Recreation on Federal Lands
Recreation on Federal Lands
Updated October 28, 2008
Kori Calvert, Coordinator, and Sandra L. Johnson
Knowledge Services Group
Carol Hardy Vincent, Coordinator, Ross W. Gorte, Nicole T. Carter,
Nic Lane, David L. Whiteman, and M. Lynne Corn
Resources, Science, and Industry Division
Recreation on Federal Lands
The growing and diverse nature of recreation on federal lands has increased the
challenge of balancing different types of recreation with each other and with other
land uses. Motorized recreation has been particularly controversial, with issuesth
centering on access and environmental impacts. The 110 Congress, as well as the
Administration, has been addressing recreation on federal lands, including traditional
recreational pursuits and newer forms of motorized recreation. This report covers
several prominent issues.
Motorized Recreation on NPS Land: Off-Highway Vehicles, Snowmobiles,
and Personal Watercraft. Off-highway vehicle (OHV), snowmobile, and personal
watercraft (PWC) use at National Park Service (NPS) units has fueled ongoing
debates over the balance between recreation and the protection of parklands and
waters. Several NPS units are conducting environmental studies and developing
regulations for existing OHV use. A September 15, 2008, judicial ruling vacated the
most recent Winter Use Plan for snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park, leaving
limitations on the upcoming 2008-2009 season unclear while NPS develops new
rules. Since 2003, NPS has completed regulations to open designated areas at 13
units to PWC use.
Aircraft Overflights. Grand Canyon National Park is at the center of a conflict
over whether or how to limit air tours over national parks to reduce noise. NPS and
the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) continue to work to implement a 1987
law that sought to reduce noise at Grand Canyon, and a 2000 law that regulates
overflights at other park units. Recent regulations require air tour operators to seek
authority to fly over park units; the agencies then must develop Air Tour
Management Plans (ATMPs) at those park units. Provisions of legislation (H.R.
1356, H.R. 2881, S. 1076, S. 1300, and S. 2972) would affect commercial air tours
over park units by expediting and streamlining agency actions, in part because of the
delay in completing ATMPs. Further, the FAA has issued final safety regulations for
commercial air tours nationally.
Motorized Recreation in the National Forests and on BLM Land. The use
of OHVs on Forest Service (FS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands has
been controversial. Both agencies decide the extent of allowed OHV use through
their planning processes. Under FS regulations (Nov. 9, 2005) governing OHV, the
FS is designating roads, trails, and areas open for OHV use and prohibiting OHV use
outside the designated system. The BLM has been making similar designations and
is addressing transportation issues through national strategies and other guidance.
National Trails System. While designation of trails is often popular, issues
remain regarding the funding, expansion, and quality of trails. The 110th Congress
is considering a variety of trail measures, including adding routes to the National
Trails System, authorizing studies of routes for possible additions to the system, and
authorizing land acquisitions from willing sellers. P.L. 110-229 established the Star-
Spangled Banner National Historic Trail. Legislation has been introduced to create
a new category of trails, called National Discovery Trails.
In troduction ......................................................1
Motorized Recreation on NPS Land...............................4
Snowmobiles on NPS Land......................................8
Aircraft Overflights at NPS Sites.................................11
Personal Watercraft (PWC) at NPS Sites..........................15
Motorized Recreation on BLM Land..............................17
Motorized Recreation in the National Forests.......................20
The National Trails System.....................................23
Recreation in the National Wildlife Refuge System..............26
Recreation at Federal Water Sites............................27
Grand Canyon Colorado River Recreational Use Management.....30
Recreation on Federal Lands
Four federal agencies administer about 95% of the approximately 653 million
acres of federally owned land in the United States: the National Park Service (NPS),
the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM)
in the Department of the Interior (DOI), and the Forest Service (FS) in the1
Department of Agriculture. These agencies manage federal lands for a variety of
purposes relating to the preservation, development, and use of the lands and natural
resources. The NPS administers the National Park System for recreational use of
parklands and preservation of park resources, a mission that can be contradictory.
The FWS manages wildlife refuges primarily for protecting and improving fish and
wildlife habitats, with other uses to the extent that they are compatible. The BLM
manages public lands and the FS manages national forests for similar multiple uses,
including grazing, recreation, timber, water, and fish and wildlife. Many forests and
public lands also are available for mineral exploration and development. The
National Trails System, administered by the FS, NPS, and BLM, often in cooperation
with state and local authorities, permits many recreation uses, but motorized vehicles
generally are prohibited.
This preservation/use dichotomy, while varying among agencies, is a focal point
for debate over recreation on federal lands. Increased recreation, and allegations of
overuse in some areas, contribute to disagreement on issues of access, regulation,
integrity of natural and cultural resources, and motorized versus nonmotorized
recreational activities. Recreation debates also arise in areas managed by other
federal agencies, such as reservoirs and rivers managed by the Army Corps of
Engineers (in the Department of Defense) and the DOI’s Bureau of Reclamation,
where decisions on water releases may affect recreation.
The growth and development of western states, proximity of many urban areas
to public lands, and growing popularity of outdoor recreation have translated into
high demand for a variety of recreational opportunities on federal lands and waters.
BLM, for example, reports that over 22 million people live within 25 miles of public
lands and that two-thirds of BLM-administered lands are within 50 miles of an urban
area.2 Agency figures indicate an overall increase in recreational visits to federal
lands in recent decades. The FY2009 DOI budget documents cite over 460 million
recreational visits to agency-administered sites in 2007: 57 million visits to 3,602
1 See the U.S. General Services Administration’s Federal Real Property Profile (2004) at
[ h t t p : / / www.gs a . go v/ gs a / c m_ a t t a c h me n t s / G S A _ D O C U M E N T / A nnual%20Report%20%
20FY2004%20Final_R2M-n11_0Z5RDZ-i34K-pR.pdf]. Table 16 of the GSA report shows
federally owned acreage by state.
2 See [http://www.blm.gov/wo/st/en/prog/Recreation.1.html].
BLM recreational sites; 274 million recreational visits to 391 NPS units; over 40
million visits to 548 FWS wildlife refuges; and 90 million visits to 308 Bureau of
Reclamation recreation sites.3 The FS reports 211 million recreational visits to its
national forests and grasslands, and the Corps 400 million visits for the most recent
Over the last 40 years, forms of motorized recreation — snowmobiles, personal
watercraft, other off-highway vehicles — and nonmotorized vehicles, such as
mountain bikes, have evolved and gained in popularity. These new forms intersect
with the many popular traditional forms of recreation. These include water-based
activities (fishing, canoeing, kayaking, rafting, etc.) and a variety of land-based
pursuits (birdwatching, camping, hiking, hunting, horseback riding, rock climbing,
The use of OHVs on federal lands and waters has been particularly contentious,
and lawsuits have challenged their management. OHV supporters contend that these
vehicles provide outdoor recreation opportunities for the disabled, senior citizens,
and others with mobility limitations; visitor access to hard-to-reach natural areas;
economic benefits to communities serving riders; and, for snowmobiles, increased
access to sites during the winter season. They believe technological advances do and
will continue to limit noise and pollution. Critics of OHVs raise environmental
concerns, including potential damage to land and water ecosystems and wildlife
habitat; noise, air, and water pollution; and a diminished experience for recreationists
seeking quiet and solitude.
Two executive orders define and generally guide administering OHV use on
federal lands. The first (E.O. 11644, February 8, 1972) defines an off-road vehicle
(ORV), now commonly referred to as an off-highway vehicle, as “any motorized
vehicle designed for or capable of cross country travel on or immediately over land,
water, sand, snow, ice, marsh, swampland, or other natural terrain,” with exceptions
for any registered motorboat or authorized or emergency vehicles. It was issued to
“establish policies and provide for procedures that will ensure that the use of off-road
vehicles on public lands will be controlled and directed so as to protect the resources
of those lands, to promote the safety of all users of those lands, and to minimize
conflicts among the various uses of those lands.” The order directed each agency to
develop and issue regulations to carry out this purpose and to provide for the
designation of areas and trails on which OHVs may be permitted, and areas in which
such vehicles would not be permitted. Agencies were to monitor the effects of OHV
use and amend or rescind area designations or other actions taken pursuant to the
order as needed to further the policy of the executive order.
A subsequent executive order (E.O. 11989, May 24, 1977) amended the 1972
order to exclude military, emergency, and law enforcement vehicles from the
definition of off-road vehicles (to which restrictions would apply). It provided
authority to immediately close areas or trails if OHVs were causing or would cause
considerable damage on the soil, vegetation, wildlife, wildlife habitat, or cultural or
3 Land management agency visitation statistics appear on p. DH-99 of the FY2009 Interior
Budget in Brief at [http://www.doi.gov/budget/2009/09Hilites/2009_Highlights_Book.pdf].
historic resources of particular areas or trails. Areas could remain closed until the
manager determined that “the adverse effects have been eliminated and that measures
have been implemented to prevent future recurrence.” Also, each agency was
authorized to adopt the policy that areas could be closed to OHV use except for those
areas or trails that are specifically designated as open to such use. This meant that
only open areas would have to be marked, a lesser burden on the agencies.
BLM and FS managers formulate guidance on the nature and extent of land
uses, including OHV use, through regulations, national policies, land and resource
management plans, and area-specific decisions. Legislation establishing NPS units
may provide for specific OHV uses. In addition, NPS administers OHV use via unit-
specific regulations, management plans, and the superintendent’s compendium. On
August 31, 2006, the NPS released final revised management policies to guide
management throughout the National Park System, in part to reflect changing
recreational uses and evolving technologies.4 These management policies largely
retain the 2001 edition’s emphasis on conserving park resources in conservation/use
conflicts (§ 1.4.3).5
The 110th Congress is considering legislation and conducting oversight on issues
pertaining to recreation on federal lands. Several major issues are covered in this
report, particularly use of traditional OHVs, PWC, and snowmobiles in certain
National Park System units; overflights of national park units; motorized recreation
on BLM and FS lands; and expansion of the National Trails System. Other issues
addressed cover recreation within the National Wildlife Refuge System; recreation
at federal (Corps and Bureau) water sites; recreation fees; and Colorado River
management within Grand Canyon National Park.
While this report focuses on recreation issues on federal lands, it does not cover
additional issues affecting these lands comprehensively. For background on federal
land management generally, see CRS Report RL32393, Federal Land Management
Agencies: Background on Land and Resources Management, coordinated by Carol
Hardy Vincent. Overview information on numerous natural resource use and
protection issues is provided in CRS Report RL33806, Natural Resources Policy:
Management, Institutions, and Issues, coordinated by Carol Hardy Vincent, Nicole
T. Carter, and Julie Jennings. For information on NPS issues, see CRS Report
RL33484, National Park Management, coordinated by Carol Hardy Vincent.
Information on BLM and Forest Service lands is contained in CRS Report RL33792,
Federal Lands Managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Forest
Service (FS): Issues for the 110th Congress, by Ross W. Gorte, Carol Hardy Vincent,
Marc Humphries, and Kristina Alexander. For information on appropriations for
federal land management agencies, see CRS Report RL34461, Interior, Environment,
and Related Agencies: FY2009 Appropriations, coordinated by Carol Hardy Vincent.
4 For additional background information on NPS management policies, see CRS Report
RL33484, National Park Management, coordinated by Carol Hardy Vincent. See also the
NPS website at [http://www.nps.gov/applications/npspolicy/index.cfm].
