Last Updated 6/14/2004
WASHINGTON, D.C. (May 6, 2004) - "Fee demonstration money is being spent to whatever degree the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) deems necessary, with no user input or control of expenditures," Roy Denner, president and CEO of the Off-Road Business Association (ORBA) today testified to the U.S. House of Representatives' subcommittee on National Parks, Recreation and Public Lands in Washington, D.C.
Denner, also speaking for the American Sand Association, the California Off-Road Vehicle Association and the San Diego Off Road Coalition, was making specific reference to the popular Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area (ISDRA) in southern California and the fact that the BLM recently diverted nearly $1 million in camping fees collected to pay for a species monitoring program that was mandated by the Federal Government.
"Nobody likes to pay fees," Denner explained to committee members, "but I firmly believe that most recreation enthusiasts in this country have conceded the fact that user fees at recreation sites are a necessary evil. Our major concern now is that the fees collected are used in a manner that benefits the people who pay those fees."
He explained that the amount of area included within the ISDRA was originally 160,000 acres. With the passage of the 1994 Desert Protection Act, approximately 118,000 acres were designated by Congress to be available for OHV recreation. The remaining acreage was designated as wilderness area. Subsequently, he said, the area for off-highway vehicle recreation was further reduced by one-half as a result of a BLM settlement on a lawsuit filed by three anti-access organizations.
"While the area available for motorized recreation has been drastically reduced, the popularity of this park for OHV recreation has literally exploded," Denner said. "Off-highway vehicle enthusiasts visit the ISDRA from throughout the country and a recent U.S. government publication lists the dunes park as one of the top 12 recreation sites in the United States."
Denner told subcommittee members that it takes approximately $4 million per year to operate the ISDRA and that is with bare-bones operation - no improvements. Prior to the initiation of the fee demonstration program on Jan. 1, 1999, the state of California contributed slightly over $1 million annually. More recently, grants for operations and maintenance from the California Off-Highway Vehicle program have stopped completely. The total federal allocation is only $200,000 a year, which is about five percent of the required funding.
"That's not the end of my story," Denner told members. "Last year, the BLM completed preparation of a new Recreation Area Management Plan (RAMP) for the ISDRA that calls for many park improvements and a monitoring study to evaluate several species of concern within the park boundaries." Much to the chagrin of Denner and thousands of other enthusiasts, the BLM has not added one toilet, one camping pad or any amenities to the park; yet, the monitoring effort is underway and is being funded entirely by fee demonstration money.
Denner said that the reduction of dollars available to operate the park coupled with unregulated expenses, such as the monitoring program, will undoubtedly lead to even higher user fees for future years unless Federal appropriations are increased significantly.
"The BLM is requiring visitors - who have not seen a single significant improvement in facilities or recreation opportunities in at least three years - to step up and pay for environmental efforts that may ultimately be used to further reduce off-road opportunities at the ISDRA," Denner said. "This is sort of like being forced to pay for the materials to build your own gallows!"
In conclusion, Denner said, "I respectfully petition this committee to help correct the problems at the ISDRA and to establish controls to prevent this example of fee demo gone awry from becoming the norm for other recreation areas. Federal mandated programs at recreation areas, such as species monitoring efforts, should be paid for with Federal funding, not user fees."
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