Special Recreation Permits


The Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act authorizes four categories of fee:

  1. Entrance fee. These are allowed only on National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lands. They are prohibited on National Forests, BLM, and Bureau of Reclamation units.
  2. Standard Amenity Fee. These are authorized for USFS, BLM, and BOR at an “area” (undefined) where there are six specific amenities provided: developed parking, picnic table, permanent toilet, trash receptacle, interpretive signage, and security services.
  3. Expanded Amenity Fee. These are authorized for developed campgrounds, cabin and equipment rentals, boat launches, and similar developed facilities.
  4. Special Recreation Permit Fee. This section of the law reads, in its entirety,

    “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, motorized recreational vehicle use.”

The USFS and BLM have contorted the SRP Fee section to mean that they can charge a fee for all use of special areas, not, as it plainly says, for specialized use of any area. This interpretation is being used to get around the prohibitions that FLREA places on fees solely for parking, for access to undeveloped areas and for dispersed camping.

Here are some specific examples
2011_02_21_FS_Tickets_200_Having_Snow_Fun
2014_09_29_Smithsonian_What Should the Price of Visiting Wilderness Be
2014_11_14_Showdown_Over_A_Shakedown
2013_08_15_Murkowski_Intervenes_In_Day_Care_Ticket_Wrangell

Another example: ISDRA

Dunes_Fee_SignBLM’s El Centro Field Office administers the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area (ISDRA) in southern California. It’s a popular destination for off-highway vehicle enthusiasts, who come to ride on the dunes in an area designated for motorized use. These self-described “Duners” don’t mind paying a modest fee for a permit to operate their vehicles, because FLREA specifies that motorized recreation is a “specialized recreation use,” and specialized facilities and services unique to OHV recreation are provided. If BLM implemented the fee program at ISDRA as a permit to operate an OHV, it would be controversy-free.

But that’s not how they do it. Instead, they require everyone who enters the area for any purpose to purchase a “specialized recreation permit,” even those who don’t have an OHV and just want to play in the sand or take a few photos. The fee ($35 if purchased off-site or $50 if purchased on-site) is the same for a brief visit as for someone who is staying for a week. Because the fee is applied per “primary vehicle,” a family with one OHV in the back of a pickup pays the same as one hauling a trailer with multiple OHVs.

There is no way to describe this system other than as an “entrance” fee, a type of fee that BLM is prohibited from charging. But in an impressive display of double-think, they say it’s not for “entrance,” it’s for a “specialized use.” It’s due upon entrance, regardless of what “use” a visitor is engaging in, but it’s not an entrance fee.

This is a classic example of a federal agency using tortured logic to evade the clear requirements of federal law. You can read more about the long battle to bring some common sense to the ISDRA fee program in the documents posted below.

2013 05 23 Season Pass Prices Going Up
2013_05_23_Yuma_Sun_Season_Passes_Remain_Prices_Going_Up

2013 05 16 BLM Proposes to Eliminate Season Passes at ISDRA
2013 05 16 BLM Proposes to Eliminate Season Passes at ISDRA

2013 04 29 ISDRA Prices Going Up
2013_04_29_Yuma_Sun_Prices_Going_Up

2012 12 16 BLM Law Enforcement Called Excessive
2012_12_16_Law_Enforcement_Excessive

2012 12 11 County Questions Fee Increases
2012_12_11_Imperial_Valley_Press_Supervisors_Question_Increases

2012 12 04 BLM Analysing Public Comments
2012_12_04_Imperial_Valley_Press_BLM_Analyzing_Comments

2012 10 25 Imperial Sand Dunes Wants Another Increase
2012 10 25 Imperial Sand Dunes Wants Another Increase

WSNFC ISDRA Comment 2011
ISDRA Comment 2011

2009 11 06 Dunes Visits Down
2009 11 06 Dunes Visits Down

2009 05 11 No Increase At Dunes Yet
2009 05 11 No Increase At Dunes Yet

2009 05 11 Dunes Fee Increase Pulled
2009 05 11 Dunes Fee Increase Pulled

2009 01 15 OHV Users Pick Up Trash Costs For BLM
2009 01 15 OHV Users Pick Up Trash Costs For BLM

2008 10 04 BLM Stops Trash Service At Fee Area
2008 10 04 BLM Stops Trash Service At Fee Area