Order Code IB10093
CRS Issue Brief for Congress
Received through the CRS Web
National Park Management and Recreation
Updated September 27, 2004
Carol Hardy Vincent, Coordinator
Resources, Science, and Industry Division
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
MOST RECENT DEVELOPMENTS
BACKGROUND AND ANALYSIS
Overview of Issues
Recreational Fee Demonstration Program
The National Trails System
CONGRESSIONAL HEARINGS, REPORTS, AND DOCUMENTS
FOR ADDITIONAL READING
National Park Management and Recreation
The second session of the 108th Congress
is considering legislation and conducting
oversight on National Park Service (NPS)
related issues. The Administration also continues to address park and recreation issues
through budgetary, regulatory, and other
actions. Several key issues are covered in this
Maintenance Backlog. There is debate
over the funding level to meet the physical
maintenance obligations of the land management agencies and whether to provide new
funds or use funds from existing programs for
them. Attention has focused on the NPS’s
multibillion-dollar maintenance backlog,
which the Bush Administration claims to be
making “significant progress” towards eliminating. Congress includes money for some
backlog needs in Interior appropriations laws,
and is considering the needs of agencies for
Personal Watercraft and Snowmobiles. Motorized recreation, notably the use of
personal watercraft (PWC) and snowmobiles
in NPS units, has fueled debate over the balance between recreation on, and protection of,
park lands. Regulatory actions that restrict
use of these vehicles are particularly controversial. The NPS currently is evaluating PWC
use in some areas. NPS issued a proposed
rule to allow snowmobiles in three Yellowstone area parks for up to three years.
Aircraft Overflights. Grand Canyon
National Park is at the center of a conflict over
whether to limit air tours over national parks
to reduce noise. The NPS and the Federal
Aviation Administration continue to work on
Congressional Research Service
implementing a 1987 law that sought to reduce noise at Grand Canyon as well as a 2000
law that regulates overflights at other park
units. Recent regulations require air tour
operators to seek authority to fly over park
units, and the agencies then must develop Air
Tour Management Plans at park units. Also,
the Federal Aviation Administration is developing regulations to provide safety standards
for commercial air tours, including over park
Recreational Fee Demonstration Program. The “Fee Demo” Program was created
to allow the NPS and other land management
agencies to test the feasibility of supplemental
self-financing through new fees. The Bush
Administration supports making the program
permanent, and Congress is considering related legislation for the NPS only as well as
for several federal agencies. P.L. 108-108
extended the program through December 2005
for fee collection and FY2008 for expenditures.
The National Trails System. While
designation of trails is often popular, issues
remain regarding funding, expansion, and
quality of trails. Congress is considering bills
to amend the National Trails System Act to
provide authority to acquire land from willing
sellers for certain trails; to authorize studies of
routes for possible additions to the system;
and to add routes to the system. Congress also
is considering legislation to reauthorize the
Recreational Trails Program. Further, legislation has been introduced to create a new
category of trails, called National Discovery
˜ The Library of Congress
MOST RECENT DEVELOPMENTS
Nine NPS areas that are closed to personal watercraft are pursuing a
rulemaking process to permit PWC use. Separate final rules now authorize
PWC use at seven NPS areas.
On September 7, 2004, the NPS issued a proposed rule allowing
snowmobiles access to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks and the
John D. Rockefeller, Jr., Memorial Parkway for up to three years.
On September 22, 2004, the House Committee on Resources ordered
reported H.R. 3283, to establish a permanent Recreational Fee
Demonstration Program for five federal agencies.
On September 21, 2004, S. 2822 was introduced to extend funding for
highway programs, including many trails projects, through March 31, 2005.
BACKGROUND AND ANALYSIS
The National Park System (see [http://www.nps.gov/legacy/]) is perhaps the federal land
category best known to the public. The National Park Service (NPS) in the Department of
the Interior (DOI) manages 388 units, including 56 units formally entitled “national parks”
and a host of other designations. The system has more than 84 million acres.1 The NPS had
an appropriation of approximately $2.26 billion in FY2004, employs about 21,000 permanent
and seasonal employees, and uses an additional 90,000 volunteers. An estimated 266 million
people visited park units in 2003.
The NPS statutory mission is multifaceted: to conserve, preserve, protect, and interpret
the natural, cultural, and historic resources of the nation for the public and to provide for
their use and enjoyment by the public. The mission’s dichotomy of use and preservation can
sometimes be inherently contradictory. In general, activities which harvest or remove
resources from units of the system are not allowed. The NPS also supports the preservation
of natural and historic places and promotes outdoor recreation outside the system through
grant and technical assistance programs. Attention centers on how to balance the recreational
use of parklands with the preservation of park resources, and on determining appropriate
levels and sources of funding to maintain NPS facilities and to manage NPS programs.
The establishment of several national parks preceded the 1916 creation of the National
Park Service (NPS) as the park system management agency. Congress established the
Nation’s first national park — Yellowstone National Park — in 1872. The park was created
in the then-territories of Montana and Wyoming “for the benefit and enjoyment of the
This figure includes an estimated 79 million acres of federal land, 1 million acres of other public
land, and 4 million acres of private land. NPS policy is to acquire these non-federal “in-holdings”
from willing sellers or to create special agreements to encourage land owners to sell.
people,” and placed “under the exclusive control of the Secretary of the Interior” (16 U.S.C.
§§21-22). In the 1890s and early 1900s, Congress created several other national parks mostly
from western public domain lands, including Sequoia, Yosemite, Mount Rainier, Crater
Lake, and Glacier. In addition to the desire to preserve nature, there was interest in
promoting tourism. Western railroads, often recipients of vast public land grants, were
advocates of many of the early parks and built grand hotels in them to support their business.
