Graduate Project


User fees: issues and policy on Washington state public lands Public Deposited

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  • Outdoor recreational activities on public lands have increased dramatically in the past few decades. Americans are logging millions of recreational visitor days (RVD's) participating in activities such as hiking, biking, wildlife viewing, photography and many others. This increased participation though is having detrimental effects on these lands and the agencies that provide and manage them. Budgets to provide for and manage these lands have been decreasing. This has put park managers and others who manage these lands in the position of having to become less reliant on general fund monies. They have had to look elsewhere for funding to operate and maintain the state's public lands. One common method to provide supplemental income has been through the implementation of user fees, which include but are not exclusive to camping fees, rental fees, entrance fees, license fees and special service fees. Table 1 shows a classification of recreation related user fees. The objectives of this research were to look at the implementation of user fees as a method for generating supplemental income at public agencies and the issues and policies associated with their use both currently and historically. Also an examination of how user fee policy has been changed by the increased pressures of outdoor recreationists how this has created a need for increased appropriations and how public agencies and lawmakers in Washington have reacted to these changes. In conducting this research a thorough review of literature pertaining to user fees was undertaken, particularly issues and policy associated with public lands. The mandates and user fee policies of the four Washington state agencies (Departments of Fisheries, Wildlife, Natural Resources and the State Parks and Recreation Commission) charged with managing State lands for recreation were examined along with documents discussing user fees, and the effects on the lands and agencies associated with recreational use of State lands. Personal conversations and interviews with personnel involved with recreation and user fee policies at the four managing agencies were also done to attain a better perspective of each agencie's mission and experience with user fees. User numbers are growing and so is the use of user fees by managers of public recreational lands and facilities to offset costs created by this increased use. Managers are trying to put in place more equitable user fee policies to help with these costs. Studies show recreationists do pay and are willing to pay more for their recreational activities. Public land management agencies in the state of Washington have a history of charging user fees to some recreationists but not all. Only a small percentage of those using Washington public lands are paying and they are providing opportunities free of charge to a majority of users. These inequities exist within each of the agencies and will continue to exist until each agency or the four agencies, combined with the help of the state legislature, develop a consistent user fee policy for all users of public land.
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