Lobbyists, such as Derrick Crandall, President of the American Recreation Coalition, are speaking in support of pay-to-play, commercial, recreation on our National Forests and in our National Parks. Unfortunately Congress appears to be listening to this lobbyists while it largely ignores the American public.
Complete testimony can be read at http://commdocs.house.gov/committees/ag/hagFY1999.000/hagFY1999_0.HTM#94.
OVERSIGHT OF THE FISCAL YEAR 1999 BUDGET FOR THE FOREST SERVICE
THURSDAY, MAY 7, 1998
House of Representatives,
Committee on Agriculture,
STATEMENT OF DERRICK CRANDALL, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN RECREATION COALITION
Mr. CRANDALL. Thank you. I am delighted to be here representing the American Recreation Coalition, which is a national federation of more than 100 organizations involved in meeting the recreation needs of Americans.
Our industry each year generates some $400 billion in sales and touches the lives of nearly every American. In fact, our data shows that 57 percent of all Americans engage in outdoor recreation at least monthly; and upwards of one in three Americans regularly recreate on our Federal lands.
We certainly applaud the committee initiative in looking at the fiscal year 1999 budget and going beyond the budget, looking at some of the broader issues before you here today, including the oft-cited backlogs facing the agency in recreation and roads and a seriously wrong trend in the agency's budget.
While recreation visits are climbing, the appropriated resources for recreation programs at the district levels are shrinking rapidly. Visitors' services and satisfaction appear to compete poorly against internal priorities and end up with mere scraps.
As the committee knows, the time is near when the national forests will reach 1 billion recreation visits annually. These visits are by people seeking many different kinds of experiences but they have a common purpose: to enjoy time in an attractive and natural setting apart from the tensions of our urbanized society.
Their three core needs are good access, visitor facilities and services designed to meet the needs of Americans living in increasingly urban communities, and good management of the resources.
Let me first address recreation infrastructure. The recreation facilities in our national forests are not in good shape. While estimates of the recreation facility backlog vary, the immediate need for capital investments in campgrounds and trails, day use sites and visitors centers, interpretive kiosks and other recreation facilities appears to be between $1 billion and $2 billion. This does not include investment in new facilities designed to meet higher levels of use today and expected higher levels in the future. In fact, current levels of appropriations are exacerbating, not eradicating this backlog.
The goal set forth in the draft RPA program document 2 years ago was for 55 percent of all recreation visits in the national forests to occur at sites that meet agency quality standards, and that will prove very optimistic at the current rate.
Let me just digress by saying that any recreation company which set a goal of 55 percent of its products working right or 55 percent of its restrooms being clean and operational would not make to it to the new millennium. Disney emphasizes that it takes 31 magic moments to undo the damage of a single tragic moment. The Forest Service, too, needs to set its focus on 100 percent satisfaction of guest expectations and, with good partners, that goal can be achieved.
A first step is a very different attitude towards capital budget needs. For reconstruction of worn-out campgrounds and boat ramps, beaches and trail heads, we urge the Congress to direct the agency to look at the private sector. Through an extension of the term of permits, the agency can persuade current and future recreation service partners to invest in water systems and restrooms, parking areas and much more just as is done today at ski areas.
The agency has investigated this opportunity for years. It is now time to move on the concept, and we call upon the Congress to authorize a concession demonstration program in the spirit of the now under way recreation fee demonstration program.
Yet investments by concessionaires and permittees is not sufficient to meet the needs of the Forest Service recreation program backlog. The agency must address a dearth of business expertise in its operations. Efficient use of capital must be an agency goal in project design, construction and operation.
Let me turn to road infrastructure.
Unfortunately, the recreation backlog is dwarfed by the magnitude of the forest road system backlog. The backlog for needed reconstruction of arterial and collector roads alone, some 85,000 miles out of a system of some 400,000 miles, is reported as $10.5 billion. The agency is responsible for 7,000 bridges, of which 940 are currently rated as deficient; and only 40 of these bridges are being replaced annually. The lack of investment is already creating a loss of access to forest roads and posing significant safety issues.
I express concern regarding a plan that would target a goal of 55 percent compliance with agency quality standards for recreation. That goal is a shining star compared to the goal for the future of the road program. The agency projects meeting just 40 percent of its maintenance needs for arterial and collector roads, and that is simply unacceptable.
