As a member of the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area (ISDRA) advisory team and past board member of the ASA I have been asked to give some history of the fees paid by dunes visitors.
I have been recreating at the ISDRA for over 50 years and during this time I have seen many changes. When I first started going to the ISDRA there were no amenities, no Gecko road, no trash pickup, no restrooms, no medical teams and very few visitors. Back in the day we took our trash home and hauled anyone hurt out of the dunes and took them to the hospital if needed.
In 1996, Congress authorized the Recreation Fee Demonstration program (Fee Demo) through Public Law 104-134 (as amended: 16 United States Code 460l-6a), for the Forest Service (FS), National Park Service (NPS), Bureau of Land Management, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). It was called Fee Demo and was instigated at several places in the country. The BLM started this “Fee Demo” program at the ISDRA. The intent of the program was to test the application of recreation fees that are reinvested in recreation areas on federal lands and used to maintain and improve natural resources, recreation facilities, and services.
Fast forward a few years and the Government decided to implement a program to expand on what was learned with the Fee Demo program. A new law called the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA) (16 USC 6801-6814) was signed into law on December 8, 2004.
FLREA authorizes different kinds of fees, outlines criteria for establishing fees, and prohibits fees for certain activities or services. FWS and NPS can charge entrance fees. The BLM is prohibited from charging entrance fees. BLM, Reclamation, and FS can charge “standard amenity fees” in areas or circumstances where a certain level of services or facilities is available. FLREA also authorizes all five agencies to charge an “expanded amenity fee” for specialized facilities and services, and “special recreation permit” (SRP) fees for specialized uses, such as group activities.
As part of this law the BLM is not allowed to charge entrance fees but can charge Amenity, expanded Amenity or Special Recreation Fees (SRP). To charge Amenity fees each location needs to have a certain number of amenities. There is a list of approved amenities and how many are required to charge an Amenity fee.
As the ISDRA does not have the required number of amenities to charge either an Amenity or Expanded Amenity fee so they can only charge an SRP fee. The fee paid by the ISDRA visitor is a Special Recreation Fee for the use of a recreation area.
16 USC 6802(h) defines what a SRP fee can be used for.
(h)Special recreation permit fee
The Secretary may issue a special recreation permit, and charge a special recreation permit fee in connection with the issuance of the permit, for specialized recreation uses of Federal recreational lands and waters, such as group activities, recreation events, and motorized recreational vehicle use.
So the reason that there is a fee at the ISDRA is to provide for the recreation user to supplement the cost of the operation, maintenance and enhancement of the ISDRA.
The BLM uses SRP fee money to supplement the BLM budget and Californian (Green Sticker) fee grant money. The main expenditures are for trash service, toilet, road and camping area maintenance, visitor services (medical service), law enforcement, fee program management and BLM overhead.
Chart of FY2019 fee expenditures. Where the fee money is spent