BLM Uses Deception To Implement Entrance Fee At San Joaquin River Gorge


In 2012 the BLM’s San Joaquin River Gorge Management Area (SJRG) east of Fresno near Auberry, California began charging a $5 per vehicle daily fee and charging school groups a per-pupil fee for educational programs, despite their own assessment that there was general public opposition to their proposal. They got approval from the California Recreation Resource Advisory Committee by supplying them with false information, which the rubber-stamp committee cheerfully accepted even after it was brought to their attention.

The BLM’s official public participation procedure for new fee areas calls for notification in the Federal Register and the local media, followed by gathering public input and analyzing it to determine whether the “general public support” required by law exists, and finally review by the local RRAC, a volunteer citizen advisory group appointed by the BLM.

At SJRG that process was turned upside down.

The fee proposal was kept an entirely internal matter, with no details whatsoever available to the public, until four days before it was presented to – and approved by – the California RRAC. No notice appeared in the Federal Register until after it was a done deal. Press releases were supposedly sent to the Fresno Bee and Sierra Star, but were never received by them and no stories were published. Two public meetings were held but almost no one came because no one knew about them. Notices and comment cards were posted on site only after the public meetings to which no one had come.

SJRG’s manager claimed that 70% of the area’s users were contacted and that they all supported the fee. However at least one major user organization representing hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians, which has organized volunteer work projects in the area for years, knew nothing about it.

All of this paints a picture of a scheme to quietly implement this fee after all opportunities for the public to have any input had passed. The California RRAC, which is supposed to certify that fee proposals have “general public support,” followed their usual practice and rubber-stamped it.

 A Federal Register Notice appeared on June 9, 2011, announcing a 30-day public comment period. But because they had already obtained RRAC approval, the BLM was free to ignore those comments and proceeded to do so.

All the public comments were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and the results – opposing the plan by 43 to 4  – can be read HERE.

Proposal Documents and media are posted below.

SJRG Public Participation
All documents related to the San Joaquin River Gorge fee proposal were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, and are either shown or summarized below. They reveal that the BLM did very little outreach, got overwhelming public opposition from what outreach they did, and did not follow their own procedure. They jumped directly to approval by the California Recreation Resource Advisory Committee. That should have been the final step, instead it was almost the first.
BLM Official Procedure – Not Followed
SJRG Actual Procedure Followed – Timeline
SJRG Comments Round 1 – Only One Supporter
SJRG Summary of Media Announcements – Too Little Too Late
SJRG Public Meetings – Due to poor advance notice, only six attendees
Partial Transcript of Meeting Where Proposal Was Approved
Public be damned, full speed ahead
SJRG Comments Round 2 – Opposed 43 to 4

SJRG Briefing Paper
This was written for the BLM Central California Resource Advisory Council. It was handed out to them as part of a routine briefing on April 9, 2010. Their comments were not solicited, and no vote of approval was either sought or taken; it was presented to them as information only not as a decision item. On June 24, 2010 their silence was characterized as evidence of public support by the California Recreation Resource Advisory Committee, which proceeded to approve the plan based on that perceived support. This paper was made available to the general public only four days before the meeting at which the proposal received final approval.
SJRG Briefing Paper

San Joaquin River Gorge Fee Press Release
Federal law prohibits the BLM from charging either entrance or parking fees, but is exactly what they are charging at SJRG according to their own press release.
San Joaquin River Gorge Fee Press Release

Fresno Bee Article re San Joaquin Fee
This appeared only two weeks before the meeting at which the fee was scheduled to be considered by the California Recreation Resource Advisory Committee. Besides the press release above and this one story, there was no public notice in advance of the fee being approved.
Fresno Bee Article re San Joaquin Fee

SJRG Federal Register Notice
Federal Register notice and press release announcing the fee will begin. These two documents have conflicting dates for when public comment was to be sent in.
2010 06 09 SJRG Federal Register Notice
2010 06 10 Press Release

Fee Will Go Into Effect Feb 2012
Press release announcing that despite receiving general public opposition to the San Joaquin Gorge fee proposal it was going to go into effect as of February 1, 2012.
Fee Will Go Into Effect Feb 2012