Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Structural Equation Modeling of Users' Response to Wilderness Recreation Fees

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Structural Equation Modeling of Users' Response to Wilderness Recreation Fees

Article excerpt

Introduction

In 1996, the U.S. Congress established the Recreation Fee Demonstration Program which directed some federal land management agencies to examine the feasibility of recovering a portion of the costs of operating and maintaining recreation programs through expanded use of recreation fees. This new policy represents a significant break from past fee collection practices, which have generally only allowed fees to be charged for developed recreation areas. Until this most recent policy change, fees have not been charged for wilderness access and dispersed camping. In response to the new policy, the U.S. Forest Service in early 1997 selected the Desolation Wilderness in northern California as a demonstration site to evaluate public response to wilderness use fees.

The application of the fee policy to wilderness warrants special attention for two reasons originating in the relatively unique context of wilderness visa-vis other federal recreation areas. One aspect of wilderness already alluded to is that it does not have a history of use fees (although there have been administrative fees for permits in some places). The second factor is that the very "wildness" of wilderness is seemingly challenged by a fee-for-access policy. Consequently, the purpose of this study is to examine support for wilderness use fees using a structural equation approach to explain users' response to fees as a function of previous experience, residential proximity, income, past fee payment history, perception of wilderness conditions, and perceived benefits of fees.

Background

Recreation Fee Research

The issue of increasing and expanding recreation fees on federal lands in the United States has a fairly long history Johnson, 1991; Wellman, 1987). Consequently, numerous studies have attempted to analyze the potential impact of fees and, for the purposes of this paper, can be grouped into three categories: economic efficiency and revenue impacts, distributional impacts, and perceived fairness of fees for public recreation services and facilities.

Economic and marketing research on recreation fees has addressed two closely related issues: economic efficiency (Rosenthal, Loomis, & Peterson, 1984; Walsh, Peterson, & McKean, 1989) and the impact of fee increases on revenue (Becker, Berrier & Barker, 1985; Fesenmaier & Schroeder, 1983). These studies have generally argued that fees tend to increase economic efficiency; that is they maximize benefits to society (Leuschner, Cook, Rog@ genbuck, & Oderwald, 1987; Rosenthal et al., 1984; Walsh et al., 1989). Similarly, from a business or marketing approach, an important consideration in pricing has been the degree to which consumers will accept higher prices to increase revenues. Marketing analysts often consider such factors as product uniqueness and availability of substitutes and employ the concept of brand or product loyalty to evaluate pricing policies (Upshaw, 1995). The presumption is that loyal customers are more likely to absorb higher prices. Moreover, Walsh et al. (1989) note that visitation impacts due to price increases at recreation sites tend to be small because, for most recreation sites, people readily absorb the additional (marginal) cost of an increased fee which is small relative to the total cost of a trip to the site. This is especially the case with natural resource-based recreation where there is often a fairly high travel cost (greater travel distance) involved.

Perhaps even more serious from a social policy standpoint are the distributional impacts for recreation fees (Leuschner et al., 1987; McCarville, 1995; Reiling, Cheng, & Trott, 1992; Walsh et al., 1989). These appear to be of two types. One concerns equity with respect to income, the other with respect to geography. Equity across distributions of income is concerned with the possibility that fees may exclude low income groups more than high income groups because fees absorb a greater proportion of discretionary income for low income groups. …

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