5 The final version of the 2006 NPS management policies is available via the NPS website
Motorized Recreation on NPS Land (by Kori Calvert)
Background. National Park System units may comprise many different
features, including historic, scenic, or scientific resources; outstanding natural and
cultural attributes; and outdoor recreational opportunities. Balancing appropriate
recreational use and parkland enjoyment with the protection and preservation of
resources is a significant ongoing challenge to both NPS administrators and the
congressional committees conducting agency oversight. Motorized recreation in
particular, and the extent and effect of motorized access, can be contentious. Debate
often focuses on a particular form of motorized recreation within an individual park
unit or a small number of units. Such issues include snowmobiles at three
Yellowstone area parks; Grand Canyon National Park airtour overflights; personal
watercraft (PWC) at popular NPS-administered water sites; and other forms of off-
highway vehicles (OHVs) — four-wheel drive vehicles, all-terrain vehicles (ATVs),
and dune, sand, and swamp buggies — at areas such as Big Cypress National
Preserve. This section focuses primarily on these latter forms of OHVs.6
Currently, of the 391 NPS units covering over 84 million acres of land, 43 allow
snowmobiles and 13 allow PWC. Also, excluding Alaska, NPS counts 12 park units
allowing other types of OHV use by the general public. Some additional units permit
OHV access to inholders, Native Americans, or others for specific limited purposes
under a variety of authorizations.7 Manufacturers and various user groups contend
that NPS limits on OHV use unfairly restrict access, establish a precedent for other
federal land managers to impose or extend restrictions, and may be economically
harmful to local communities and industries serving users. Opponents of motorized
recreation in NPS units cite damage to the environment and cultural artifacts, safety
concerns, conflicts with other forms of recreation, and inadequate NPS staff to
effectively monitor motorized use and its impact on park resources. Opponents also
cite the NPS statutory mandate to protect park resources and the availability of other
federal lands (FS, BLM) where OHV use may be permitted.
Administrative Actions. As noted above, federal guidance on OHV use on
NPS lands is provided in E.O. 11644 and E.O. 11989, in agency regulations and
policies, and in other authorities. An NPS unit’s enabling legislation may establish
specific activities as an appropriate use — e.g., water-oriented recreation,
snowmobiling for subsistence or recreational purposes, or OHV travel to reach
hunting or fishing areas. Under NPS regulations (36 C.F.R. § 4.10), OHV use may
be allowed in four types of NPS units whose primary purposes include outdoor
recreational opportunities for their visitors — national recreation areas, national
seashores, national lakeshores, and national preserves. Agency regulations also
require special rulemaking, with environmental impact analysis and public comment,
6 A more detailed discussion of snowmobile, overflight, and PWC management issues at
NPS units and related legislative and regulatory guidance may be found in the following
sections of this report.
7 Figures confirmed with NPS via phone conversation, Jan. 30, 2008.
to designate routes and areas for off-road motor vehicles in park units. Additional
unit-level direction for previously designated routes (such as temporary route
closures) may be included in a park’s general management plan and/or determined
by the park superintendent (36 C.F.R. § 1.5).
As OHV use on federal lands grew in recent decades, particularly in western
states, unauthorized use also is reported to have increased in some areas, including
parklands. In 1999, the environmental organization Bluewater Network surveyed
108 NPS units and reported findings on the ecological effects of OHV use at those
units. The organization determined that there was unauthorized use in 40 of them.8
Bluewater and other groups also petitioned NPS in December 1999 to take specific
OHV actions: to ban OHV use in all NPS off-road areas, to define “off-road vehicle
usage” as any use not on “pavement or high-standard gravel roads,” and to develop
procedures for monitoring OHV use and regulatory compliance. In 2004, the NPS
met with Bluewater and agreed to conduct a service-wide survey to determine the
extent of authorized and unauthorized OHV use, its impacts, and any OHV
monitoring activity. Of the then 388 NPS park units, 256 initially responded.9 NPS
asserts that the survey showed unauthorized OHV use in “several parks” and
generally “less than significant” resource damage.10 Bluewater claims illegal OHV
use in 92 (36%) of those reporting units and resource damage in 71 (28%).
The NPS survey identified eight park units with authorized public OHV use and
special regulations in place: Big Cypress National Preserve; Gateway and Lake
Meredith National Recreation Areas (NRAs); and Assateague, Cape Cod, Fire Island,
Gulf Islands, and Padre Island National Seashores. According to the agency, four
additional units remain open to public OHV use while it conducts environmental
studies and develops special regulations: Glen Canyon11 and Curecanti NRAs, and
8 Off-the-Track: America’s National Parks under Siege is available via the Bluewater
Network website at [http://www.bluewaternetwork.org/reports/rep_pl_offroad_offtrack.pdf].
Bluewater’s use of the term “off-road vehicle” (ORV) encompasses ATVs, four-wheel drive
vehicles (jeeps, SUVs, etc.), and dune, sand, and swamp buggies. Two-wheeled vehicles
(motorcycles) and snowmobiles are not included in Bluewater’s definition. For purposes
of this section, OHV and ORV are synonymous and have the same definition as used by
9 Park units continued to respond to the survey, with a final total of 310 NPS units
completing it. (Phone conversation with Jerry Case, Regulations Program Manager, NPS,
Jan. 30, 2008.)
10 Letter from Steve P. Martin, NPS Deputy Director of Operations, to Bluewater Network
Executive Director Russell Long, May 3, 2005. Available via the Bluewater website at
[http://www.bluewaternetwork.org/npsorv/letterfromNPS.pdf]. See also Bluewater’s
response to NPS, available at [http://www.bluewaternetwork.org/npsorv/lettertoNPS.pdf].
NPS provided copies of the initial 256 survey responses to Bluewater Network. (Phone
conversation with NPS, Sept. 22, 2006.)
11 72 Fed. Reg. 50393 (Aug. 31, 2007). Notice of Intent to Prepare an Environmental Impact
Statement for an Off-Road Vehicle Management Plan, Glen Canyon National Recreation
Area, Arizona and Utah. See the NPS Planning, Environment and Public Comment website
at [http://parkplanning.nps.gov/projectHome.cfm?parkId=62&projectId=19520] for details.
Cape Hatteras12 and Cape Lookout National Seashores.13 Special circumstances
apply to two additional areas identified in the NPS survey, Little River Canyon
National Preserve and Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area.14 Also,
Lake Meredith NRA requires new regulations to expand current boundaries for OHV
riders.15 NPS is encouraging OHV education via the websites of units permitting
OHV use. The agency also is encouraging units with illegal OHV use to pursue
enforcement actions. However, some believe NPS budgetary and staff constraints
could limit enforcement effectiveness.16
On November 29, 2005, Bluewater, Wildlands Center for Preventing Roads, and
the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) sued NPS and DOI in the U.S.
District Court for the District of Columbia, alleging that OHVs constitute a “serious
threat” to NPS resources which the agency failed to address. On March 21, 2007,
Judge Royce Lamberth dismissed Bluewater from the case for lack of standing.17
The remaining parties settled on May 12, 2008. The settlement requires NPS to
implement a pilot public education and deterrence program at 10 NPS units over the
next three years to address unauthorized OHV use.18 Program elements include
12 72 Fed. Reg. 72316 (Dec. 20, 2007). Establishment of Negotiated Rulemaking Advisory
Committee for Off-Road Vehicle Management, Cape Hatteras National Seashore. The
committee is to assist in the development of special regulations for off-road vehicle
management at Cape Hatteras. On July 17, 2007, U.S. District Court Judge Terrance Boyle
issued a Court Order indicating that off-road use at the Seashore does not comply with
federal management requirements; however, the Order does not mandate restricting OHV
access. See [http://parkplanning.nps.gov/projectHome.cfm?parkId=358&projectId=10641]
for further information.
13 72 Fed. Reg. 44178 (August 7, 2007). Notice of Intent to Prepare a Draft Environmental
Impact Statement (DEIS) for an Off-Road Vehicle Management Plan (ORV Management
Plan) for Cape Lookout National Seashore, NC. For further information, see
[http://parkplanning.nps.gov/proj ectHome.cfm?parkId=359&proj ectId=15978].
14 NPS determined that Little River Canyon permits OHVs only on designated backcountry
area multiple-use numbered roads serving hikers, horseback riders, ATVs, and four-wheel
drive vehicles. This is not considered to be off-road use. For additional information, see
[http://www.nps.gov/liri/planyourvisit/atv.htm]. Big South Fork is closed to recreational
OHV riders and currently has no designated trails for them. For additional information, see
15 73 Fed. Reg. 33111 (June 11, 2008). Notice of Intent to Prepare an Environmental Impact
Statement (EIS) for an Off-Road Vehicle Management Plan (ORV Management Plan) for
Lake Meredith National Recreation Area, Texas. For additional information, see
[http://parkplanning.nps.gov/proj ectHome.cfm?parkId=76&proj ectId=20192].
16 Letter to Steven P. Martin, NPS Deputy Director, from Robert D. Rosenbaum, Arnold &
Porter LLP (on behalf of Bluewater Network et al.), June 13, 2005, available via the
Bluewater website at [http://www.bluewaternetwork.org/npsorv/lettertoNPS.pdf].
17 See [https://ecf.dcd.uscourts.gov/cgi-bin/show_public_doc?2005cv2302-63] for the court
Order and [https://ecf.dcd.uscourts.gov/cgi-bin/show_public_doc?2005cv2302-64] for Judge
Lamberth’s Memorandum Opinion.
18 The 10 units are Ozark National Scenic Riverways (MO), Santa Monica Mountains NRA
(CA), New River Gorge National River (including Gauley River NRA) (WV), Joshua Tree
public outreach, education, and enforcement activities such as officer training and
increased fines and penalties. If successful, the program could become a model for
adoption at additional park units. The settlement also requires NPS to develop
environmental impact statements and special rules governing current OHV use at
Glen Canyon NRA and Cape Lookout National Seashore.
Meanwhile, site-specific conflicts among various constituencies continue. For
instance, there is ongoing disagreement at Big Cypress National Preserve over
designated OHV trails within the Bear Island unit, the effects of OHV use on
endangered Florida panthers and their habitat, and the representational composition
of the advisory committee established to enable various stakeholders to put forth
alternative approaches and recommendations for OHV management within the
preserve. A coalition of conservation groups filed a lawsuit on December 21, 2007,
in response to the opening of OHV trails in Bear Island. At Cape Hatteras National
Seashore, environmental groups, represented on the advisory committee created to
assist in the development of a long-term OHV management plan, sued NPS. In their
complaint of October 18, 2007, the plaintiffs alleged that the OHV use permitted
under the existing interim NPS management plan failed to provide adequate
protection for seashore resources, including rare turtle, avian, and plant species.19
Under a consent decree of April 16, 2008, the parties agreed to allow OHV beach
access to continue year-round, to place seasonal limitations on night driving to
protect sea turtles, and to create and monitor defined buffer areas closed to OHVs and
pedestrians during specified spring-summer periods of bird breeding, nesting, and
fledging.20 The expanded beach closures provide protection for wildlife resources
but are unpopular with fishermen and local businesses.
