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Northwest Forest Pass Authorizing Law Up for Renewal

Posted by Andrea Imler at Aug 04, 2014 04:45 PM |

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.

Current law:

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.


FLREA and FLREMA, new law criteria

it's ludicrous to remove the parking area requirement under the new law. what are they possibly thinking to fund trails with trailheads that do not provide for parking? are people supposed to take a bus, hitchhike, walk 150 miles, skydive to, the trailheads because there's NO PLACE TO PARK a vehicle?

Posted by:

trailgrub on Aug 08, 2014 11:06 AM


Hi trailgrub,

Thanks for your comment! I made an error. In an earlier draft, parking had been removed. However in the House version recently debated, "designated developed parking" was one of the amenities listed. My apologies. --Andrea Imler, Advocacy Director at WTA.

Posted by:

Andrea Imler on Aug 22, 2014 03:48 PM

Fee sites

So the current law seems to preclude designating entire (several mile long) road sections as "NW forest pass required beyond this point". Not sure if they still do that, but years ago this was the case.
And what does the "ranger" requirement mean? MOST trailheads don't have a ranger on site, except the ones that drive up and check that all cars display a NW forest pass. And if we are lucky, restock the TP in the restroom. (and obviously, if there is no ranger around, no forest pass is needed - at least you won't get a ticket if you don't have one...)

Posted by:

Uli on Aug 23, 2014 09:18 PM

Northwest pass

We recently hiked Harry's ridge up at St. Helens. I was amazed at all the cars parked that "did not" have a pass hanging in there car. It tells me one thing. Rangers are not out there watching. I feel the pass is defiantly needed and at only $30.00 a year or $5.00 a day it's worth it. We do a lot of hiking and it's great to have nice trails here in the northwest to be able to enjoy them. People should be responsible to clean up after themselves. Don't change anything, but be more productive and fine the people that don't obey the law.

Posted by:

Ross on Aug 25, 2014 05:38 AM

RE: Fee Sites

Hi usteidl,

Good questions! Thanks for taking the time to comment on my blog. Yes, you are correct. In the beginning, some road sections were considered fee sites. However this was early incorrect interpretation of the FLREA law, which is why you don't see signs says "NW Forest Pass required beyond this point" for road corridors any longer in Washington. You will still see the sign prior to fee sites (ex. parking area) however.

The ranger requirement is exactly as your example suggests -- a ranger who checks on passes, stocks the pit toilets with toilet paper, checks on vehicles for break-ins, etc. A pass is still needed regardless of whether or not a ranger is there at that exact moment as the amenity (the ranger) is still provided. There is nothing in the law -- current or the proposed legislation -- stating that a ranger must be stationed at a fee site around the clock.

Thanks again for the great questions!

Andrea Imler, Advocacy Director

Posted by:

Andrea Imler on Aug 25, 2014 05:08 PM

Don't support unethical laws!

Dear WTA,

I do not think you should support this unethical law at all because it is a burden to users of your trails to pay for something that once was free! A day pass costs $10 which is way too high for an activity that lasts a few hours and the cost to state is minimal. If you guys want someone to pay for this stupid pass, charge them $1-3 for a day pass! Then you guys will rake in the dough...

Additionally, I feel that these trails should be maintained by non-profits and not the state. They don't really do very much with the money as it stands now, and some of these trails do not really need any maintenance for many years.

Also as an oregon resident, I would have to purchase an Oregon recreation pass, a Washington recreation pass, and/or a federal recreation pass? Talk about ripping us off and taxing us too much! I would rather try to get caught for not having one than wasting $100 a year on something where I won't see any return.

This is a tax without representation.

I also have a big problem with the change in enforcement. Before you guys would give warnings. Now you guys write tickets instead! I didn't even know what the heck these passes were before I got a ticket and didn't see any signs at the site I went to.

You know something, I would rather go to a free place than something that costs money. Wasn't america once free? Give me all the tickets you want, I am not paying for this dumb pass and am not returning to places that require it.

Posted by:

raster on Sep 02, 2014 01:59 PM

From the Mt. Lemmon case precedent, you can't be compelled to pay

Fortunately, most of what you need to know, from the Mt. Lemmon/USA vs. Wallace case on down, is available on this website:
Basically, buying and displaying a NWFP is purely optional if you simply park to hike and follow a few other guidelines. Congress specifically prohibits the USFS from charging entrance fees and fees to park -- it really is as simple as that, and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has resoundingly said so in the landmark USA vs. Wallace ruling.

The WTA and The Mountaineers are just plain wrong on this one -- roughly 5% of the fees collected from the NWFP and similar user fee schemes actually go towards direct trail maintenance/construction. The rest goes towards administration of the plan itself, construction of the "amenities" that many of us find unwelcome, and unrelated USFS costs. The WTA and The Mountaineers would serve us all far better if their access advocacy teams were lobbying with Congress directly, and fighting for better funding of the USFS within the federal government's general budget -- rather than supporting these nickel-and-dime programs which have been now ruled to plainly exceed the USFS' authority.

Posted by:

Chad McMullen on Sep 21, 2016 01:49 PM