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COA Submits Comments on Forest Service Cost Recovery Rule

Today, the Coalition for Outdoor Access submitted detailed comments on the U.S. Forest Service’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Cost Recovery. Our comments stated COA’s opposition to the proposed rule and urged the Forest Service to reconsider its plan to increase cost recovery fees for recreation special use permits. 

COA’s comments were submitted in response to a notice, published on March 9, 2023, in which the Forest Service proposed to increase the cost recovery fees charged to recreation special use permit holders. The proposed rule would increase fees in several ways:

  1. The Forest Service would begin charging cost recovery fees for the “proposal” phase of the application process. Currently, the meter doesn’t start running until an activity proposal has completed its initial review and becomes a formal application. This will increase up front costs for  outdoor leaders seeking permits. 
  2. The Forest Service would eliminate the 50-hour exemption for recreation special use permits. Currently, the first 50 hours of processing time is exempt from cost recovery. Under the proposed rule, this exemption would be eliminated. As a result, permit applicants would begin paying cost recovery fees from the moment they submit a proposal or begin discussing a proposal with the agency. 
  3. The Forest Service would adjust the current schedule of cost recovery fees upward to reflect the increasing costs for staff time needed to process recreation special use applications. 

COA based its opposition to the proposed rule on two core principles:

  1. Guided outdoor recreation and recreation events provide benefits to the public and to the Forest Service that differentiate them from non-recreational special uses.
  2. Because of the financial realities in the outdoor programming space, the proposed increase in cost recovery fees will have an outsized impact on outdoor leaders. 

Based on these principles, COA identified four main concerns with the proposed increase in fees. 

  1. The proposed rule would impose significant costs that will burden a wide range of recreation service providers, including small nonprofit outdoor program providers and similar affinity groups, college and university recreation programs, small outfitters, larger outfitters, independent guides, and recreation event sponsors.  
  2. The proposed rule directly contradicts equity goals and promises of both the Forest Service and the Biden administration, as outlined in the Forest Service’s Equity Action Plan and the administration’s America the Beautiful Campaign.  
  3. The Forest Service has not adequately demonstrated how the proposed rule will improve customer service such that the benefits will outweigh the costs. 
  4. The proposed rule does not increase consistency between the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on cost recovery. 

In addition to the members of COA’s Steering Committee members, ten organizations signed on to the COA comment:

You can read the COA comment here.