Recreation was a key area of debate during an NPS rewrite of its management
policies. On August 31, 2006, the NPS released the final version of its 2006
management policies, which guide management throughout the National Park
System, including recreational uses. One much-discussed proposed change included
in the initial draft would have required “balance” between conservation and
enjoyment of park resources, although the final policy states that “conservation is to
be predominant” in conservation/enjoyment conflicts (§ 1.4.3). NPS rewrote its draft
policies extensively based on analysis of over 45,000 comments, ultimately retaining
in large part the 2001 policy language and its emphasis on conservation. The 2006
document cites OHV language in 36 C.F.R. § 4.10(b) that limits OHV use to four
specific types of NPS units, restrictive language not included in the 2001 edition.
National Park (CA), Death Valley National Park (CA), Big Thicket National Preserve (TX),
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (MI), St. Croix National Scenic River (WI),
Parashant National Monument (AZ), and Wupatki, Sunset Crater and Walnut Canyon
National Monuments (AZ).
19 See [http://www.southernenvironment.org/lawlibrary/coast/2007-10-18_hatteras.pdf] for
a copy of the complaint.
20 A copy of the consent decree is available via the Southern Environmental Law Center at
[ h t t p : / / www.s out he r n e n vi r onme n t .or g/ l a wl i b r a r y/ c oa s t / 2008-04-16_ORV _consent_decre
e.pdf]. See also [http://www.nps.gov/caha/planyourvisit/off-road-vehicle-use.htm] for
additional information on OHV management at Cape Hatteras.
Park and environmental groups generally are supportive of the final management
policies but cautious about future policy implementation and enforcement. Policy
critics view the document as favoring conservation over recreation and are uncertain
how the preservation and protection of natural soundscapes may affect motorized
recreation. However, some critics point to new language that promotes public
collaborative relationships between NPS and gateway communities, among other
provisions, as a positive step for incorporating local views on the importance of
recreation to the economy of these communities.
Separately, NPS is developing a proposed rule addressing mountain bicycles
within NPS units. Current regulations (36 C.F.R.§ 4.30) and park management
policies (§ 184.108.40.206) require special regulations to designate bicycle trails other than
those on park roads, parking lots, and within developed areas such as campgrounds.
NPS anticipates that the proposed rule will authorize park superintendents to
designate trails for biking if such proposed designations are noncontroversial.
Mountain biking advocates such as the International Mountain Biking Association
(IMBA) actively support opening additional trails to mountain bikers, while other
groups have expressed concern that easing trail designation procedures could cause
resource damage and conflict with the enjoyment of visitors on foot or horseback.
Legislative Activity. Two bills, S. 3113 and H.R. 6233, would affect OHV
management at Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Both bills seek to nullify the April
2008 consent decree placing seasonal restrictions on OHV access to defined beach
areas at Cape Hatteras National Park. The bills would reinstate the NPS Interim
Management Strategy issued on June 13, 2007, until a final OHV management plan
and implementing rule are completed (anticipated in 2010 and 2011, respectively).
Senate and House committee hearings (July 30, 2008, and September 11, 2008,
respectively) focused on the impact of limited public beach access for fishing and
other recreational activities on tourism and the local economy; one Member said a
nearly 15% reduction in seashore visits since implementation of the settlement is
economically damaging the area’s tourism dependent businesses. Each bill’s sponsor
also expressed concern that the seashore is being managed via a court decision
without sufficient public input. One witness testified that resource closures affect
small sections of beach from which nesting shorebird and turtle populations have
benefitted and increased in number. Further, an NPS representative said the consent
decree accommodates both resource protection and public access to the seashore, and
that the proposed legislation, by reducing protected areas, could reverse gains in
nesting activity. The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources voted not
to report S. 3113, 11-12, on September 11, 2008.
Snowmobiles on NPS Land (by Kori Calvert)
Background. Proposals to regulate recreational snowmobile use in NPS units
have been controversial, with debate often mirroring the preservation/use conflict
within the NPS mission. On April 27, 2000, the NPS announced the strict
enforcement of long-standing regulations on snowmobile use, which would have
prohibited recreational snowmobiling throughout the National Park System. Limited
exceptions to this enforcement policy included Yellowstone and Grand Teton
National Parks, park units in Alaska, Voyageurs National Park (MN), and access to
private land within or adjacent to a park. By July 2000, the Interior Department had
modified its strict enforcement stance: snowmobiles would not be banned in the 43
park units permitting such use prior to the April 2000 announcement, pending formal
rulemaking and public comment. To date, NPS has taken no further action on a
general policy for snowmobiles. However, the final NPS management policies
released on August 31, 2006, did include new language to cover both snowmobiles
and oversnow vehicles (§ 220.127.116.11). They state that, outside Alaska, special
regulations are required to designate snowmobile and oversnow vehicle routes after
park planning determines such use to be appropriate. Designated routes are limited
to those used by motorboats and motorized vehicles in other seasons.
Administrative Actions. Since the summer of 2000, regulatory and judicial
actions to restrict or allow snowmobile use have centered on Yellowstone and Grand
Teton National Parks and the connecting John D. Rockefeller, Jr., Memorial
Parkway. The Clinton Administration issued final rules to incrementally eliminate
snowmobile use in these three park units, with limited exceptions, in favor of multi-
passenger “snowcoaches” by the 2003-2004 winter season.21 However, a June 2001
Bush Administration lawsuit settlement with the International Snowmobile
Manufacturers Association (ISMA) and the State of Wyoming required NPS to
revisit the snowmobile ban and consider any additional information on “cleaner,
quieter” snowmobile technology. The new NPS final rule reversed the snowmobile
ban in favor of daily entry limits, use of trained guides, snowmobile emission
standards, and an “adaptive management strategy” allowing park managers to take
remedial action if monitoring indicates unacceptable impacts from air and noise
Subsequent legal challenges effectively split the 2003-2004 winter season, with
each sub-season managed under different rules with significantly different limits on
daily snowmobile entries. These conflicting rulings created confusion for park
visitors, local communities, and businesses, with many unsure whether they could
visit the park in winter and what winter use rules were in effect. Subsequently, NPS
issued a final rule to implement a temporary winter use management plan effective
for three winter seasons, through 2006-2007.23 The interim rule’s intent was to
provide certainty to gateway communities, businesses, and park visitors while NPS
completed long-term environmental impact analyses of motorized oversnow vehicles
on the three area parks and developed a new long-term plan to manage winter
recreational use. The temporary rule expired at the conclusion of the 2006-2007
winter season. Without a new rule and winter use plan in place for the 2007-2008
winter season, snowmobiles and snowcoaches would be prohibited. However, on
September 24, 2007, NPS released its Winter Use Plans Final Environmental Impact
Statement (FEIS) evaluating seven alternative plans for snowmobile and snowcoach24
winter use management. A subsequent Record of Decision (ROD, signed
21 66 Fed. Reg. 7260 (Jan. 22, 2001).
22 68 Fed. Reg. 69267 (Dec. 11, 2003).
23 69 Fed. Reg. 65348 (Nov. 10, 2004). Available via the NPS website at [http://www.nps.
gov/ yell/planvisit/winteruse/fedregf inalrule11-10.pdf].
24 72 Fed. Reg. 54456 (Sept 25, 2007). The FEIS and additional winter use documentation
November 20, 2007) and a final rule promulgated on December 13, 2007, provide
long-term regulatory guidance for managing snowmobile and snowcoach use within
the three area parks.25
For the 2007-2008 winter season, the new NPS plan mirrored the interim rule it
replaced, continuing with 720 guided best available technology (BAT) snowmobiles
per day in Yellowstone, and combined daily access for 140 snowmobiles in Grand
Teton and the Rockefeller Parkway — most with BAT emission and noise pollution
standards but no guiding requirements. The plan capped daily Yellowstone
snowcoach entries at 78 and maintained the requirement limiting all snowcoach and
snowmobile travel to existing park roads groomed for their use. Avalanche control
operations continued, allowing motorized and nonmotorized oversnow travel via
Sylvan Pass near Yellowstone’s East Entrance. Yellowstone’s 2007-2008 winter
visitation statistics for all entrances show 31,420 visitors arriving via snowmobile (a
1.2% decrease from the previous winter use season) and 22,344 arriving in
snowcoaches (a 9.8% increase). East Entrance/Sylvan Pass statistics, however, show
only 550 oversnow visitors — 148 on snowmobiles, 250 snowcoach passengers, and
The final rule mandates more restrictive measures beginning with the 2008-2009
winter season, but also allows park management to use “adaptive management” to
adjust snowmobile and snowcoach numbers up or down based on impact monitoring.
It allows 540 BAT snowmobiles and 83 snowcoaches per day in Yellowstone, all
commercially guided, with no more than 11 snowmobiles per group, including the
guide. A combined 65 snowmobiles — 62% with BAT requirements but none with
guiding requirements — may access Grand Teton and the Rockefeller Parkway daily.
By the 2011-2012 season, all snowcoaches must meet BAT emission and sound level
requirements. As of the 2008-2009 season, the use of explosives for Sylvan Pass
avalanche control was to cease, with motorized and nonmotorized oversnow travel
open or closed based on avalanche forecasting safety/danger determinations. However,
the Sylvan Pass Study Group — composed of representatives from NPS, the State of
Wyoming, Park County (WY), and the city of Cody — explored options to keep
Sylvan Pass open to oversnow travel. Based on the study group’s June 3, 2008,
recommendations,27 the NPS Intermountain Regional Director approved a ROD
Amendment on Sylvan Pass Management on July 16, 2008. The amended decision
opens Sylvan Pass to motorized and nonmotorized oversnow travel for a limited core
are available at [http://www.nps.gov/yell/planvisit/winteruse/index.htm]. The FEIS summary
is at [http://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/upload/summary_updated9-12-07.pdf].
25 See [http://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/upload/rod_final.pdf], and 72 Fed. Reg. 70781
(Dec. 13, 2007) at [http://www.nps.gov/yell/parkmgmt/upload/finalrule13Dec2007.pdf] for
the ROD and final rule, respectively.
26 Sylvan Pass usage confirmed via phone conversation with the Yellowstone NP Public
Affairs Office, August 19, 2008. For additional Yellowstone visitation statistics, see
27 See [http://www.nps.gov/yell/parkmgmt/upload/spsg_statement_6.3_08.pdf]. Also see
[http://www.nps.gov/yell/parkmgmt/sylvanstudy.htm] for further information on the Sylvan
Pass Study Group and its activities.
winter season — December 22 through March 1 each year — “subject to weather-
related constraints and NPS fiscal, staff, infrastructural, equipment, and other safety-
related capacities.” It calls for the use of avalanche mitigation techniques (for instance,
forecasting and explosives dispensed via helicopters and howitzers) and evaluation
of additional avalanche risk assessment tools and mitigation techniques to further
increase visitor access and safety. Further, it allows the Superintendent to determine
dates and hours of operation.28
On September 15, 2008, Judge Emmett Sullivan of the U.S. District Court for the
District of Columbia vacated the NPS plan, finding it “arbitrary and capricious,
unsupported by the record, and contrary to law.”29 Yet again NPS is preparing an
environmental assessment and proposed rule on snowmobile and snowcoach use for
public review, with the goal of having a final rule in place in time for the opening of
the winter season on December 15, 2008. What oversnow travel restrictions may
apply to the upcoming season are uncertain.
