America's Renewable Resources: Historical Trends and Current Challenges

By Kenneth D. Frederick; Roger A. Sedjo | Go to book overview

age and some which it continues to manage itself. Such land probably is as protected from commercial development as any federal wilderness.

Both the PCAO and the task force of the Domestic Policy Council advocate decentralization of responsibility in the provision of recreation. If the growth in recreation demand is now primarily local, as recent trends suggest, then the best way to meet the demand is through local providers--that is, local government and private landowners. That, at any rate, is the message of the reports of these groups; although the message is more explicit in the task force report. These sentiments, however, apply mainly to increments to recreation capacity. Undoubtedly the federal government will continue to play a major role in the provision of opportunities for outdoor recreation. Nonetheless, neither the PCAO nor the task force envisions major additions to the federal recreation estate.

One special aspect of the growing interest in decentralization is the effect government actions have on private suppliers of outdoor recreation--a problem especially that concerned the task force. It would be desirable to have a greater role for private people and organizations in the supply of outdoor recreational opportunities. Some states have passed laws relieving private property owners of legal liability to recreationists if no fee or charge is made. Although this may help to reduce liability in some instances, it removes any financial incentive for resource owners to provide or allow outdoor recreation on their properties. Having low entrance fees or none at all for public areas and public facilities results in difficult competition for private parties trying to make a profit from the provision of similar opportunities. Rhetoric about the desirability of increased private provision of outdoor recreational opportunities is often negated by specific managerial decisions about public areas.

Judging from the growing number of states resorting to subsidization of private landowners to preserve wildlife habitat or allow recreational use, it appears that wildlife authorities generally regard subsidization as effective. However, even in those instances where the subsidy appears to be successful, it is often difficult to determine whether landowners are engaging in the desired behavior because of the subsidy. Perhaps such actions would have been undertaken regardless of the subsidy.

Although interested parties seem to agree that future additions to recreation capacity will be locally owned and operated, that does not necessarily mean they will be locally financed. It is on this issue that the PCAO and the task force of the Domestic Policy Council disagree. The PCAO came out strongly for federal funding, calling for the creation of a trust fund- expansion of the Land and Water Conservation Fund- that would provide $1 billion in grants per year. This fund, furthermore, would be insulated from the vagaries of the budget process. It would be used to make grants to the states and localities, perhaps on a matching basis, to expand recreation facilities. Legislation to expand the Land and Water Conservation Fund in this fashion has now been introduced in Congress, but not yet acted upon ( Siehl, 1988). In contrast, the task force took the position that the funding, like operation, should be left to the local authorities as well.

These issues are unlikely to be resolved until a better understanding is obtained of the recent leveling out of recreation use of federal sites--especially its causes and whether it is likely to continue. Such an understanding will require research and, quite possibly, time so that more data can be collected. Regardless of whether future demand remains stagnant or resumes its historical climb, recreation will remain one of the most important and valuable uses of renewable resources.


Notes

We would like to thank Sarah Bales and Sari Radin for their outstanding research assistance.

-279-

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