There also were efforts to protect the sites and structures of early Native American
cultures and other special sites. The Antiquities Act of 1906 authorized the President to
proclaim national monuments on federal lands that contain “historic landmarks, historic and
prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest” (16 U.S.C. §431).
Most national monuments are managed by the NPS. (For more information, see CRS Report
RS20902, National Monument Issues, by Carol Hardy Vincent.)
There was no system of national parks and monuments until 1916, when President
Wilson signed a law creating the NPS to manage and protect the national parks and many of
the monuments then in existence and those yet to be established. That “Organic Act”
provided that the NPS “shall promote and regulate the use of the Federal areas known as
national parks, monuments, and reservations ... to conserve the scenery and the natural and
historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such
manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future
generations” (16 U.S.C. §1). A major step in developing a national system of parks occurred
in 1933, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt transferred 63 national monuments and
historic military sites from the USDA Forest Service and the War Department to the NPS.
Overview of Issues
The 108th Congress is considering legislation or conducting oversight on many NPSrelated issues. Several major issues are covered in this report: funding for the maintenance
backlog of the NPS and other agencies, regulation of personal watercraft, use of
snowmobiles, overflights of aircraft, extension of the Recreational Fee Demonstration
Program, and expansion of the National Trails System. While in some cases these issues are
relevant to other federal lands and agencies, this report does not comprehensively cover
issues primarily affecting other lands/agencies. 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. Information on
BLM and Forest Service lands is contained in CRS Issue Brief IB10076, Bureau of Land
Management (BLM) Lands and National Forests, coordinated by Ross W. Gorte and Carol
Hardy Vincent. Information on appropriations for the NPS is included in CRS Report
RL32306, Appropriations for FY2005: Interior and Related Agencies, coordinated by Carol
Hardy Vincent and Susan Boren.
NPS-related issues not covered in this brief include funding of the Land and Water
Conservation Fund (LWCF), creating new park units, and designating heritage areas. First,
the LWCF is the principal federal source of money for the NPS (and other agencies) to
acquire new recreation lands. Issues include the size of the fund, need for an annual
appropriation, and Congress’s role in choosing lands to acquire. (For more information, see
CRS Report RS21503, Land and Water Conservation Fund: Current Status and Issues, by
Jeffrey A. Zinn.) Second, how national park units are created and what qualities make an
area eligible to be an NPS unit are of continuing interest. (For more information, see CRS
Report RS20158, National Park System: Establishing New Units, by Carol Hardy Vincent.)
Third, legislation is pending to study, designate, and fund particular National Heritage Areas
(NHAs) as well as to establish a process and criteria for designating and managing NHAs.
(For more information, see CRS Issue Brief IB10126, Heritage Areas: Background,
Proposals, and Current Issues, by Carol Hardy Vincent and David Whiteman.)
Maintenance Backlog (by Carol Hardy Vincent)
Background. The four federal land management agencies — the NPS, Bureau of
Land Management (BLM), Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and Forest Service (FS) —
have extensive physical maintenance of buildings, roads, trails, recreation sites, and other
infrastructure. There is debate over the levels of funds to maintain this infrastructure,
whether to use funds from other programs, and how to balance the maintenance of the
existing infrastructure with the acquisition of new assets. Congress continues to focus on the
agencies’ “deferred maintenance,” often called the “maintenance backlog” — essentially
maintenance that could not be done when scheduled or planned. The estimate of deferred
maintenance for the four agencies for FY2003 ranges from $11.68 billion to $16.47 billion,
for an average of $14.08 billion, according to agency documents. The FS and the NPS
together account for most of the backlog, with the FS estimated at $6.79 billion and the NPS
at between $3.54 billion and $7.59 billion, for an NPS average of $5.57 billion. The FWS
share is estimated between $1.01 billion and $1.36 billion, with the BLM between $0.34
billion and $0.73 billion. The backlogs have been attributed to decades of funding shortfalls.
The agencies assert that deferred maintenance of facilities accelerates their rate of
deterioration, increases their repair costs, and decreases their value.
Attention has centered on the NPS maintenance backlog. Since FY2000, the NPS (and
other DOI agencies) has submitted annually a maintenance and capital improvement plan
identifying deferred maintenance projects by priority over a five-year period. Also, an
Interior Department Inspector General report (December 2001) recommended establishing
a single maintenance budget funded through one appropriation for the entire department.
Administrative Actions. In FY2002, the Bush Administration proposed to eliminate
the NPS backlog (estimated at $4.9 billion in 2002) over five years, through a combination
of transportation fund money, appropriated funds, and revenues from recreation fees. On
July 2, 2003, the NPS issued a report and accompanying press release describing the
“significant progress” made in addressing the NPS maintenance backlog (see [http://www.
nps.gov/accompreport2003/]). Further, the Director of the NPS asserted that the agency is
“on track to exceed the President’s goal of investing $4.9 billion,” with $3.9 billion proposed
to date toward that goal (including money requested for FY2005).2 By contrast, the National
Parks Conservation Association (among others) contends that the Administration is not on
Testimony of Fran P. Mainella, National Park Service, Department of the Interior, House
Committee on Resources, Subcommittee on National Parks, Recreation, and Public Lands, Feb. 26,
2004, H. Hrg. 108-86, p. 13.
track to eliminate the backlog, and that national parks have an annual funding shortfall of
about 32%. The association also asserts that the Administration has supported little new
money to address park maintenance, and has “mostly manipulated” accounts to appear to
be on track to eliminate the backlog.
