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Fee Legislation Promises Improved Visitor Experience

Federal agencies in Southern California look to fees as a way to manage increasing visitation.

From the USDA Forest Service

Map of California

The Angeles, Cleveland, Los Padres, and San Bernardino National Forests, working together as the Enterprise Forest, are currently implementing a significant new mandate from Congress that holds tremendous promise for generating much-needed revenue that will help the forests improve the quality of the visitor experience. PL-104-134 provides for a three-year pilot at selected demonstration areas within four federal agencies (USDA Forest Service, USDI Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Park Service) and will allow the Enterprise Forest to collect and locally reinvest most of the revenue generated from new recreation fees.

Over the past decade, the U. S. Forest Service has experienced a continuously decreasing level of public funding. The four Southern California national forests alone recorded an average 30 percent budget decrease from Fiscal Year 1994 to 1996. At the same time visitor use, and potential for impact to the environment, has substantially increased. The result is fewer dollars to achieve quality land management and visitor service. Simply put, there is not enough money to maintain the ecosystems, let alone facilities such as restrooms, campgrounds and trails at minimum standards. With reduced budgets, these forests face the real possibility of having to close selected areas to the public. It is clear that the USDA Forest Service can no longer rely solely on appropriate funds to fulfill its mission of caring for the land and serving people.

The national forests of Southern California encompass a large expanse of natural, open space surrounding a vast urban population -- 19.65 million people according to the 1994 U.S. Census, and by the turn of the century, at the very minimum, nearly 21 million people. Practically in the backyard, Southern California residents can visit and enjoy mountains as high as 10,000 feet, canyons, vast forest lands, lakes, waterfalls, rivers and streams, and the myriad of year-round recreation visits to the Southern California forests in 1995, as recorded by the Forest Service. This is unique in the United States. Although there are many National Parks and recreation areas in California, few are as convenient and accessible or have the variety and scope of landscape and recreation opportunities. These forests have immense worth and value to the entire population of this area.

And this is not just a local issue. By the year 2000, national forest resources will contribute more than $130 billion to America's gross domestic product. Recreation and tourism will account for almost $100 billion.In recent years Congress has introduced a number of legislative proposals with the intent to transfer a greater portion of the cost of providing recreation opportunities on Federal lands to the benefiting public. The significant provision of this fee demonstration legislation is that 80 percent of any new fees collected over the next three years will stay in the area where they are collected. In the past, all fees collected were returned to the U.S.Treasury. This legislation represents a remarkable opportunity for the Forest Service, together with the recreating public, to improve the quality of the recreation experience for our forest visitors.

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