Digest of Federal Resource Laws of Interest to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (REA)

This Act, Public Law 108-447 (118 Stat. 2809), enacted by Congress as part of the 2005 Omnibus Appropriations Bill and signed into law by President Bush on December 8, 2004, allows the government to charge a fee for recreational use of public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR), the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the National Park Service (NPS) and the Forest Service (USFS). The recreation fee program is a program by which fees paid by visitors to certain federal recreation sites are retained by the collecting site and used to improve the quality of the visitor experiences at those sites. Since 1985, visitation has increased approximately 80 percent on National Wildlife Refuges, resulting in an increase in demand for adequate facilities and services, such as toilets, developed parking, water, and maintained trails, as well as a greater need to expend funds to protect the natural and cultural resources that are often the very reason visitors are drawn to a particular site. Recreation fees allow the agencies to meet this visitor demand while delivering quality recreation, heritage and wilderness opportunities, and protecting our natural resources.

Recreation fees are not new. Some recreation fees date back to 1908, when Congress first established broad recreation fee authority under the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act. Under this and other authorities, land management agencies have charged for many recreational activities, services, and entrance to federal lands. In the past, most of these fees have gone directly to the U.S. Treasury. Congress further recognized the need to provide additional resources to address the backlog of maintenance on federal lands when it authorized the Recreation Fee Demonstration Program in 1996.

The REA provides new authority to address public concerns about the Recreation Fee Demonstration Program (See also: Emergency Wetlands Resources Act of 1986) by limiting fees within some agencies to those sites that have a specified minimum level of development and meet specific criteria. Additional safeguards include specific requirements to provide the public with information about fees and how fee revenues will be used. The Act provides agencies with recreation fee authority for 10 years, which will allow the agencies to improve the efficiency of the program, provide better facilities and services to the visitors, employ greater use of technology, and enter into more fee management agreements with counties and other entities to provide additional services to visitors. Finally, the Act requires reports to Congress every three years on the status of the recreation fee program for Federal recreational lands and waters.

The law differentiates among the participating bureaus and agencies. The NPS and FWS units in the National Wildlife Refuge System may charge entrance fees (although the public may still use a current year Duck Stamp to gain entrance to refuges). The other participating bureaus and agencies may charge "standard amenity fees" where specific criteria are met. The FWS and NPS may also charge "expanded amenity fees" for use of a specialized facility, equipment, or service. The other bureaus and agencies may charge "expanded amenity fees" in those areas where additional amenities are provided, such as boat launches, rental cabins, electrical hookups, dump stations, enhanced interpretive services, reservations, transportation, swimming facilities, and picnicking. A special recreation permit fee will also be allowed for specialized recreation uses such as group activities, recreation events and motorized vehicle use.

This Act authorized a new interagency pass family called the "America the Beautiful - National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Passes". They will replace the Golden Eagle, Golden Age, and Golden Access Passports and will do away with the National Parks Pass. The new passes will have an annual, senior, and disabled version, much like the Golden Passports, as well as a new Interagency Volunteer Pass (1-year), for volunteers who accrue 500 volunteer hours. The Interagency Annual Pass (1-year) will be $80; the Interagency Senior Pass will be $10 (lifetime) for US citizens aged 62 or older; and the Interagency Access Pass will be free (lifetime) to US citizens with permanent disabilities. In addition, there will be hangtags that display the pass inside a vehicle at unstaffed sites, and decals for pass holders' use with open-topped vehicles or motorcycles parked at unstaffed sites. The new passes should be available in January 2007.

The majority of the fees collected will be reinvested back into the collection site to enhance visitor services and reduce the backlog of maintenance needs for recreation facilities such as trail maintenance, toilet facilities, boat ramps, hunting blinds, and interpretive signs and programs. Bureaus and agencies may not use recreation fees to pay for biological monitoring of threatened and endangered species or to pay employee bonuses.

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