Legislative Activity. The FY2008 Interior appropriations bill (S. 1696, § 116),
as reported by the Senate Appropriations Committee (S.Rept. 110-91), directed NPS
to keep Yellowstone’s interim snowmobile use rule in force throughout the 2007-2008
winter season. The stipulation assured continuity should implementation of a new
NPS final winter use plan be delayed. However, the FY2008 Consolidated
Appropriations Act (P.L. 110-161) did not include such language. NPS issued a ROD
and final rule within the necessary time parameters. Lawsuits challenging the NPS
ROD did not request preliminary injunctions, allowing local operations to continue
uninterrupted throughout the 2007-2008 winter season. In their Explanatory
Statement, the Appropriations Committees stated their belief that this was in the best30th
interest of all parties. The 110 Congress also included language in the FY2007
Revised Continuing Appropriations Resolution (P.L. 110-5, § 20516) to keep the NPS
Yellowstone interim rule in effect throughout the 2006-2007 winter use season. Such
language was meant to ensure that judicial rulings could not deny snowmobiles entry.
Earlier legislation contained similar provisions beginning with the 2004-2005 season.
Aircraft Overflights at NPS Sites (by Carol Hardy Vincent)
Background. The NPS is to provide for the public enjoyment of parklands
while protecting resources, while the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) controls
airspace and aircraft overflights. This has created a conflict between resource
management and aviation access authorities and their constituencies. Grand Canyon
28 Winter Use Plans Record of Decision Amendment — Sylvan Pass Management is
available at [http://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/upload/rod_sylvanpass_7-08.pdf]. For
additional information, see the Yellowstone National Park Winter Planning website at
[http://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/winteruse.htm]. For background information on
snowmobiles in NPS park units generally, see CRS Report RL31149, Snowmobiles:
Environmental Standards and Access to National Parks, by James E. McCarthy.
29 Greater Yellowstone Coalition et al. v. Dirk Kempthorne, D.D.C., No. 07-CV-2111; and
National Parks Conservation Association v. U.S. Department of the Interior, D.D.C., No.
30 Congressional Record, Dec. 17, 2007, H16130-H16131.
National Park has been the focal point of a conflict between groups seeking to limit
overflights of national parks due to concerns about noise and safety, and air tour
operators whose economic stability, with ripple effects on local businesses, may
depend on providing overflights. The National Parks Overflights Act of 1987 (P.L.
100-91) directed NPS to recommend a flight control plan for Grand Canyon that
would provide a “substantial restoration of the natural quiet” and prohibited flights
below the canyon’s rim. It required an NPS study of the effects of all aircraft
overflights, which was submitted to Congress in 1994.31
The National Parks Air Tour Management Act of 2000 (Title VIII, P.L. 106-181,
hereafter “Air Tour Act”) regulates commercial air tours at other park units. It
requires the FAA and NPS to create management plans for air tours at individual park
units and within a half-mile of their boundaries. Each plan could prohibit or limit air
tours, such as by route and altitude restrictions. The act also required the FAA to
establish “reasonably achievable” requirements for quiet aircraft technology for the
Grand Canyon within one year and to designate, by rule, Grand Canyon routes or
corridors for aircraft and helicopters using quiet technology. Quiet aircraft would not
be subject to existing caps on canyon overflights.
Administrative Actions. Several actions have been taken to achieve the
substantial restoration of natural quiet at Grand Canyon. First, a limitations rule
capped the annual number of commercial air tour overflights at Grand Canyon.32
Second, the airspace rule expanded flight-free zones and restrictive routing over the
canyon. East-end Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA) airspace changes were delayed33
until February 20, 2011. Third, the FAA issued a final rule establishing a standard
for quiet technology for certain aircraft in commercial air tour operations over Grand34
Canyon. The rule identifies which aircraft meet the standard. In future rulemaking,
the FAA is expected to address the routes or corridors for commercial air tour
operations that use the quiet technology. Fourth, data on natural ambient sound levels
are being collected and used, together with air tour reported flight operations data and
radar tracking data, to model air tour traffic and aircraft noise at Grand Canyon. The
model is being used to measure success in restoring natural quiet.
The FAA and NPS published a notice of intent to prepare an environmental
impact statement (EIS) on options that could be taken to restore natural quiet at Grand
Canyon.35 The agencies are developing a draft EIS. They currently are considering
seven alternatives, including the status quo, with a range of options for restoring
natural quiet while allowing for a viable air tour industry. Changes under
31 U.S. Dept. of the Interior, National Park Service, Report to Congress: Report on Effects
of Aircraft Overflights on the National Park System, listed under the topic heading “NPS
Documents” at [http://www.nps.gov/grca/naturescience/airoverflights_documents.htm].
32 65 Fed. Reg. 17708 (April 4, 2000), effective May 4, 2000. Available at
[http://www.nps.gov/grca/naturescience/ airoverflights_fedregnotices.htm] .
33 71 Fed. Reg. 9439 (Feb. 24, 2006).
34 70 Fed. Reg. 16084 (March 29, 2005). Text of the final rule is available at
[http://www.nps.gov/grca/naturescience/ airoverflights_fedregnotices.htm] .
35 71 Fed. Reg. 4192 (Jan. 25, 2006).
consideration include altered flight free zones, different altitudes and locations of air
tour routes, quiet aircraft technology incentives, and limitations on the number and
timing of flights.
The NPS issued a notice to clarify the definition of “substantial restoration of
natural quiet,” on the grounds that the mandate to substantially restore natural quiet
(in P.L. 100-91) cannot be achieved under the current definition.36 Further, the agency
stated that a new definition is needed to address a 2002 court decision and the volume
of higher-altitude flights over the Grand Canyon. The new definition will address
noise of all aircraft, while distinguishing between aircraft above and below 17,999
feet. The EIS in development would be based on this new definition.
Other regulatory actions affect commercial air tours at park units. The Air Tour
Act final rule37 requires air tour operators to apply for authority to fly over national
park and abutting tribal lands. The FAA received applications for commercial air
tours over 106 of the 391 park units, and has granted interim operating authority to all
applicants. Application triggers development of an Air Tour Management Plan
(ATMP) by the FAA and NPS for each unit where none exists.38 The purpose of a
plan is to mitigate or prevent any harm by commercial air tours to natural and cultural
resources, visitor experiences, and tribal lands. Development of an ATMP requires
an environmental analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969
(NEPA, 42 U.S.C. §§4321-4370f). The FAA and NPS currently are developing their
first ATMPs for five areas. On September 30, 2005, the FAA and NPS released an
implementation plan for the development of the ATMPs that sets out the roles and
responsibilities of the two agencies in developing ATMPs. The agencies have revised
the implementation plan to make clarifications and incorporate information learned
from ongoing development of ATMPs.
The Air Tour Act required the FAA and the NPS to establish an advisory group
to provide continuing advice regarding commercial air tours over and near national
parks. Accordingly, the agencies established the National Parks Overflights Advisory
Group, composed of representatives of general aviation, air tour operations,
environmental groups, and Native American tribes. The group is co-chaired by the
FAA Administrator and the NPS Director or their designees. It meets one to three
times per year, and notices of its meetings are published in the Federal Register. The
group provides advice on a range of issues, including (1) implementation of the Air
Tour Act, (2) quiet aircraft technology for use in commercial air tours over parks, (3)
safety and environmental issues related to air tours.
A January 2006 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report addressed the
impact of the delay in implementation of the Air Tour Act.39 The report concluded
36 73 Fed. Reg. 19246 (April 9, 2008) and 73 Fed. Reg. 55130 (September 24, 2008).
37 67 Fed. Reg. 65661 (Oct. 25, 2002).
38 The FAA provides information on the National Parks Air Tour Management Program via
their website at [http://www.atmp.faa.gov/default.htm].
39 U.S. Government Accountability Office, National Parks Air Tour Management Act: More
that the delay has had little effect on park units, but has limited the ability of tour
operators to make major business decisions. The agency identified four issues for
Congress and the agencies to address to improve implementation, relating to the lack
of flexibility for determining which parks need plans, an absence of NPS funding for
plan development, limited ability to verify and enforce the number of air tours, and
inadequate FAA guidance on the act’s safety requirements.
The FAA issued a final rule to provide safety standards for commercial air tours
nationally, including over Grand Canyon and other park units.40 The rule seeks to
increase air tour safety through measures including requirements for enhanced
passenger briefings, provision of life preservers and helicopter floats for certain over-
water flights, and development and compliance with a helicopter performance plan for
each commercial air tour.
As part of an overall review of its management policies, the NPS has made some
changes to policies on overflights and aviation uses (§ 8.4) and on soundscape
management (§ 4.9). The new policies, issued August 31, 2006, replaced “adverse
effects” of overflights with “unacceptable impacts” in a number of places. Some
regard this change as potentially easing restrictions on overflights. One proposal
would have deleted existing language stating that the NPS “will preserve, to the
greatest extent possible, the natural soundscapes of parks,” but the final policies
retained this soundscape language.
Legislative Activity. Provisions of broad aviation legislation (H.R. 1356, H.R.
2881, S. 1076, S. 1300, and S. 2972) would affect commercial air tours over park
units. They seek to expedite and streamline agency actions, in part because of the
difficulty in completing ATMPs. H.R. 1356, H.R. 2881, and S. 1076 are similar.
They include provisions allowing that in lieu of an ATMP, the NPS Director and FAA
Administrator could enter into a voluntary agreement with a commercial air tour
operator that would govern commercial air tours over a park unit. Another change
would exempt park units with 50 or fewer annual air tour flights from the requirement
for an ATMP or voluntary agreement, although the NPS Director could disallow an
exemption. Other provisions would establish reporting requirements for commercial
air tour operators, and provide for more interim operating authority because interim
conditions have prevailed for longer than had been anticipated. H.R. 2881 was
considered by the Senate, but was returned to the Senate Calendar on May 7, 2008.
S. 1300 and S. 2972 also contain provisions on voluntary agreements, exemptions
from air tour requirements, reporting requirements, and operating authority but the
provisions differ from those in the other bills. Further, they contain additional
sections, such as those on fees and safety guidance. Both bills are on the Senate
calendar. (For additional information, see “The Air Tour Management Program”
section in CRS Report RL33920).
Flexibility and Better Enforcement Needed, GAO-06-263, (Washington, DC: GPO, Jan.
40 72 Fed. Reg. 6884 (Feb. 13, 2007). The rule was effective on March 15, 2007, except that
certain provisions became effective on September 11, 2007.
A May 2006 GAO report addressed NPS collection of air tour fees.41 The report
determined that some, but not all, fees have been collected from air tour operators at
the three national parks where fees are charged: Grand Canyon, Haleakala, and
Hawaii Volcanoes. It concluded that the ability of the NPS to collect fees is hindered
because the agency cannot verify the number of tours over the parks, it cannot
effectively enforce compliance, and the two key laws have different geographic
applicability. The report stated that Congress should consider reconciling the
geographic applicability of the relevant laws. It further recommended that the
Secretary of Transportation direct the FAA to take certain actions to ensure that the
NPS receives information on air tour operations at Grand Canyon, and report to
Congress on the likely effects on air tour operators of air tour fees, as required under
the Air Tour Act.
Personal Watercraft (PWC) at NPS Sites (by Kori Calvert)
Background. PWC are high-speed, very shallow-draft, and highly
maneuverable watercraft “operated by a person or persons sitting, standing, or
kneeling on the vessel rather than within the confines of the hull” (36 C.F.R. § 1.4).