It is uncertain if the NPS backlog has decreased, increased, or remained the same over
the past five years. For instance, while estimates of the NPS backlog increased from an
average of $4.25 billion in FY1999 to $5.57 billion in FY2003, it is unclear what portion of
the change is due to the addition of maintenance work that was not done on time or the
availability of more precise estimates of the backlog. Further, it is unclear how much money
has been provided for backlogged maintenance over this time period. Annual presidential
budget requests and appropriations laws do not typically specify the portion of funds for
backlogged maintenance, but instead combine funding for all NPS construction, facility
operation, and regular and deferred maintenance. According to DOI, the appropriation for
NPS deferred maintenance increased from $223.0 million in FY1999 to $311.2 million in
FY2003, with a peak of $363.2 million in FY2002. The President has requested an FY2005
appropriation of $332.5 million for NPS deferred maintenance. House and Senate versions
of the Interior appropriations bill (H.R. 4568, S. 2804) do not specify the amount of funds
for deferred maintenance needs of the NPS.
The agencies are defining and quantifying their maintenance needs. Efforts include
developing computerized systems for tracking and prioritizing maintenance projects and
collecting comprehensive data on the condition of facilities. Without such data, the extent
and nature of deferred maintenance might not be fully known, potentially hampering efforts
to overcome the backlog.
Legislative Activity. On July 8, 2003, the National Parks Subcommittee of the
Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held a hearing on the NPS maintenance
backlog. The hearing covered efforts to assess the condition of all facilities, estimate costs
of repairing facilities, and determine maintenance priorities. The Park Service has
acknowledged that until the effort is completed — by FY2006 — it will not have the data to
accurately estimate its maintenance backlog and assess the agency’s success in eliminating
it. To date, the NPS has completed facility condition assessments on all but four parks.
Witnesses from the private sector testified that the backlog results from a lack of adequate
funding for annual maintenance and that substantial additional funds are needed so that the
backlog does not continue to grow.
A March 25, 2004, subcommittee hearing focused on H.R. 1517, which seeks to amend
the Land and Water Conservation Fund to make the fund available to the Park Service and
the other land management agencies for maintenance. The bill requires that within five years
these agencies reduce their backlogged maintenance by at least 20%. Additional reductions
in backlogged maintenance are to be made during subsequent five year periods. The measure
also requires the agencies to report to Congress, every five years, on progress in reducing the
backlog and priorities for construction and maintenance.
Personal Watercraft (by Kori Calvert)
Background. PWCs 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 CFR §1.4). Often used to perform stunt-like
maneuvers, PWCs include watercraft known by their brand and generic names as jet ski, sea
doo, surf jet, water sled, wavejammer, wetjet, waverunner, and wet bike. While PWCs
represent a small segment of the recreational boat market, the number of PWC accidents has
been an issue. Critics of motorized recreation cite environmental concerns, including noise,
air, and water pollution; damage to land, plants, and wildlife; and public safety. Supporters
of motorized access argue that technological advances will enable manufacturers to produce
cleaner, more efficient machines, and point to the economic benefits to communities serving
users. PWC users also assert that in park units that allow motorized boating generally,
PWCs also should be allowed. Recent controversies have focused on regulatory actions that
would restrict recreational use or “access” of these vehicles, often in specific park units.
Administrative Actions. The NPS currently is evaluating PWC use in some areas.
That effort began in 2000 when the agency issued a rule prohibiting PWC use from 66 of the
87 units where motorized boats were allowed (65 Fed. Reg. 15077, effective April 20, 2000).
The rule allowed PWC use to continue until April 22, 2002, at the remaining 21 areas while
the NPS evaluated whether to permanently authorize PWC use and develop special
regulations. The rule recognized that PWC use might continue in certain National
Recreation Areas (NRAs), such as Lake Mead and Glen Canyon, where the 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 PWCs from the 21 areas unless the Park Service initiated parkspecific rules and environmental analyses. PWCs could continue to operate during the
rulemaking process, which was to be completed by specified deadlines.
The NPS has been working on such park-specific rules and analyses for the 21 areas.
For 7 of them, the NPS lifted PWC bans and authorized their use in designated areas: Lake
Mead NRA, Assateague National Seashore, Glen Canyon NRA’s Lake Powell, Lake
Meredith NRA, Amistad NRA, Lake Roosevelt NRA, and Chickasaw NRA. Nine of the
areas are working on environmental reviews and special regulations to allow PWC use. The
NPS has proposed rules to re-open 2 of them: Bighorn Canyon NRA (May 5, 2004), and Fire
Island National Seashore (August 23, 2004). The agency prohibited PWC use in another 5
of the 21 areas (effective April 22, 2002) that had completed an environmental review
process and favored PWC bans: the Cape Cod and Cumberland Island National Seashores,
Delaware Water Gap and Whiskeytown NRAs, and Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. On
April 19, 2002, a federal judge denied an injunction sought by PWC users and manufacturers
to overturn these bans.
Legislative Activity. H.R. 1831, introduced April 12, 2003, would extend the grace
period for PWC use in Glen Canyon NRA, and H.R. 3621 would extend the grace period for
PWC use in Lake Roosevelt NRA. No action has been taken.
Snowmobiles (by Kori Calvert)
Background. On April 26, 2000, the NPS announced the strict enforcement of
existing, long-standing regulations on snowmobile use which would have substantially
reduced snowmobile use in those 42 national parks units that allowed recreational
snowmobiling. Exceptions included Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, park
units in Alaska, Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota, and access to private land within or
adjacent to a park. The snowmobile prohibition was both praised and reviled in the press and
prompted several congressional hearings. By July 2000 the Interior Department had backed
away from its strict enforcement stance — rather, there would be no snowmobile ban in park
units pending formal rulemaking, which to date has not occurred for parks generally.
Administrative Actions. Regulatory action to restrict or allow snowmobile use has
centered on Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks and the John D. Rockefeller, Jr.
