Northwest Forest Pass Authorizing Law Up for Renewal
The Northwest Forest Pass bill (known as FLREA) is up for reauthorization by the end of 2015. If it isn’t reauthorized, this critical funding source for trails and recreation will be lost. WTA has been working to ensure that the legislation is reauthorized so that our trails will remain accessible and that recreation facilities maintained.
When you hang a Northwest Forest Pass on your rearview mirror, do you ever wonder where the money you paid for the pass goes?
It goes to supporting recreation here, in the form of trailhead kiosks, restroom facilities and rangers. Roughly 80 percent of recreation fees—Northwest Forest Pass, National Park entrance fees and other federal recreation fees—go right back to maintaining and improving trails, land and facilities like toilets and campgrounds. In 2013, $8.2 million in pass revenue was reinvested into national forests and parks in Washington and Oregon.
NW Forest Pass, a critical funding source for local trails
After several decades of sharp federal funding cuts, the Northwest Forest Pass has become an essential trails and recreation funding source for national forests in Washington state.
The law that enables national forests, parks and other federal land agencies to collect recreation fees is called the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act, or FLREA, for short.
FLREA is up for reauthorization by the end of 2015. If it isn’t reauthorized, this critical funding source for trails and recreation will be lost. Since FLREA allows for annual passes such as the Northwest Forest and America the Beautiful passes, a new bill or extension must be passed this year to allow for continued sales of annual passes.
WTA has been working to ensure that the legislation is reauthorized so that our trails will remain accessible and that recreation facilities maintained.
Making the Northwest Forest Pass more effective
Earlier this year, WTA and other partners such as The Mountaineers, Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance and American Whitewater, submitted testimony when a new version of FLREA was up for discussion in the House Natural Resources Committee, sponsored by Rep. Bishop.
Northwest Forest Pass can only be collected at recreation sites with: parking, a restroom, waste bin, ranger, picnic table and information materials.
New, more flexible, law:
The new language requires a toilet when the pass is required and lets land managers choose what makes sense for the recreation site by requiring at least three of the following amenities: designated developed parking, trash collection, information material, picnic table and a ranger.
In our testimony, WTA:
- Stated support for reauthorizing FLREA, a key source of funding for trails and recreation.
- Asked for recreation opportunities (like the trails themselves) be prioritized for the use of fees.
- Supported a change that would allow local agencies flexibility to decide which amenities need to be present at the trailheads where fees are charged. With the new language, restrooms would be required, but agencies could, for instance, decide if a trash can or a backcountry ranger makes more sense for a particular trail. (See sidebar for more details.)
- Advocated for a larger slice of the fees to be used locally to maintain and improve trailhead facilities and trails, encouraging agencies to keep administration and overhead costs down.
You say FLREA, I say FLREMA
On July 30, a hearing was held in the House Natural Resources Committee to discuss a full slate of bills, including a newly introduced FLREA bill, now called the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Modernization Act (FLREMA, HR 5204).
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Rob Bishop, revised its original language. He added language that recreation fees should be used to “develop and enhance existing recreation opportunities” and created more flexibility around required trailhead amenities (see sidebar). In addition, the new bill requires that a minimum of 90 percent of the fees collected be used at the recreation site for improvements such as trails, picnic areas and campgrounds.
Joining in a letter written by our friends at The Wilderness Society, WTA strongly supports renewing FLREA. One of our concerns with the new FLREMA bill is new language that would require an act of Congress every time a federal land manager wanted to add a fee location or even revise fees. Requiring Congress to approve every recreation fee is not practical and will hamstring the efforts of land managers to manage popular recreation sites.
Next steps for this important bill
At last week's hearing, FLREMA was approved by the House Natural Resources Committee. The bill will now move to markup where changes can be made to the current bill language.
Currently there isn't a Senate version of the bill.
Meanwhile on July 15 the House Appropriations Committee approved a fiscal year 2015 money bill that included an extension of FLREA through Dec. 8, 2016. The extension would give Congress time to work through FLREMA and ensure continuation of federal recreation fee collection.