Often used to perform stunt-like maneuvers, PWC include watercraft known by their
brand and generic names as Jet Ski®, Sea-Doo®, Surf-jet®, water sled, wet jet,
Wavejammer, Wetbike, and WaveRunner®. While PWC represent a small segment
of the recreational boat market — the National Marine Manufacturers Association
(NMMA) estimates 1.23 million PWC in use in 200742 — the number of PWC
accidents has raised concerns. For example, there were 982 PWC injuries and 67
deaths reported for 2007, and 919 injuries and 68 deaths for 2006. Only open43
motorboats rank ahead of PWC among vessel types with higher casualty numbers.
In addition to safety issues, critics of PWC use cite environmental issues, including
noise, air, and water pollution, as well as damage to land, plants, and wildlife.
Supporters of access for PWC contend that technological advances enable
manufacturers to produce cleaner, more efficient machines, and point to the economic
benefits to communities serving users. PWC users assert that in park units that allow
motorized boating generally, PWC also should be allowed. Recent controversies have
focused on regulatory actions that would restrict recreational use of or access to these
vehicles, often in specific park units.
Administrative Actions. The NPS currently is evaluating PWC use in several
of its 391 units. That effort began in 2000 when the agency issued a rule prohibiting
41 U.S. Government Accountability Office, National Parks Air Tour Fees: Effective
Verification and Enforcement Are Needed to Improve Compliance, GAO-06-468,
(Washington, DC: GPO, May 2006), 37 p. Available on the GAO website at [http://www.
ga o.gov/new.items /d06468.pdf].
42 See [http://www.nmma.org/facts/boatingstats/2007/files/populationstats3.asp], Table 1.3,
“Recreational Boats in Use by Type,” from the NMMA 2007 Recreational Boating
43 See [http://www.uscgboating.org/statistics/Boating_Statistics_2007.pdf], Table 1 (p. 7),
“Vessel Types with the Top Casualty Numbers” from Recreational Boating Statistics 2007,
and [http://www.uscgboating.org/statistics/Boating_Statistics_2006.pdf] for the 2006
PWC use in 66 of the 87 units where motorized boats were allowed.44 The rule
allowed PWC use to continue until April 22, 2002, at the remaining 21 units while the
NPS evaluated whether to permanently authorize PWC use and develop special
regulations. The rule recognized that certain NRAs, such as Lake Mead and Glen
Canyon, might choose to continue PWC use because their establishing legislation
emphasized motorized water-based recreation as a primary purpose. An April 2001
negotiated settlement of a lawsuit by Bluewater Network and Earth Island Institute
over the PWC rule prohibited PWC from the 21 areas unless the NPS initiated park-
specific rules and environmental assessments. PWC could continue to operate during
the rulemaking process, but only until specified “grace period” deadlines.
The NPS prohibited PWC use (effective April 22, 2002) in 5 of the 21 areas that
completed an environmental review process and also favored PWC bans: the Cape
Cod and Cumberland Island National Seashores, Delaware Water Gap and
Whiskeytown NRAs, and Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. For 13 other units, NPS
authorized PWC use in designated areas: in 2003, at Lake Mead and Glen Canyon
(Lake Powell) NRAs, and Assateague National Seashore; in 2004, at Lake Meredith,
Lake Roosevelt, Amistad, and Chickasaw NRAs; in 2005, at Bighorn Canyon NRA,
Fire Island National Seashore, and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore; and in 2006,
at Gulf Islands and Cape Lookout National Seashores and Curecanti NRA. For one
unit — Gateway NRA (February 24, 2006) — the NPS has proposed rules to allow
PWC. The last two areas — Padre Island National Seashore and Big Thicket National
Preserve — have been closed to PWC pending completion of environmental
assessments and rulemaking.45 NPS believes it unlikely that either unit will pursue
rulemaking to open to PWC.46 Meanwhile, on May 15, 2008, a coalition of
environmental groups filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of
Columbia seeking reinstatement of PWC bans at two units: Gulf Islands National
Seashore and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.47
The 2006 NPS management policies (§ 18.104.22.168) state that personal watercraft use
is generally prohibited (36 C.F.R. § 3.24) but may be allowed via special regulation
if such use has been identified as “an appropriate use that will not result in
unacceptable impacts.” This revised language could be regarded as a shift in emphasis
from the 2001 management polices, which prohibited PWC use unless such use is
confirmed “appropriate for a specific park.”
Legislative Activity. No general legislation on PWC use has been introduced
in the 110th Congress. In the 109th Congress, the House Appropriations Committee
included report language accompanying the FY2007 Interior appropriations bill (H.R.
44 65 Fed. Reg. 15077 (March 21, 2000); effective April 20, 2000.
45 Padre Island’s 2006 PWC environmental assessment evaluates three alternative courses
of action and identifies the no-action alternative continuing the PWC ban as preferred. See
[http://parkplanning.nps.gov/document.cfm?parkID=86&proj ectId=12571&documen t ID
46 Phone conversation with Jerry Case, Regulations Program Manager, NPS, Jan. 30, 2008.
47 See [http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/files/Jet%20Ski%20Lawsuit.pdf] for a copy
of the complaint.
5386) urging NPS to complete PWC rulemakings “in an efficient and timely
manner.”48 This language, however, was not included in the FY2007 Revised
Continuing Appropriations Resolution (P.L. 110-5). A March 15, 2006, House
Government Reform subcommittee hearing examined NPS rulemaking efforts
governing PWC use, status of park-specific rules, and reasons for and impacts of
Motorized Recreation on BLM Land (by Carol Hardy Vincent)
Background. The proximity of BLM lands to many areas of population growth
in the West has contributed to an increase in recreation on some BLM lands. BLM
lands are used for diverse forms of recreation, including hunting, fishing, visiting
cultural and natural sites, birdwatching, hiking, picnicking, camping, boating,
mountain biking, and off-highway vehicle driving. The growing and diverse nature
of recreation on BLM lands has increased the challenge of managing different types
of recreation, such as low impact (e.g., hiking) and high impact (e.g., OHV) uses. It
also has increased the challenge of managing recreation and other land uses. For
instance, in some areas recreation and energy development have come in conflict, with
hunters, fishermen, outfitters and guides, and other recreationists at odds with energy
producing interests seeking to maintain or increase energy development on public
lands. Overall, access to BLM lands for a variety of recreational purposes is viewed
as important for fostering public health, public support for land management, and a
stable economic base for communities that depend on recreation and tourism.
Recreational access also has enhanced interest in protecting the ecological integrity
of federal lands from environmental harm as a result of recreational use.
Motorized OHV use, including use of dirt bikes and all-terrain vehicles, is a
major recreational use of BLM lands that has been controversial. Controversy exists
in various areas throughout the West, such as the San Rafael Swell in Southern Utah,
the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area in Southern California, and the Arizona
Strip in Northern Arizona. While motorized user groups often have opposed
restrictions on OHV use, many environmentalists have been concerned about harm to
natural and cultural resources. In some areas, OHV use may conflict with other types
of recreation, such as hiking, that seek quiet and solitude on agency lands. There are
also differing views on how effectively OHV authorities are being enforced. While
BLM employs a variety of means of enforcement, including monitoring, law
enforcement, signing and mapping, and emergency closures of routes, enforcement
may be impeded in some locations due to their remoteness, insufficient signs,
inadequate staff and resources, and other factors.
48 See [http://www.congress.gov/cgi-lis/cpquery/R?cp109:FLD010:@1(hr465)], H.Rept.
49 U.S. Congress, House, Committee on Government Reform, Subcommittee on Regulatory
Affairs, Taking on Water: The National Park Service’s Stalled Rulemaking Effort on
Personal Watercraft. Available via GPO at [http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/
u s e f t p.cgi ?IPaddress=22.214.171.124&filename =27092.pdf&directory=/diskb/wais / d a t a /
Administrative Actions. Guidance on OHV use on BLM lands is provided
in law, executive orders, and agency regulations and policies. Under agency
regulations (43 C.F.R. § 8340), BLM has been designating public lands as open,
limited, or closed to OHV use. As of August 7, 2008, the following designations had
been made: closed, where OHV use is prohibited, 11.7 million acres (5% of
designated area); limited, where OHV use is in some way restricted, 134.8 million
acres (60%); and open, where OHV use is permitted anywhere, 79.9 million acres
(35%). Included in the open figure are about 100 specifically designated OHV areas.
The remaining 33.1 million acres of BLM land (mostly in Alaska) are not currently
designated. Because BLM management plans do not address motorized use in these
undesignated areas, there are no restrictions. Other regulations govern OHV use in
particular areas. For instance, on August 18, 2005, BLM issued final supplementary
rules for its lands in Oregon and Washington, which include guidance on OHV use.
BLM manages transportation on its lands through a process described as
Comprehensive Travel and Transportation Management.50 Goals include providing
varied transportation routes for access to BLM lands and providing areas for a variety
of motorized and non-motorized forms of recreation. Travel and transportation
management plans are developed for particular areas. In addition, BLM has issued
two national strategies dealing with transportation on its lands. The National51
Management Strategy for Motorized Off-Highway Vehicle Use on Public Lands has
multiple purposes, including to guide land managers in resolving OHV issues; to
promote consistency of OHV decision-making; to highlight needed staff and funding
for OHV management; to reduce conflicts among land users; to promote responsible
OHV use and reduce habitat degradation; and to lead to an update of OHV regulations
(which has not occurred to date). The National Mountain Bicycling Strategic Action52
Plan addresses mountain bicycling and other muscle-powered mechanical transport.
BLM revised its land use planning handbook in 2005 regarding motorized and
non-motorized recreation.53 The agency makes OHV designations during the planning
process, on an area-by-area basis, and such designations often have been contentious
and complex. The agency is in the midst of a multi-year effort to develop and update
land use plans, because many plans do not currently address OHV use and other
relatively recent issues. For instance, six of the eleven BLM field offices in Utah have54
released proposed resource management plans governing land uses in those areas.
OHVs were a major issue addressed during the process, as part of travel management
planning for the areas. The efforts were expected to reduce the acreage open to cross-
country travel, according to BLM. Some of the plans call for the establishment of
Special Recreation Management Areas, where the combination of a high level of
50 Information on BLM’s travel management program is on the agency’s website at
[http://www.blm.gov/ wo / s t / e n / prog/Recreation/recreation_national/travel_management.h
51 The BLM Strategy and related documents are available at [http://www.blm.gov/ohv/].
52 Available at [http://www.blm.gov/mountain_biking/].
53 Available at [http://www.blm.gov/nhp/200/wo210/landuse_hb.pdf].
54 Information on the proposed plans, and the text of the plans, are available on the BLM
website at [http://www.blm.gov/ut/st/en.html].
specific recreational activity and valuable natural resources would require more
intensive management. Some of the plans also call for the establishment of Extensive
Recreation Management Areas, where recreation would be dispersed and non-
specialized and thus would not require intensive management.
In some cases, the BLM and FS jointly address OHV use on their lands. For
instance, an interagency plan governs OHV use on lands in Montana, North Dakota,
and South Dakota. Joint management approaches, where federal lands are
intermingled, can promote consistency and public understanding of OHV guidance.
However, BLM and FS lands are different, and they are governed by separate
authorities, making complete consistency on vehicular travel management difficult to
A 2007 report of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) contains a literature review55
on the effects of OHV use on BLM lands. The report covers OHV effects on soils
and watersheds, vegetation, wildlife and habitats, and water and air quality. It
addresses the socioeconomic implications of OHV use, mitigation and restoration, and
monitoring and research needs.