Memorial Parkway. The Clinton Administration issued rules on snowmobile use in these
areas (66 Fed. Reg. 7260, Jan. 22, 2001) to incrementally eliminate snowmobile use, with
limited exceptions, in favor of multi-passenger “snow coaches” by the 2003/2004 winter
season. The Bush Administration announced in April 2001 that it would allow the rule to
stand. A subsequent lawsuit settlement agreement (June 29, 2001) required NPS to prepare
a supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS; 66 Fed. Reg. 39197, July 27, 2001)
on snowmobile use in these areas and to decide whether to keep or modify the ban. The
resulting SEIS outlined a controversial preferred alternative to allow continued snowmobile
use within specific phased-in parameters (68 Fed. Reg. 8616, Feb. 24, 2003). These included
daily limits on snowmobile numbers; use of cleaner, 4-stroke engines; commercially-guided
access for up to 80% of all snowmobiles; NPS-certified guides and a reservation system for
the remaining 20% non-commercial entries; development of snowcoach technology for
winter transit; and monitoring of effects of noise and pollution on park resources.
The Record of Decision (ROD) ([http://www.nps.gov/grte/winteruse/FinalROD.pdf])
announced on March 25, 2003 and a final rule issued December 11, 2003 (68 Fed. Reg.
69267) reversed the snowmobile ban. The rule establishes daily snowmobile entry limits in
each of the three areas. It outlines an “adaptive management strategy” to allow park
managers to take remedial action if park resource monitoring indicates unacceptable impacts
from air and noise pollution. Actions could include adjustments to Best Available
Technology (BAT) requirements or daily entry limits, road closures, or timed entries. Plan
proponents characterize the ROD as an attempt to achieve equilibrium between motorized
and non-motorized recreation, while opponents note that the plan identifies the Clinton
Administration snowcoaches-only policy as the “environmentally preferred alternative.”
Conservation organizations challenged the proposed regulations. On December 16,
2003, the day before Yellowstone’s winter season opened, D.C. District Court Judge Emmet
Sullivan struck down the Bush Administration final rule (see [http://www.nps.gov/yell/
planvisit/winteruse/index.htm]). His decision restored the Clinton Administration
snowmobile ban, effective with the 2004-2005 winter season, and reduced snowmobile
entries for the 2003-2004 winter season by about 50 percent from historic levels. The D.C.
District Court (December 29, 2003) and the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals (January 13,
2004) denied motions to stay Judge Sullivan’s decision. The judge’s opinion also required
NPS to re-examine the impact of trail grooming on bison and other wildlife, and to respond
to a 1999 rulemaking petition by Bluewater Network to ban snowmobiling in the entire
National Park System by February 17, 2004.
Both the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association (ISMA) and the state of
Wyoming petitioned the Federal District Court for Wyoming to overturn the Clinton
Administration rules. On February 10, 2004, Judge Clarence Brimmer issued a temporary
injunction against implementing the Clinton-era plan (see [http://www.nps.gov/grte/
winteruse/winteruse_021104.htm]). He ordered the Park Service to issue temporary
snowmobile rules for the remaining 2004 winter season ending March 14, 2004. NPS issued
these rules on February 11, allowing 780 snowmobiles to enter Yellowstone daily, a 287
machine increase; and 140 snowmobiles to enter Grand Teton and Rockefeller Parkway, a
90 machine increase. On February 17, 2004, the Park Service denied the 1999 rulemaking
petition to ban snowmobiling throughout the National Park System.
On March 10, 2004, with only days remaining in the snowmobile winter season, the 10th
Circuit Court in Denver denied an appeal of Judge Brimmer’s decision, determining that the
appellants did not make an “adequate showing of irreparable harm.” NPS announced its
decision to initiate a temporary winter use management plan for the three parks on June 2,
2004 (see [http://www.nps.gov/yell/press/0448.htm]). NPS asked the Wyoming federal court
to stay its case until new rules are published. Meanwhile, on June 30, 2004, Judge Sullivan
ordered the Park Service to issue its new snowmobile rules at least 30 days before trail
grooming for the winter season begins.
The NPS released its Temporary Winter Use Plans Environmental Assessment on
August 19, 2004 (see [http://www.nps.gov/yell/planvisit/winteruse/index.htm]). It highlights
a preferred alternative (Alternative 4) to allow up to 720 commercially guided Yellowstone
snowmobile entries daily during the winter seasons for up to three years while NPS conducts
studies on snowmobile impacts on park resources. Commercial guides would not be required
for the 140 daily snowmobile entries to Grand Teton and the Rockefeller Parkway. The plan
includes BAT requirements for all snowmobiles, with minor exceptions. NPS issued a
proposed rule to implement the interim winter use plan on September 7, 2004 (69 Fed. Reg.
54072). Meanwhile, on September 2, 2004, Judge Brimmer conducted a hearing on whether
to strike down the 2001 Clinton rule. In a separate final rule issued September 2, 2004 (69
Fed. Reg. 53626), NPS eliminated three of four designated snowmobile routes in Rocky
Mountain National Park. (For additional information, see CRS Report RL31149,
Snowmobiles: Environmental Standards and Access to National Parks, by James E.
Legislative Activity. Voting 224-198, on June 17, 2004, the House rejected an
amendment to the FY2005 Interior Appropriations bill (H.R. 4568) to reinstate the phaseout
of snowmobiles at the Yellowstone area parks. House and Senate bills (H.R. 1130 and S.
965), entitled The Yellowstone Protection Act, require implementation of the Clinton
Administration final rulemaking to phase out snowmobiles in Yellowstone and Grand Teton
National Parks and John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway. No action has been taken
on these bills.
During the first session of the 108th Congress, the House considered but did not adopt
floor amendments related to snowmobile use in parks. On a tie vote (210-210) on July 17,
2003, the House failed to approve an FY2004 Interior Appropriations (H.R. 2691)
amendment that essentially would have halted snowmobile use at Yellowstone and Grand
Teton National Parks and John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkway, as stipulated in the
Clinton Administration rule. A House amendment intending to provide funds for the NPS
to purchase snow coaches was offered on September 4, 2003, to the FY2004 Transportation,
Treasury appropriations bill (H.R. 2989) but was subsequently withdrawn.
