Improving Incentives for Federal Land Managers: The Case for Recreation Fees

12 Pages Posted: 21 Jun 2013

Date Written: June 18, 2013


In 2004, Congress allowed federal land managers to charge recreation fees only for certain kinds of recreation. In general, while national parks and wildlife refuges can charge entry fees, managers of other federal lands can only charge for developed recreation, such as campgrounds, not dispersed recreation, such as hiking and backpacking. As a result, recreation is free on 98 percent or more of the lands managed by the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Bureau of Reclamation. The 2004 law expires in 2014, giving Congress an opportunity to revisit this restriction.

Congress should allow federal land agencies to charge market rates for all forms of recreation. Fees can help pay for maintenance and improvements of recreation areas, and will create incentives for both recreation users and recreation providers. Without these incentives, agency managers have little reason to cater to the needs and preferences of dispersed recreationists.

Keywords: The Recreation Enhancement Act, federal lands, national parks, national wildlife refuges, environmental policy in the U.S.

JEL Classification: Q24, Q50, Q58

Suggested Citation

O'Toole, Randal, Improving Incentives for Federal Land Managers: The Case for Recreation Fees (June 18, 2013). Cato Institute Policy Analysis No. 726, Available at SSRN:

Randal O'Toole (Contact Author)

Cato Institute ( email )

1000 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20001-5403
United States

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