Legislative Activity. The Continuing Appropriations Act, 2009 (P.L. 110-
329), generally extends funding for BLM accounts through March 6, 2009, at the
amounts provided in the FY2008 regular appropriations act. For FY2008, the BLM
appropriation for recreation management was $67.9 million. A focus of the recreation
program in FY2008 was developing and implementing travel management plans,
which identify and designate roads and trails for motorized use. For FY2009, the
Administration requested a decrease in funding, to $59.1 million. A large part of the
decrease was due to the Administration’s proposal to shift funding for national
monuments and national conservation areas to another subactivity.
Some pending measures would affect OHV use in particular areas. For instance,
H.R. 222 contains provisions related to OHV use in central Idaho. They include
conveying BLM land to the State of Idaho to establish a motorized recreation park,
establishing a special management area on certain BLM and FS lands to provide
opportunities for motorized and other recreation (together with other uses), and
authorizing up to $1.0 million for the Secretary of Agriculture to grant to the State of
Idaho for the off-road motor vehicle program. As another example, S. 802 and S.
2833 would require the development of travel/transportation management plans for
recreation on BLM lands in Owyhee County, Idaho.
Other measures pertain to access for particular types of recreation. For instance,
H.R. 6449 would provide access to, and management of, BLM lands for recreational
shooting. The bill would define recreational shooting as forms of shooting sport or
pastime, such as target and practical rifle, pistol and shotgun shooting, archery, trap,
skeet, and sporting clays. The bill seeks to ensure that there is no reduction in BLM
land available for recreational shooting.
55 The report is available on the USGS website at [http://www.fort.usgs.gov/Products/
Still other legislation seeks to establish areas that would emphasize recreation.
Several such bills pertain to the Sacramento River National Recreation Area,
consisting of 17,000 acres of BLM land in California. H.R. 1241 seeks to preserve
and enhance recreational opportunities and to promote local economic development
through recreation. S. 811, and provisions of S. 493 and H.R. 860, seek to conserve,
protect, and enhance resources in the area. All four bills call for the development of
a management plan for the area within three years of enactment. BLM currently has
one national recreation area in Alaska.
The 110th Congress has held hearings on OHV management on BLM and other
federal lands. For instance, a March 13, 2008, House subcommittee hearing and a
June 5, 2008, Senate committee hearing covered many issues, including agency efforts
to develop travel management plans, resources for OHV management, effects of OHV
use, access for OHV use, and revenues to states from OHV use. Other issues included
the adequacy of OHV authorities, enforcement of these authorities, whether there
should be more standardization among authorities, the role of public/private
partnerships in enforcement, and whether a licensing system would be beneficial.56
A March 27, 2007, hearing of the House Natural Resources Committee explored the
conflict between recreation and energy development on federal lands. The hearing
focused on how to balance fishing and hunting with energy development in the West.
Several witnesses expressed concern that the extent of energy development is having
negative impacts on wildlife and habitat and access to federal lands for hunting and
fishing. One witness described energy industry efforts to make development more
compatible with sportsmen’s interests.
Motorized Recreation in the National Forests (by Ross W. Gorte)
Background. The national forests are managed by the USDA Forest Service
(FS) for a variety of uses, including many types of recreation — sightseeing, OHV
use, backpacking, etc. — while preserving the productivity of the lands. Recreation
use continues to grow, with OHV use among the fastest growing uses.57
The various uses and values of the national forests sometimes conflict with one
another. For example, timber harvesting and OHV use may affect birdwatching and
sightseeing, and can degrade water quality in certain settings. Decisions about what
uses are allowed, and when and where, are made in comprehensive land and resource
management plans prepared for each unit of the National Forest System, and at the
project level. Because of multiple efforts to modify the planning regulations, many
plan revisions have been delayed. Much of the attention has been focused on
motorized recreation, because of the potentially significant impacts of motorized
56 Testimony from these hearings is available on the websites of the House Committee on
Natural Resources and the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources at,
57 H. Ken Cordell, Carter J. Betz, Gary T. Green, and Becky Stevens, Off-Highway Vehicle
Recreation in the United States, Regions and States (Athens, GA: FS Southern Research
Station, Feb. 2008), at [http://www.fs.fed.us/recreation/programs/ohv/IrisRec1rpt.pdf].
recreation on other values. Another issue involves conflicts between recreation uses
(notably hunting and fishing) and other activities, such as energy extraction.
Administrative Actions. Federal guidance on OHV use in E.O. 11644 and
E.O. 11989 was incorporated into FS regulations, at 36 C.F.R. Part 295. Despite this
guidance, not all forest plans have identified areas as open or closed to OHVs, and
local practices as to OHV use vary. In 2004, the FS Chief identified unmanaged
recreation — “increasing use of the national forests for outdoor activities ... ,
including the use of off-highway vehicles” — as a threat to the nation’s forests and
grasslands. In particular, OHV use has created many unauthorized roads and trails,
which can be unsafe and harmful to other resources, according to the FS. The FS
finalized regulations to require forest plans to identify a system of roads, trails, and
areas for motorized vehicle use and prohibit the use of OHVs and other motorized
vehicles outside the designated system.58 As of January 2008, 100 million acres of the
including 64 million acres open to cross-country use; vehicles were restricted to59
existing or designated routes on the other 94 million acres (48%). By the end of
FY2008, motor vehicle use maps based on the new regulations were completed for
49% of FS lands, with another 30% scheduled to be completed by the end of FY2009
and the remaining 21% scheduled to be completed in FY2010.60
Opinions are divided over the importance and impact of the regulations. Some
assert that the regulations do not go far enough, preferring that all OHV uses be
prohibited in the national forests, because OHVs can damage national forest lands and
resources. Others counter that the regulations penalize the majority of OHV users that
obey the current rules and restrict off-highway uses at a time when other landowners
and other federal and state agencies are reducing recreational access to their lands.
The conflict between interests may be escalating; the FS cancelled a public meeting
on the Bitterroot National Forest (MT) travel plan after a threat of violence at one
Conflicts have arisen between hunting, fishing, and other types of recreation and
energy development on federal lands. For instance, environmental and wildlife and
fish groups have challenged various efforts to lease federal areas for oil and gas62
exploration and development. Concerns typically focus on the impacts of oil and gas
58 U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Forest Service, “Travel Management; Designated Routes and
Areas for Motor Vehicle Use,” 70 Fed. Reg. 68264-68291 (Nov. 9, 2005). For additional
information, see also the FS Travel Management & Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) Program
59 See [http://www.fs.fed.us/recreation/programs/ohv/Summary2008.pdf].
61 “Forest Service cancels meeting on Bitterroot,” Missoulian.com (Jan. 11, 2008), available
62 See, for example, Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development, Recommendations for
Responsible Oil and Gas Development (released July 21, 2008), available at [http://www.
sportsmen4responsibleenergy.or g/ i ma ge s / s t o r i e s / S 4 R E D _ R e c o mme n d a t i o n s _ Final-3.pdf];
development on wildlife-related recreation, and the difficulties for interests other than
the energy industry to provide input regarding the location, timing, and stipulations
for development. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 (P.L. 109-58) expanded the
opportunities for energy development on federal lands, which could increase potential
conflicts. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has noted that the public has
opportunities to comment on and to challenge leasing decisions, but that the agencies
do not maintain data to assess the impact of these challenges.63
The FY2009 FS budget again proposed cutting recreation funds. Recreation
management would be funded at $237.0 million, a $25.6 million (10%) reduction
from the FY2008 level of $262.6 million. Trails funding would be $50.0 million,
$26.3 million (34%) below the FY2008 level of $76.4 million.
Legislative Activity. For FY2009, the Consolidated Security, Disaster
Assistance, and Continuing Appropriations Act (P.L. 110-329) maintained FS
recreation and trails funding at the FY2008 levels. Recreation management was
funded at $262.6 million in FY2008. For trails in the National Forest System, the
FY2008 appropriations law provided $76.4 million.
No general legislation on recreational activities in national forests has been
introduced. Various bills address recreation in specific areas. For example, the
Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act of 2007 (H.R. 222) would
establish the Boulder-White Clouds Management Area; the Chattahoochee National
Forest Act of 2007 (H.R. 707/H.R. 4092) would create the Mountaintown National
Scenic Area; the Lewis and Clark Mount Hood Wilderness Act of 2007 (S. 647/H.R.
6290/S. 3213) would designate the Mount Hood National Recreation Area, and Title
IX (of S. 647 and H.R. 6290) addresses recreational use, fees, and oversight for the
region; and the Eastern Sierra and Northern San Gabriel Wild Heritage Act (H.R.
6156/S. 3069) would establish the Bridgeport Winter Recreation Area. Most such
area-specific provisions are included in bills that would designate wilderness areas.
Such bills are identified in a table in the “Wilderness” section of CRS Report
RL33792, Federal Lands Administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM)
and the Forest Service (FS): Issues for the 110th Congress. In addition, H.R. 5671
would authorize the FS to retain and use fees from certain facilities in the
Whiskeytown-Shasta-Trinity National Recreation Area and the Columbia River Gorge
National Scenic Area, and H.R. 6553 would expand the recreational uses subject to
ski area permits.
The 110th Congress has examined OHV use on national forests and other federal
lands. On March 13, 2008, a House Natural Resources subcommittee held a hearing
on the impacts of unmanaged OHV use on federal lands. On June 5, 2008, the Senate
Energy and Natural Resources Committee held an oversight hearing on OHV
and Natural Resources Defense Council, Broad Coalition Sends Message to BLM: Do Oil
& Gas Right, at [http://www.nrdc.org/media/pressreleases/040204.asp].
63 U.S. Government Accountability Office, Oil and Gas Development: Challenges to Agency
Decisions and Opportunities for BLM to Standardize Data Collection, GAO-05-124
(Washington, DC: Nov. 2004).
management by federal land management agencies. Both hearings covered a range
of issues, such as agency planning and management practices and authorities for
controlling OHV use and the environmental and economic impacts of OHV use.
The National Trails System (by Sandra L. Johnson)
Background. The National Trails System Act (P.L. 90-543), authorizing the64
National Trails System (NTS), became law on October 2, 1968. Since January 2008,
trails supporters have celebrated the 40th anniversary of the NTS through a variety of
public and private events. The federal portion of the trails system consists of 26
national trails (8 scenic and 18 historic trails, both of which must be designated by
Congress) covering more than 50,000 miles, over 1,000 recreation trails, and 2
connecting and side trails. Issues involve the funding, quality, and quantity of trails;
land acquisition for trails; and the creation of a new category of trails.
Administrative Actions. On June 4, 2008, the Secretary of the Interior
announced the designation of 24 new National Recreation Trails (NRTs) in 16 states.65
Since 2001, the Bush Administration has designated 228 National Recreation Trails,
totaling more than 8,900 miles. These designations do not require an act of Congress
(although P.L. 110-229 does include designation of an NRT in honor of a former
Member)66 and are part of an ongoing effort to promote community partnerships and
to foster innovative ways to encourage physical fitness.