Aircraft Overflights (by Carol Hardy Vincent and Kori Calvert)
Background. Grand Canyon National Park has been the focal point of a conflict
between groups seeking to limit overflights of national parks 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. An October
3, 2002 Senate hearing explored why the act has not been fully implemented.
The National Parks Air Tour Management Act of 2000 (Title VIII, P.L. 106-181,
hereafter “Air Tour Act”) regulates commercial air tours at most other park units. It requires
the Federal Aviation Administration (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 requires the
FAA to establish quiet aircraft technology standards for the Grand Canyon within one year
and to designate Grand Canyon routes or corridors for aircraft and helicopters using quiet
technology. Quiet aircraft would not be subject to existing caps on Canyon overflights.
President Clinton directed the Secretary of Transportation to develop regulations to
address the impacts of transportation, including overflights, on national parks (61 Fed. Reg.
18229, April 22, 1996), and set 2008 as the date to substantially restore natural quiet at
Grand Canyon National Park. That mandate, and congressional directives, have segued into
an ongoing and contentious rulemaking process.
Administrative Actions. Three FAA actions affecting Grand Canyon have been
controversial. First, a “limitations rule” capped the annual number of commercial air tour
overflights at Grand Canyon (effective May 4, 2000). An August, 2002 appeals court
decision directed the FAA to use NPS “natural quiet” standards and to consider commercial
flight-generated noise impacts in developing air tour overflight regulations. Also, the NPS
clarified that restoration of natural quiet for the day means on any given day (68 Fed. Reg.
63129, Nov. 7, 2003), which is viewed as likely to lead to increased quiet. The air tour
industry seeks exemptions to air tour caps, curfews, and air route restrictions if quiet aircraft
technology is used. Second, the “airspace rule,” imposes increased flight-free zones and
restrictive routing over the Canyon (65 Fed. Reg. 17736 and 17708, April 4, 2000). New
routes and airspace restrictions for the Canyon’s west end Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA)
took effect April 19, 2001. To address air tour operators’ safety concerns, east end SFRA
airspace changes have been delayed (68 Fed. Reg. 9496) until February 20, 2006.
Third, on March 24, 2003, the FAA published a supplemental notice of proposed
rulemaking (68 Fed. Reg. 14276) to establish a standard for quiet technology for certain
aircraft in commercial air tour operations over Grand Canyon. The goal is to help the NPS
achieve its mandate (under P.L. 100-91) to provide for the substantial restoration of natural
quiet at Grand Canyon, and to determine the role of quiet technology in that regard. The
proposal also seeks to comply with an FAA mandate (under P.L. 106-181) to designate
reasonably achievable requirements for aircraft to be considered as using quiet aircraft
technology. Currently, the agency is formulating a final rule.
Other regulatory actions affect commercial air tours at park units. The FAA issued an
Air Tour Act final rule (67 Fed. Reg. 65661, October 25, 2002,) to complete the definition
of “commercial air tour operation.” The rule required air tour operators to apply for
authority, by January 23, 2003, to fly over national park and abutting tribal lands. The FAA
received applications for operating authority for commercial air tours over 107 of the 388
park units as well as six tribal lands. This application process triggers the development of
an Air Tour Management Plan (ATMP) by the FAA and NPS for each unit where none exists
[http://www.atmp.faa.gov/default.htm]. The purpose of the plans is to mitigate or prevent
any adverse impacts of commercial air tours on 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). Currently, the FAA and NPS
are developing ATMPs for nine areas.
Additionally, an FAA final rule (68 Fed. Reg. 60832), effective October 26, 2003,
continues indefinitely existing safety requirements for air tours conducted in Hawaii. Using
the Hawaii rule as a model, on October 22, 2003, the FAA issued a proposed rule (68 Fed.
Reg. 60572) providing safety standards for commercial air tours nationally, including over
Grand Canyon and other park units. The proposed rule is intended to increase the safety of
tours by requiring certification of air tour operators and by establishing safety standards,
including regarding low level flights, over water flights, and visibility limits. It supplements
existing authorities governing tours over park units by providing safety requirements. The
proposal has been controversial. Many pilots and flight organizations as well as some
Members of Congress have opposed it, asserting that the cost of compliance would make it
infeasible for many to continue operating and that existing regulations are sufficient to keep
air tours safe. The FAA estimates that 700 small operators would not be able to comply with
the regulations and thus might cease to provide services. The National Transportation Safety
Board, which has recommended increased safety standards, has criticized the proposed
merger of helicopter and airplane traffic as increasing the chance of collisions. The FAA is
assessing public comment on the proposal.
Legislative Activity. P.L. 108-176 directed the Secretary of Transportation to issue
a final rule, no later than January 2005, establishing standards for quiet technology that are
“reasonably achievable” at Grand Canyon. It also established a mediation process for
rulemaking disputes. Conferees (H.R. 2115) stated that they were “greatly disappointed with
the lack of progress” the NPS and FAA have made in managing the impacts on national
parks of noise from air tours. They directed the agencies to expeditiously and collaboratively
develop ATMPs and determine environmental impacts of air tours.
On July 22, 2004, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on National
Parks held a hearing on implementation of the Air Tour Act. FAA and NPS witnesses stated
that the agencies have finalized a Memorandum of Understanding guiding cooperative efforts
on implementing the act. The agencies are developing an overall implementation plan
covering the preparation of environmental documents, prioritization of park units, and role
of agency personnel. According to agency and other witnesses, ongoing issues include
methods to establish sound levels and assess potential impacts on park units, guidelines for
determining quiet technology, the accuracy of data on flights provided by air tour operators,
the issuance of interim operating authority to new tour operators, funding and timing for
completing ATMPs, and the relationship and roles of the agencies.