In the last 3 fiscal years, as you heard the Chief testify, the agency reports a drop in its arterial and corridor mileage of nearly 10 percent. This drop is not because these roads no longer lead to trail heads and campgrounds, lakes and other recreation destinations. It is a reflection of the reclassification of these routes as now requiring the use of high-clearance vehicles for safe passage. This closure of routes by default and not by design cannot continue.
Today's forest roads are largely the product of the agency's past timber production history. The Congress and the administration have yet to look at the long-range road needs of the forests. What is clear is that total forest road spending is declining, going from some $600 million annually in the mid-1980s to less than $250 million in 1998.
We believe that a forest transportation strategy is essential, and we urge that a portion of the receipts of the Highway Trust Fund be earmarked to forest roads. In part, this logic arises from the national responsibility that we bear for providing access to the forest, but it is also based on the fact that millions of dollars in Federal fuel taxes are paid by those 1.7 million vehicles per day using the forest roads.
We are aware that the administration envisions an aggressive decommissioning of roads in the forests based upon environmental and fiscal costs. The recreation community does not necessarily oppose some road closures, provided that access to recreation sites in the forests are not significantly impaired.
What we have called for, instead, is to emphasize an ambitious Roads to Trails Initiative funded in part through recreation fees and through cooperative agreements with States like California's Green Sticker Program and a Road Banking Program. Under road banking, local routes might be obliterated visually but retained legally, recognizing that the routes might once again become important for recreation, timber or other purposes at a later time.
Finally, let me address the Recreation Program budget.
I have attached as Attachment A some numbers that show what has happened in the recreation field over the last 11 years. The Forest Service Recreation Program has not fared well in recent years. As the recreation task of the agency has grown in size and complexity, the agency's appropriated revenues for recreation have declined in current dollars and are now well below levels provided in the early 1990s.
Even removing the capital budget component boosted under the Bush administration's Great Outdoors Initiative with the help of this committee, the O&M budget in fiscal year 1993 was just $261 million versus $218 million in the current fiscal year.
The impact on the ground has been dramatic. We spot-checked 10 key recreation-heavy districts across the Nation, and we found that many reported a decline in Recreation Program budgets of 50 percent or more between fiscal year 1991 and today. None of the districts we contacted reported an increase in appropriated funding for recreation. It appears that 50 percent or less of the funds appropriated by Congress actually reach the forest district level.
Where is the money appropriated by Congress for recreation programs actually being spent and how can a quality recreation program exist under these conditions?
We find that a substantially higher portion of congressional appropriations for recreation appear to be vanishing before hitting the ground today than ever before. Our attempts to investigate don't give us a clear picture as to where that money is going.
We also believe that the Recreation Program is shouldering an unfair higher share of general administrative costs at the regional and forest levels based upon the time actually invested in recreation programs by individuals at the regional and forest level.
We ask the help of this committee to engage in further investigation of this issue and invite the Forest Service leadership to commit to sustaining in the field recreation efforts that reflect congressional appropriations.
The second question I would ask is why we don't come before this body to proclaim a crisis is at hand. The answer is that countless men and women of the Forest Service and allies who share their love of the national forests have responded to declining appropriated funds creatively through the challenge cost share program and concessions campgrounds and with agreements with State and local agencies which have literally generated millions of dollars in funds to be spent on national forests. And through the effective utilization of volunteers, the Recreation Program in some forest districts is today outstanding.
We have now become a fan of programs which deliver maximum new resources to grass-roots level Forest Service officials. The recreation fee demonstration program is important and correctly designed in this regard. Eighty percent of all receipts are retained locally at the collection site. We think the fee demonstration program encourages agency staff to look to partners and customers to pay for recreation services.
As an industry, we believe that Americans are willing to pay for quality in their recreation. Our companies-Disney, Coleman, L.L. Bean-have learned that lesson for generations.
Mr. Chairman, the recreation community loves America's national forests and looks to the Forest Service as a friend. It deserves the support of the American public and of this committee. We ask your help in three areas:
First, we ask you to urge support for Recreation Program spending for operations and maintenance at or above fiscal year 1993 levels in constant dollars.
Second, we support appropriations for the National Forest Road Program of at least $300 million, minus any timber purchase or credits.
And, third, we support a concessions demonstration program which we believe can make a significant impact on the recreation facility backlog.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Crandall appears at the conclusion of the hearing.]