BLM manages more miles of National Historic Trails than any other federal
agency. On February 13, 2006, BLM released its first National Scenic and Historic
Trails Strategy and Work Plan for congressionally-designated trails under its
jurisdiction.67 The 10-year plan provides guidance to establish a coordinated and
consistent trails-focused administrative infrastructure; develop national policies to
protect and sustain trail resources within BLM’s multiple-use mandate; manage trail
resources to enhance visitor experiences and promote “appropriate public access”; and
maintain and advance BLM’s partnerships with trail organizations and other agencies.
Legislative Activity. The 110th Congress is considering legislation to
designate, study, or extend components of the National Trails System. Such measures
are shown in Table 1. The table includes bills that could involve management by the
NPS or other agencies. Bills related to the system more generally are not included in
the table. On May 8, 2008, the Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail was
designated (P.L. 110-229, § 341) as part of the National Trails System. H.R. 74 has
64 See [http://www.nps.gov/nts/legislation.html] for establishing legislation (P.L. 90-543,
as amended through P.L. 110-229, May 8, 2008). For additional background information on
the National Trails System, see [http://www.nps.gov/nts/].
65 See [http://www.doi.gov/news/08_News_Releases/080604.html]. Additional information
on National Recreation Trails, including access to the NRT database, is available at
[ h t t p : / / www.a me r i c a n t r a i l s .or g/ na t i ona l r e c r e a t i ont r a i l s / ] .
66 P.L. 110-229 (Title I, §102), May 8, 2008 designates the “Jim Weaver Loop Trail”as a
National Recreation Trail in the Willamette National Forest (OR).
67 See [http://www.blm.gov/nlcs/nsht/NSHTSWfinalSig.pdf].
been introduced to add National Discovery Trails as a new category of long-distance
trails within the National Trails System, and designate the American Discovery Trail
(ADT) as the nation’s first coast-to-coast National Discovery Trail. The ADT would
connect several national scenic, historic, and recreation trails, as well as many other
local and regional trails. The 104th through the 109th Congresses considered, but did
not enact, similar legislation.
Two willing seller bills (S. 169, H.R. 1847) reintroduced in the 110th Congress
would provide federal authority to acquire land from willing sellers to complete nine
national scenic and historic trails. This proposal does not commit the federal
government to purchase any land or spend any money, but seeks to allow managers
to purchase land to protect the national trails as opportunities arise and funds are
appropriated. Administration witnesses supported enactment of S. 169 and H.R. 1847
at hearings conducted on April 26, 2007, and July 10, 2008, respectively. S. 169 was
reported (S.Rept. 110-167) and placed on the Senate calendar on September 17, 2007.
Further, willing seller provisions in S. 169 were incorporated in the Omnibus Public
Land Management Act of 2008 (S. 3213, on the Senate calendar). On September 11,
2008, H.R. 1847 (amended to include eight rather than nine trails) was reported
favorably (H.Rept. 110-841) by the Natural Resources Committee and placed on the
Also, the Trails Act Technical Corrections Act (H.R. 3157, S. 2073) seeks to
amend the National Trails System Act relating to the statute of limitations that applies
to certain landowner claims for compensation. H.Res. 1443, introduced on September
16, 2008, recognizes the 40th anniversary of the National Trails System Act and the
Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail.
Table 1. National Trails System Bills
Introduced in the 110th Congress
Tit l e B ill Ty pe St a t us
Amends the National Trails System Act toH.R. 6740StudyIntroduced
provide for a study of the Cascadia Marine
Amends the National Trails System Act toH.R. 1336Study Introduced
require the Secretary of the Interior to update
the feasibility and suitability studies of four
national historic trails (Oregon, Pony Express,S. 580Senate Calendar
California, and Mormon Pioneer National
Historic Trails), and for other purposes
America’s Historical and Natural LegacyH.R. 3998StudySenate Calendar
Study Act (House-reported version includes
Butterfield Overland Trail Study Act, Lewis
and Clark National Historic Trail Extension
Study Act, and Mississippi River Study Act;
Senate-reported version includes Butterfield
Overland Trail Study Act)
Arizona National Scenic Trail ActH.R. 2297Desig.Hearing Held
S. 1304Senate Calendar
Tit l e B ill Ty pe St a t us
Butterfield Overland Trail Study ActH.R. 1266StudyHearing held
Chisholm and Great Western Cattle Trails ActH.R. 2849StudyIntroduced
Chisholm Trail and Great Western TrailS. 2255Senate Calendar
Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008S. 2739Desig./P.L. 110-229,
(includes Star-Spangled Banner NationalStudy§ 341, § 343
Historic Trail, and Lewis and Clark National
Historic Trail Extension)
Ice Age Floods National Geologic TrailH.R. 450Desig.Introduced
Designation ActS. 268Senate Calendar
John Lewis Civil Rights Trail System ActH.R. 5156StudyIntroduced
Lewis and Clark National Historic TrailH.R. 3460ExtensionIntroduced
Amendments Act of 2007
Lewis and Clark National Historic TrailS. 2739 StudyP.L. 110-229,
Extension Study Act § 341
Long Path Trail Study Act of 2008H.R. 6200StudyIntroduced
Mississippi River Special Resource Study ActH.R. 2482StudyIntroduced
(Mississippi River Trail)
New England National Scenic TrailH.R. 1528Desig.Senate Calendar
Designation ActS. 923Hearing Held
North Country National Scenic Trail RouteH.R. 4291ExtensionIntroduced
Adjustment Act of 2007
Omnibus Public Land Management Act ofS. 3213Desig./Senate Calendar
2008 (includes Arizona and New EnglandStudy
National Scenic Trails, Ice Age Floods
National Geologic Trail, Washington-
Rochambeau Revolutionary Route National
Historic Trail, Butterfield Overland Trail)
Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail ActH.R. 5926Desig.Introduced
of 2008S. 2943Senate Calendar
Star-Spangled Banner National Historic TrailS. 2739Desig.P.L. 110-229,
Trail of Tears Documentation ActH.R. 5335ExtensionReferred to
Washington-Rochambeau RevolutionaryH.R. 1286Desig.Referred to
Route National Historic Trail Designating ActSenate Comm.
S. 686Senate Calendar
Western States Trail Study Act of 2008S. 2909StudyIntroduced
The 109th Congress established the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National
Historic Trail (P.L. 109-418, H.R. 5466), the nation’s first all-water national historic
trail. Beginning at Jamestown, Virginia, the new trail traces Captain Smith’sth
1607-1609 voyages of exploration in the Chesapeake Bay region. The 109 Congress
also authorized the National Park Service to study additional routes and associated
campgrounds for possible inclusion in the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail (P.L.
Each agency with management authority over national trails has its own budget
or funding system for carrying out activities related to trail administration and
management. Federal land managing agencies have agreed, within the limits of
agency authorities, to coordinate requests for and obligation of funds related to the
National Trails System to eliminate duplication of effort and increase effectiveness.
FY2008 funding for the National Trails System was $22.05 million, and the FY2009
request was $18.51 million. The Continuing Appropriations Act (P.L. 110-329)
generally provided funding for trails at the amounts provided in the FY2008
appropriations act. Also, funding other than for the National Trails System cannot be
aggregated because of differences among agencies’ budgeting practices.68
The 110th Congress is considering several other recreation issues affecting federal
land. These include recreation within the National Wildlife Refuge System, recreation
at federal water sites (Bureau of Reclamation and Army Corps of Engineers),
recreation fees, and Grand Canyon Colorado River management.
Recreation in the National Wildlife Refuge System. (by M. Lynne Corn)
The National Wildlife Refuge System (NWRS) is dedicated primarily to conserving
animals and plants. Other uses — hunting, fishing, recreation, timber harvest,
grazing, etc. — are permitted only to the extent compatible with the purposes for
which the individual refuges were created. Some have characterized the NWRS as
intermediate in protection between the BLM and FS lands on the one hand and NPS
lands on the other, but this is not entirely accurate. The NWRS resembles the FS or
BLM lands in allowing some commercial or extractive uses, but in certain cases, some
uses (e.g., public access) can be substantially more restricted than for NPS lands. For
example, some refuges (especially island refuges for nesting seabirds) may be closed
to the public — more restrictive than for an NPS area, given the NPS mandate to
provide for public enjoyment of park resources.
Recreational conflicts within the NWRS were more frequent before the 1997
enactment of the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act (16 U.S.C.
§668dd). A key provision of this law designates “compatible wildlife-dependent
recreational uses involving hunting, fishing, wildlife observation and photography,
and environmental education and interpretation as priority public uses of the refuge
system.” It also requires that priority public uses must “receive enhanced
consideration over other general public uses in planning and management within the
System.” The law continues the statutory policy that activities that are not
wildlife-dependent (e.g., grazing, growing hay, etc.) may be permitted, provided they
68 Other trail projects may be eligible for federal highway funding under SAFETEA-LU
(P.L. 109-59). For example, the Recreational Trails Program (RTP) provides funds to states
to develop and maintain recreational trails and trail-related facilities for motorized and
nonmotorized recreational trail uses. P.L. 109-59 authorized $370 million for the RTP over
are wildlife-compatible. Final regulations for determining compatibility were
published on October 18, 2000.69 Some interest groups contended that the regulations
did not allow for sufficient public access for some forms of recreation, such as use of
OHVs or PWC. Others felt that the regulations struck a proper balance among user
An NWRS budget controversy may affect recreation, especially on less
well-known refuges. Costs of operation have increased on many refuges, partly due
to specific problems such as hurricane damage and more aggressive border
enforcement. Reductions in funding for operations in the NWRS, combined with the
need to meet fixed costs such as rent, salaries, and utilities, have led to cuts in funding
for programs to aid endangered species, reduce infestation by invasive species, protect
water supplies, address habitat restoration, and ensure staffing at the less visited
refuges. The Northeast Region (roughly Virginia to Maine, with 71 refuges) took the
lead in addressing this issue by attempting to consolidate management at refuges, and
increasing the number of refuges which are not staffed on a regular basis (termed
“de-staffing”). This region also attempted to consolidate some services in order to
spread resources more effectively. Implications for recreation could include reduced
trash collection, fewer visitor services, less trail maintenance, and greater reliance on
volunteers (if available). Other regions have begun their own plans to address reduced
Legislative Activity. For refuge operations and maintenance in FY2008, the
President proposed $394.8 million, a slight decrease from $395.3 million in FY2007.
The final figure was $434.1 million (+10%), the same level of funding proposed by
the Administration for FY2009. In the Joint Statement of Managers, FWS was
directed to use the additional FY2008 funding to reestablish basic operations
nationwide. FWS was further directed to report back to the Appropriations
Committees on allocation of the increased funding within 60 days. However, on Jan.
earmarks that are not in the language of the law itself. While the executive order
will not affect the increase itself, statements concerning reestablishment of operations
as well as a report to the two committees would be affected. For additional
information on the NWRS budget for FY2009, see CRS Report RL34461, Interior,
Environment, and Related Agencies: FY2009 Appropriations.
Recreation at Federal Water Sites. (by Nicole T. Carter and Nic Lane)
Much of the recreation on federally owned or managed waters and adjacent lands
occurs at U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (in the Department of Defense) and Bureau
of Reclamation (in DOI) sites, primarily at federal reservoirs and along rivers and
other waterways. These agencies’ more than 4,000 recreation areas attract nearly 500
million visits per year (400 million at Corps-managed areas; 90 million at Bureau
sites). While these federal reservoirs and federally maintained waterways often are
operated primarily for navigation, hydropower, flood control and/or irrigation, they
also provide recreation and other benefits. Reservoir and waterway operations can be
contentious because decisions on water releases often represent tradeoffs among the
69 65 Fed. Reg. 62457 (Oct. 18, 2000).