Recreational Fee Demonstration Program (by Carol Hardy Vincent)
Background. Congress is considering whether to extend, amend, or make permanent
the Recreational Fee Demonstration Program (“Fee Demo,” 16 U.S.C. §460l - 6a note). The
program allows the four major federal land management agencies — NPS, Bureau of Land
Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, and Forest Service — to test the feasibility of
recovering some of the costs of operating recreation sites. Each agency can establish any
number of fee projects and spend the revenue collected without further appropriation; at least
80% of the funds are to be retained at the collecting site. The NPS typically collects far more
revenues than the other agencies combined, with revenues estimated at $123 million for each
of FY2004 and FY2005. The agencies may spend the money on the repair and maintenance
backlog; interpretation; signs; habitat and facility enhancement; resource preservation;
maintenance and operation, including the costs of fee collection; and law enforcement.
Originally a three-year trial authorized in FY1996, the program has been extended through
December 2005 for fee collection with the revenue available to be spent through FY2008.
The agencies generally favor Fee Demo because it generates substantial revenue and
allows discretion in determining fee locations, setting fees, and using the revenues. Critics
counter that the fees discriminate against those less able to pay, are a double tax on the
recreating public, and, together with other agency fees, confuse the public. The Forest
Service’s Fee Demo Program has received most of these criticisms.
Administrative Actions. The Bush Administration supports making the Fee Demo
Program permanent. The Interagency Recreation Fee Leadership Council, which facilitates
coordination and consistency among the agencies on recreation fees, has developed seven
guiding principles for a permanent program (see [http://www.doi.gov/ocl/2002/s2473.htm]).
The Administration has testified in support of an interagency program, a new fee structure
to replace entrance and use fees, a single interagency national pass, and site-specific and
regional multi-entity passes. The Administration supports using a large portion of the NPS
collections to address the deferred maintenance backlog. In the past, approximately 60% of
NPS Fee Demo funds have been allocated for the backlog, including new construction that
may result from deferred maintenance. The NPS has asserted that there may be a need to
shift the current 80%/20% split in funds to increase monies for deferred maintenance.
Legislative Activity. H.R. 3283 would establish a permanent recreation fee program
for the four federal land management agencies as well as the Bureau of Reclamation. The
bill outlines criteria for establishing fees; authorizes basic and expanded recreation fees as
well as special recreation permit fees; provides for the distribution and use of collected fees;
and creates an interagency recreation pass, among other provisions. On September 22, 2004,
the bill was amended and ordered reported by the Committee on Resources. While the text
of the amended bill is not yet publicly available, the committee reportedly agreed to
amendments detailing the process for setting fees and receiving public participation. For
instance, the bill would create recreational resource advisory committees in each state to
consider fee structures and allow local communities to receive a portion of the funds
collected. Another bill, S. 1107, would establish a permanent recreation fee program for the
National Park Service only. The Secretary of the Interior is to establish fees based on an
analysis of factors, including benefits and services to the visitor and comparable fees, and
may allow discounted or free admission or use. The bill seeks to coordinate fees collected
under the recreation fee program with fees collected for other purposes. In general, 80% of
fees are to be returned to the collecting site, but not less than 90% of fees can be retained by
areas with revenue sharing agreements with states. The Secretary determines how the Park
Service uses the balance of the collections, and no more than 15% of revenues can be used
to administer the program. The Secretary is to report to Congress every three years on the
implementation of the program. On May 19, 2004, the bill passed the Senate.
A hearing of the Public Lands and Forests Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on
Energy and Natural Resources, held April 21, 2004, focused on the implementation of Fee
Demo by the Forest Service and BLM. DOI and FS officials supported an interagency
program and discussed changes made in agency implementation to improve the program.
Other witnesses testified on the shortcomings and successes of Fee Demo and whether and
how to create a permanent program. One witness testified against access fees and another
favored sharing FS collections with counties. Also, a September 17, 2003, hearing by the
Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health of the House Committee on Natural Resources
focused on the Forest Service’s Fee Demo program.
The Fee Demo Program was extended for 15 months (through December 2005) for fee
collection and for one year (through September 2008) for fee expenditures (P.L. 108-108).
The program was extended through an appropriations law to allow the authorizing
committees more time to consider whether to create a permanent program, according to the
Appropriations Committee. Also, a GAO report (GAO-02-10) found that agencies in the
program could increase innovation in setting and collecting fees, improve program
coordination and consistency, and establish performance measures for program managers.
The agencies continue to make administrative changes to address concerns.
The National Trails System (by Sandra L. Johnson)
Background. On October 2, 1968, the National Trails System Act (P.L. 90-543),
authorizing the National Trails System (NTS), became law (see [http://www.nps.gov/nts/]).
With the addition of the newly-designated Old Spanish National Historic Trail, the federal
portion of the trails system consists of 23 national trails (8 scenic trails and 15 historic trails)
covering almost 40,000 miles, more than 800 recreation trails, and 2 connecting and side
trails. More than three decades since the trails system began, issues remain regarding
funding, quality, and quantity of trails.
Administrative Actions. On June 5, 2004, the Administration designated 27 new
National Recreation Trails (NRTs) in15 states totaling 982 miles, as part of its “America’s
Public Lands Get Fit with US” initiative. These newly designated NRTs are part of an
ongoing effort to promote community partnerships and to foster innovative ways to
encourage physical fitness. Since 2001, the Administration has designated 91 NRTs, totaling
more 3,022 miles. Also, the NPS coordinates a traveling exhibition to commemorate the
Bicentennial of Lewis and Clark’s epic expedition of the West to find an overland route to
the Pacific Ocean.
