fee programs should operate.

The agencies are in transition to the new recreation fee program. The Recreation Fee Leadership Council, comprised of senior DOI and USDA policy officials, is overseeing agency implementation of the new fee program through an implementation plan with short-, medium-, and long-term goals. Some of these have been accomplished, while others are ongoing. The Fee Council also established working groups on key provisions of the new law, related to fee collections and expenditures, communications, Recreation Resource Advisory Committees (Recreation RACs) and public participation, and passes. The BLM and FS have decided to collaborate in the use of RACs, which will make recommendations on fee sites and fees. Some of the existing RACs have begun meeting to consider fee issues. With regard to passes, a new national recreation pass became available in January 2007.

The agencies have issued policy guidance on implementing REA, including through an Implementation Handbook (June 2006) with interagency guidance on aspects of REA. Further, the agencies have conducted analyses of the extent to which sites charging fees under the former Fee Demo Program meet the criteria and prohibitions of the REA for charging entry, standard amenity, and expanded amenity fees. The NPS and FWS made little change in fees and fee sites as a result of the new law. The BLM made some adjustments, while the FS made the most changes, dropping fees at 437 sites. Reclamation has decided to implement the fee program in one or a few areas.

Congress is overseeing agency implementation efforts. Hearings in the 109th Congress focused on the development of the new national recreation pass as well as on implementation generally. In May 2006, the agencies submitted to Congress the First Triennial Report on the recreation fee program. The Government Accountability Office released a report in September 2006 on program implementation, with recommendations for program improvement.