70 73 Fed. Reg. 6417 (Feb. 1, 2008).
multiple reservoir and river uses and among different types of recreation, such as
birdwatching, boating, fishing, hunting, sightseeing, swimming, and whitewater
Bureau of Reclamation. (by Nic Lane) The Bureau of Reclamation mission
is not primarily related to recreation, and thus it has limited authority, funding, and
staff to provide for recreation facilities. Nevertheless, Reclamation water sites are
popular recreation destinations and there are 289 Reclamation project areas with
designated recreation facilities. However, only 32 are managed solely by the agency.
Due to the popularity of recreation opportunities afforded by the reservoirs behind
Reclamation dams, the agency works with 67 non-federal partners to manage and
oversee the recreation facilities at Reclamation projects. Reclamation sites, including
those managed by non-federal partners, receive 90 million visits annually; this figure
is increasing by 1.2 million annually. Recreation at these sites generates $6 billion71
annually in visitor revenue and creates 27,000 non-federal jobs. The agency
endeavors to aid concessionaires through outreach programs aimed at helping them
succeed in their management of sites. Further, Reclamation seeks to avoid the failure
of a concessionaire or management partner which results in the site and facilities
reverting to Reclamation’s stewardship. Within the agency this known as turn back.
Turn back had occurred 29 times since 1976 according to an August 2005
Reclamation-commissioned study, and places additional pressure on agency funding
and staff resources.72
Corps of Engineers. (by Nicole T. Carter) The Corps is estimated to73
annually spend roughly $270 million on recreation-related activities. In the omnibus
Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2007 (P.L. 110-114), the 110th
Congress authorized the Corps to undertake construction activities for a number of
water resource projects with recreational components. The legislation also added
recreation as a project purpose for a number of existing Corps facilities. Recreation
oversight may still arise during the 110th Congress in the context of Corps reservoir
operations under the drought conditions facing a number of river basins, such as the
Southeast drought’s drawdown of Lake Lanier (GA) in the
Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint basin. A broader policy issue facing the agency is
its treatment of recreation’s economic benefits under alternate management regimes
for multipurpose federal facilities (e.g., reservoir management in the Missouri River
The consistency of Corps recreation fees and passes with those of other agencies
also has received attention. H.R. 4304 and S. 3305 both seek to extend the new
recreation fee program established for DOI and the Department of Agriculture land
management agencies and the Bureau of Reclamation to the Corps of Engineers.
71 E-mail correspondence on Jan. 10, 2008, with Mr. Bruce Brown, Partnerships
Coordinator, Bureau of Reclamation, Washington, DC.
72 Haas, Glenn E., and Robert Aukerman, An Assessment of the Bureau of Reclamation’s
Non-Federal Recreation Management Partners, August 2005. Available via Reclamation’s
website at [http://www.usbr.gov/pmts/planning/recpubs/NonFedRecre.pdf]. See also
[http://www.wh itehouse.gov/ omb/expect more/detail/10002226.2004.ht ml ].
73 See [http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/expectmore/detail/10002002.2004.html].
Recreation Fees. (by Carol Hardy Vincent) DOI and the Department of
Agriculture are operating under a new recreation fee program, created by P.L. 108-447
(Division J, Title VIII; Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act). The law
established the new recreation fee program for the four major federal land
management agencies (NPS, BLM, FWS, and FS) as well as for the Bureau of
Reclamation. The agencies have issued guidance on implementing the program, and
have adjusted fees at sites to meet the criteria and prohibitions in the new law. In
some areas fees have been eliminated, while in others they have increased. Congress
is overseeing agency efforts to establish, collect, and spend recreation fees under the
The recreation fee program is supported partly because it generates revenue that
can be used for improvements at the sites where collected. Concerns remain over
issues such as whether the public should be charged for recreating on public lands, and
whether the establishment of higher fees in some areas could be a barrier to visitation.
Several states have adopted resolutions opposing the fees. Further, debate continues
over which agencies should be covered by the recreation fee program. H.R. 4304 and
S. 3305 seek to extend the program to the Corps of Engineers; the agency currently
has no general authority to retain recreation fees. By contrast, S. 2438 seeks to repeal
the program. However, it authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to establish and
collect entrance and use fees at units of the National Park System, under specified
terms and conditions; provides for distribution of the receipts; and requires reports to
Congress on this fee program at park units. The bill also seeks to reinstate recreation
fee provisions of the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act of 1965, which in part
provided for entrance fees, primarily at national park units, and daily recreation use
fees for federal agencies generally.
P.L. 108-447 provided guidance to the five agencies on establishing entrance,
standard, expanded, and special recreation permit fees. It outlined criteria for
establishing fees, and prohibited charging fees for certain activities or services. Each
agency can spend the revenue collected without further appropriation. In general, not
less than 80% of the fees are to be spent at the collecting site, but that amount can be
reduced to not less than 60%. The balance of the collections is available to be used
agency-wide. The agencies (excluding the Bureau of Reclamation) anticipated
collecting about $240 million in fees in FY2007, with NPS collections accounting for
about two-thirds of the total. An estimated $2 billion has been collected by agencies
since the establishment of the predecessor demonstration program in 1996. The
collections can be used for specified purposes, such as repair, maintenance, and
facility enhancement. The agencies are to report to Congress on the program every
three years, and the program is to terminate 10 years after enactment.
The law also authorized the creation of an interagency national recreation pass
as well as regional multi-entity passes. To cover entrance and standard fees for the
five agencies, in January 2007 a new interagency pass was established — the America
the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass. Over a million
passes had been issued as of June 2008. The cost of the general pass, at $80 per year,
the extent and convenience of its use, and the distribution of revenues from passes
sold are issues of interest. Legislation has been introduced (H.R. 652) to make the
pass available to veterans for a cost of $10 annually. S. 617 and provisions of S. 3213
would make a $10 pass available to veterans as well as active duty and reserve
members of the Armed Forces. Both bills are on the Senate calendar.
On June 18, 2008, a House subcommittee held a hearing on how the fee program
is being implemented on federal lands, with a focus on concerns over
implementation.74 Some of the witnesses testified that fees being charged are
inconsistent with the act, particularly on some BLM and FS lands. They cited fees
being charged at trailheads, for special recreation permits, and in High Impact
Recreation Areas as examples. Another witness testified that the NPS “fee system and
structure is out of control, complicated and inequitable.”75 He asserted that fees for
core, interpretive programs should be eliminated, and that fee collections are
inequitably distributed among park units. Some witnesses supported additional public
funding for managing federal lands, and claimed that fee revenues are being used
instead of appropriations, in contravention of congressional intent. Witnesses from
DOI and the Department of Agriculture testified on the accomplishments of the fee
program, including that “retention of fee authority is paramount to our ability to
maintain and manage our federal lands and effectively address the deferred
maintenance backlog at our National Parks, Forests and other federal lands.”76 They
noted the extent to which federal lands are free to the public, ranging from 99.5% of
BLM lands to 62% of NPS sites.
Grand Canyon Colorado River Recreational Use Management. (by
David L. Whiteman) As part of its overall management of Grand Canyon National
Park (GCNP), the NPS protects the natural resources, monitors the ecosystem health,
and regulates the recreational use of the Colorado River corridor within park
boundaries at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. A particular focus is the management
of recreational watercraft trips on the Colorado River inside GCNP to protect river
corridor resources while fostering sustained high-quality visitor experience. The 277-
mile river canyon is a popular destination for multi-day boating trips, long considered
one of the most “iconic” of National Park experiences. Decades of conflict have
ensued over the use of outboard motors on pontoon rafts on the river, helicopter
flights used to ferry commercial boating passengers in and out of the canyon, and the
proportion of river access for commercial outfitters versus noncommercial private
boaters. Historically, about 70% of river access permits had gone to commercial
concessioners, with about 30% to noncommercial self-guided private boaters. The
motorized activities have long been opposed by groups favoring the preservation of
wilderness-like values in the river corridor and those seeking wilderness status for
some or all of the park. Commercial river trip outfitters assert that access for
74 The hearing testimony is on the House Committee on Natural Resources Website at
[http://resourcescommittee.house.gov/index.php?option=com_j calpro&It emid=54&extm
75 See testimony of J.W. “Bill” Wade, The Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, p.
76 See testimony of P. Lynn Scarlett, Department of the Interior, and Mark Rey, Department
of Agriculture, p. 5, at [http://resourcescommittee.house.gov/images/Documents/20080618/
motorized watercraft does not harm resources and is the only practical way to offer
popular short-duration trips.
In 2006, the NPS finalized a revised Colorado River Management Plan (CRMP)
governing recreational river use for at least 10 years and establishing goals and
objectives for a longer time frame.77 This new management plan alters the allocation
of river access between commercial and noncommercial users, with more access for
the self-outfitted sector. The plan also shortens the season for commercial trips but
expands both the number of commercial launches allowed and their group size. A
“weighted lottery” system held each February for noncommercial users is being
phased in, and the park plans to issue 252 noncommercial launch permits for calendar
year 2009.78 Some noncommercial users have expressed concern that while they have
more overall access, they are largely relegated to off-season periods and are allowed
less time on the river. In general, commercial users view the new plan favorably. The
CRMP process took nearly 10 years to complete and implement. The 2006 CRMP
includes a Visitor Experience Monitoring Plan (VEMP) to assess optimum visitor
capacity levels and the quality of visitors’ river running experiences, and a Research
Monitoring and Mitigation Program (RM&PM) to assess the effects of recreational
use on park resources.
On February 16, 2006, a coalition of conservation groups filed suit in federal
court to force Interior to re-evaluate its approach to dam-managed water flow and river
canyon ecosystem recovery. They cited continuing damage to beaches, vegetation,
unique species, and cultural resources from the operation of the upstream Glen
Canyon Dam, and contended that the new CRMP did not adequately protect park
resources from river user impacts. The parties settled their case in 2007 and, as a
result, Interior is now engaged in a long-term experimentation program for dam
release and flow volumes, temperature controls, and other measures to benefit
downstream river resources. A high-flow experiment in March 2008 successfully
deposited large volumes of sand onto eroded sandbars that serve as camping beaches
for river runners and hikers and provided new sediment to protect archeological
resources from weathering and erosion. The Grand Canyon Trust, an environmental
group, filed a new lawsuit on December 7, 2007, seeking to force the Bureau of
Reclamation to conduct “seasonally adjusted” dam releases in low-water years.
A specialized River Ranger Crew patrols the river all year long in support of park
scientists and resource specialists and to assist river runners and educate them to be
stewards of the river and canyon.
As called for in the CRMP, the NPS has implemented a site-specific restoration
program to address user impacts, focusing on popular use areas and campsites.
Another coalition of conservation and some boating groups filed a separate suit on
77 Background information and related documents are available on the NPS CRMP website
78 Information on Colorado River trips is available via the NPS CRMP website at
[http://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/whitewater-rafting.htm]. For weighted lottery
information, see [http://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/weightedlottery.htm] and the link
for associated FAQs at [http://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/river-faq.htm].
March 28, 2006, over motorized use and perceived inequities of the new river use
plan. This lawsuit seeks an injunction that would require the NPS to prepare another
CRMP. An October 2006 court ruling allowed intervention in the case by two boater
associations favoring the 2006 CRMP.