Legislative Activity. The Federal Surface Transportation Program is a major
funding source for trails, shared use paths, and related projects in the United States. Prior
to 1991, highway funds were to be used only for highway projects and selected bicycle
transportation facilities. Many trail projects paths became eligible to receive federal highway
program funds with the passage of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of
1991 (ISTEA; P.L. 102-240), subsequently reauthorized as the Transportation Equity Act for
the 21st Century (TEA-21, P.L. 105-178). TEA-21 was to expire on September 30, 2003;
however, Congress has passed several extensions to continue funding for highway programs.
The most recent (P.L. 108-280) extended funding through September 30, 2004. S. 2822 has
been introduced to extend funding through March 31, 2005.
ISTEA established the National Recreational Trails Funding Program as a stateadministered, federal-aid grant program to provide funds to states to develop and maintain
recreational trails and facilities for nonmotorized and motorized recreational and diverse trail
uses. Under TEA-21, the program was reauthorized and renamed the Recreational Trails
Program (RTP). TEA-21 authorized $30 million for the RTP for FY1998, $40 million for
FY1999, and $50 million annually for FY2000-FY2003.
Currently, Congress is considering legislation to reauthorize the RTP, as part of broad
Highway Trust Fund legislation. H.R. 3550 would fund the RTP at $53 million for FY2004,
$70 million for FY2005, $80 million for FY2006, $90 million for FY2007, $100 million for
FY2008, and $110 million for FY2009. A conference was held on the bill on June 9 and 23
and July 7, 2004. In earlier action, the Senate passed its reauthorization bill (S. 1072) to fund
the RTP at $60 million per year through FY2009, then subsequently incorporated this bill
into H.R. 3550.
H.R. 4865 has been introduced to amend the National Trails System Act by adding
National Discovery Trails as a new category of long-distance trails, and designating the
American Discovery Trail (ADT) as the nation’s first coast-to-coast National Discovery
Trail. If designated by Congress, National Discovery Trails would be multi-modal and interurban, and protection of the routes would lie primarily with state and local jurisdictions.
There currently are four categories of trails created under the National Trails System Act:
national scenic, national historic, national recreation, and side-and-connecting. National
scenic and national historic trails are created by Congress. H.R. 4865 would establish the
ADT, stretching for more than 6,000 miles across 15 states, as the only coast-to-coast,
nonmotorized recreational trail. The ADT would connect several national scenic, historic,
and recreation trails, as well as many other local and regional trails. P.L. 102-461 had
directed the Secretary of the Interior to study the feasibility and desirability of adding the
ADT to the NTS. The resulting study indicated that the ADT had unique attributes to
possibly qualify as a fifth category of national trail. The 104th-107th Congresses considered,
but did not enact, ADT legislation.
Two national trails bills passed the Senate during the first session of the 108th Congress.
S. 635 would direct the Secretary of the Interior to update the feasibility and suitability
studies of four national historic trails: the California, Oregon, Pony Express, and Mormon
Pioneer National Historic Trails. S. 651 would amend the NTS Act to clarify federal
authority to acquire land from willing sellers for certain trails. It would limit land
acquisitions along the Oregon, Mormon Pioneer, Lewis and Clark, Iditarod, and Nez Perce
National Historic Trails and the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail to an average of
not more than one-quarter mile on either side of the trail. The measure would provide federal
land managers the authority to acquire land beyond the one-quarter width for the North
Country, Ice Age, and Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trails. A House companion bill,
the National Trails System Willing Seller Act (H.R. 3860), was introduced to provide willing
seller authority for the nine trails which do not have land acquisition authority.
Two other national trails bills were among those examined at a May 6, 2003 hearing of
the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks. S. 324 seeks to
clarify federal authority to acquire land from willing sellers for certain trails. It would give
acquisition authority to the Ice Age and the North Country NSTs. S. 634, authorizing a study
of the feasibility of designating the Trail of the Ancients, was not supported at the hearing
by the NPS since “the roads proposed for this trail are highways built by the States to connect
the various sites....” The area may be studied for possible designation as a National Heritage
Area instead of a trail. Some of the hearing testimony addressed the impact on private
property rights and development, including oil and gas drilling, of possible federal
restrictions on activities within view of a designated trail.
Measures introduced in the 108th Congress to designate, study, or extend specific trails
in the National Trails System are shown in the following table. Also, H.R. 4944 and S. 2841
designate the Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail apart from that system. Additional
bills related to the National Trails System more generally are listed in the “Legislation”
Lewis and Clark NHT Amendments Act of 2003
Mississippi River Trail Study Act
Pioneer National Historic Trails Studies Act
Pioneer National Historic Trails Studies Act
Referred to House
Forks of the Ohio NST Study Act of 2003
Trail of Tears National Historic Trail
El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historic
NHT or NST Study of the Arizona Trail
NHT Study of the Trail of the Ancients
P.L. 108-176, H.R. 2115 (Young, Don)
Contains a provision directing the Secretary of Transportation to issue a final rule, no
later than January 2005, establishing standards for quiet technology that are “reasonably
achievable” at Grand Canyon National Park. Signed into law December 12, 2003.
P.L. 108-280, H.R. 4916 (Young, Don)
Extends surface transportation funding through September 30, 2004. Signed into law
July 30, 2004.
H.R. 1130 (Holt), S. 965 (Reid)
Requires implementation of the final rule to phase out snowmobile use in Yellowstone
and Grand Teton National Parks and John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway. H.R. 1130
introduced March 6, 2003; referred to Committee on Resources. S. 965 introduced May 1,
2003; referred to Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
H.R. 1517 (Graves)
Amends the Land and Water Conservation Fund to limit the use of funds to
maintenance needs of the land management agencies and to require those agencies to reduce
backlogged maintenance. Introduced March 31, 2003; referred to Committee on Resources
and Committee on Agriculture. Subcommittee hearing held March 25, 2004.
H.R. 1831 (Renzi)
Extends the grace period for personal watercraft use in Glen Canyon NRA until October
31, 2003. Introduced April 12, 2003; referred to Committee on Resources.
