Implementation of Recreation Fees by the U.S. Forest Service: 1996-2002


  • Molly Espey


Federal land management, public land management, recreation demand, recreation fee demonstration program, user fees, U.S. Forest Service


In recognition of the potential for recreational use fees to contribute to the operation, maintenance, and enhancement of public lands, Congress passed the Recreation Fee Demonstration Program (RFDP) in 1996, authorizing federal land management agencies to charge recreational use fees and retain the revenue. This study analyzes the response of federal land managers to this authority through estimation of the factors that influenced the fee setting decision by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) between 1996 and 2003.Two different models are estimated. First, a logit model is estimated to determine the contribution of cost and demand side factors to the existence of a fee at a particular forest by 2003. Next, a duration model is estimated to measure how these same factors affected the length of time between federal fee authorization and implementation of fees at each forest. While neither forest size measured as total acres nor miles around the perimeter are significant, perimeter miles divided by acreage is significant and estimated to delay fee implementation. More substitute sites in proximity to the local population is also estimated to delay fee implementation at a particular site. However, as the percentage of substitutes with fees rises, the likelihood of fee implementation at a non-fee site increases. Finally, a large local population is estimated to have a positive influence on the fee-setting decision.The results of this study support the hypothesis that public land managers consider market demand and cost factors in the decision of whether or not to implement entrance or day use fees. The passage of the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act in late 2004 ended the temporary status of the RFDP. The associated decrease in uncertainty regarding fee revenues, along with the increased use of recreation fees across the country, is likely to add to the incentive for federal public land managers to implement fees at sites still without fees, but will also provide an opportunity for future analysis to determine the contribution of increased policy stability on this decision.





Regular Papers