Park Service extends comment period on entrance fee increases

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State attorneys general express strong opposition to increase

In October, the National Park Service proposed to establish peak-season entrance fees for the 17 most-visited parks. For example, the proposal almost triples the single-vehicle entrance fee at Joshua Tree National Park.

Last week, the NPS extended the public comment period, from Nov. 23 to Dec. 22.

Also, on Nov. 22, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, along with 10 other attorneys general, wrote a letter expressing the opposition to the fee increase. In a letter to Michael Reynolds, the acting director of the NPS, Becerra and his counterparts wrote, “We cannot let the most popular and awe-inspiring national parks become places only for the wealthy. As Americans, we are all public landowners.”

They recommended the NPS “… scrap the proposed fee increases and begin anew in reviewing the ways to ensure adequate funding to address the deferred maintenance backlog at our national parks without increasing barriers to access.”

The state officials made three primary arguments against the fee increase. The first was the increase was “unlikely to address the deferred maintenance backlog.”

They focused on the total maintenance backlog, which exceeds $11 billion, and the fee increases, which are estimated to result in about $70 million of new revenue annually. With no increase in maintenance projects or costs, the NPS would collect $7 billion in a century. The backlog would still have a $4-billion balance remaining.

The AGs then noted that the Trump administration had already proposed a “$296.6 million reduction in the NPS budget for fiscal year 2018.” This seemed inconsistent with the argument that the NPS needs more revenue for maintenance projects.

Also, the AGs argue that the public might respond to the entrance-fee increase by shifting to the purchase of special annual passes, such as the “America the Beautiful.” This would reduce the net entrance fee increase.

Overall, they are concerned that these increases will lead to fewer people visiting the premier national parks. These public lands would become inaccessible to many U.S. citizens.

For the second point, they argue that the NPS has not met past Congressional criteria to justify proposed fee increases.

“As a legal matter, the Service has not offered a reasoned explanation for its proposed fee increases and its actions are inconsistent with the laws that govern our national park system.,” they said in the letter to Reynolds.

“Unlike prior fee increases or changes established by the Service, the current proposal fails to include any analysis or evidence that the National Park Service has considered or met the criteria set forth by Congress,” the official added.

The third point the legal officials made was this proposal did not provide for adequate public comment or local outreach.

“Fee increases by the Service … when undertaken, have typically been implemented with detailed analysis and robust public outreach. For example, in 2014 and 2015, … the Service encouraged individual park units to conduct their own public outreach to assess public reaction to fee increases, and such outreach included individualized press releases and social media posts from specific parks.”

This effort includes little local efforts and is primarily led from the Washington office.

In Southern California, the fee for one vehicle to enter Joshua Tree National Park between Jan. 1 and May 31 will almost triple, from $25 to $70. During the other seven months, the vehicle-entry fee will remain at $25. For individuals not in a vehicle, the fee will increase from $12 per person to $30. Entrance fees for motorcycles and the annual pass also increase.

Individuals who wish to submit their comments electronically, should visit https://parkplanning.nps.gov/document.cfm?parkID=442&projectID=75576&documentID=83652 or written comments may be mailed to 1849 C Street, NW, Mail stop:2346, Washington, D.C. 20240.

The National Park Service also is proposing entry- and permit-fee adjustments for commercial-tour operators. The proposal would increase entry fees for commercial operators and standardize commercial use authorization requirements for road-based commercial tours.

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