H.R. 2088, H.R. 3550, and H.R. 3994 (Young, Don); S. 1072 (Inhofe)
Reauthorize the Recreational Trails Program through FY2009, as part of Highway Trust
Fund legislation. H.R. 2088 introduced May 14, 2003; referred to nine committees.
Subcommittee hearings held May 2003. Conference held on H.R. 3550, June 9, June 23, and
July 7, 2004. H.R. 3994 ordered reported by Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
March 24, 2004. S. 1072 incorporated by Senate into H.R. 3550, May 19, 2004.
H.R. 3283 (Regula)
Establishes a permanent recreation fee program for four federal land management
agencies and the Bureau of Reclamation. Introduced October 8, 2003; referred to Committee
on Resources and Committee on Agriculture. September 22, 2004, ordered reported by
Committee on Resources.
H.R. 3532 (Ryun)
Amends the National Trails System Act to improve the acquisition of railroad rights-ofway for interim use as public trails by applying the procedures that govern other federal real
estate acquisitions. Introduced November 19, 2003; referred to Committee on Resources.
H.R. 3621 (Nethercutt)
Extends the grace period for personal watercraft use in Lake Roosevelt National
Recreation Area until December 31, 2004. Introduced November 21, 2003; referred to
Committee on Resources.
H.R. 3860 (Peterson, John E.)
Amends the National Trails System Act to clarify federal authority for acquiring land
from willing sellers for the majority of the trails in the system. Introduced February 26,
2004; referred to Committee on Resources.
H.R. 4865 (Bereuter)
Amends the National Trails System Act to create a new category of trails called
National Discovery Trails, and designates the American Discovery Trail as the first such
trail. Introduced July 20, 2004; referred to Committee on Resources.
S. 324 (Levin)
Amends the National Trails System Act to clarify federal authority for acquiring land
from willing sellers for two NSTs. Introduced February 6, 2003; referred to Committee on
Energy and Natural Resources. Subcommittee hearing held May 6, 2003.
S. 651 (Allard)
The National Trails System Willing Seller Act seeks to clarify federal authority for
acquiring land from willing sellers for four NSTs and five NHTs. Passed Senate July 17,
2003. Referred to House Committee on Resources July 18, 2003.
S. 917 (Murkowski)
Requires that tax revenues from fuel purchased for snowmachine use be used for winter
motorized access trails. Introduced April 11, 2003; referred to Committee on Environment
and Public Works.
S. 1107 (Thomas)
Establishes a permanent recreation fee program for the National Park Service. Passed
Senate May 19, 2004. Referred to House Committee on Resources May 20, 2004.
S. 2822 (Reid)
Provides an extension of programs funded out of the Highway Trust Fund. Introduced
September 21, 2004; referred to Committee on Environment and Public Works.
CONGRESSIONAL HEARINGS, REPORTS, AND DOCUMENTS
U.S. Congress, House Committee on Resources, Subcommittee on National Parks,
Recreation, and Public Lands, Fiscal Year 2005 Budget for the National Park Service
and Bureau of Land Management and Ongoing Efforts to Reduce Maintenance
Backlogs, H. Hrg. 108-86, 108th Cong., 2nd Sess., Feb. 26, 2004, Wash., D.C., 2004.
——The Impact Land Acquisition Has on the National Park Service Maintenance Backlog,
Park Service Management Priorities, and Local Communities, H. Hrg. 108-61, 108th
Cong., 1st Sess., Sept. 27, 2003, Sherman Oaks, CA.
U.S. Congress, Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, National Trails System
Willing Seller Act, S.Rept. 108-95, 108th Cong., 1st Sess., July 11, 2003, Wash., DC,
——Pioneer National Historic Trails Studies Act, S.Rept. 108-64, 108th Cong., 1st Sess.,
June 8, 2003, Wash., DC, 2003.
——Recreational Fee Authority Act of 2004, S.Rept. 108-233, 108th Cong., 2nd Sess., March
9, 2004, Wash., DC, 2004.
——Subcommittee on National Parks, Land Acquisition From Willing Sellers; Trail of the
Ancients; Study of Four National Historic Trails; and Willing Sellers for the Majority
of the Trails in the System, S. Hrg. 108-47, 108th Cong., 1st Sess., May 6, 2003, Wash.,
——National Parks Backlog, S. Hrg. 108-94, 108th Cong., 1st Sess., July 8, 2003, Wash.,
——Sleeping Bear Dunes; Recreational Fee Demonstration; and Schools in Yosemite
National Park, S. Hrg. 108-193, 108th Cong., 1st Sess., Sept. 9, 2003, Wash., DC, 2003.
FOR ADDITIONAL READING
CRS Report RL32306, Appropriations for FY2005: Interior and Related Agencies,
coordinated by Carol Hardy Vincent and Susan Boren.
CRS Report RL32393, Federal Land Management Agencies: Background on Land and
Resources Management, coordinated by Carol Hardy Vincent.
CRS Issue Brief IB10126, Heritage Areas: Background, Proposals, and Current Issues, by
Carol Hardy Vincent and David Whiteman.
CRS Report RS21503, Land and Water Conservation Fund: Current Status and Issues, by
Jeffrey A. Zinn.
CRS Report RS20902, National Monument Issues, by Carol Hardy Vincent.
CRS Report RS20158, National Park System: Establishing New Units, by Carol Hardy
CRS Report RL31149, Snowmobiles: Environmental Standards and Access to National
Parks, by James E. McCarthy.
U.S. General Accounting Office, Information on Forest Service Management of Revenue
from the Fee Demonstration Program, GAO-03-470, Washington, DC, April 2003.
——Federal Lands: Agencies Need to Assess the Impact of Personal Watercraft and
Snowmobile Use, GAO/RCED-00-243, Washington, DC, September 2000.