House bill would keep more recreation industry money out of Washington
WASHINGTON — Ski areas paid $20.1 million to do business in the White River National Forest in fiscal year 2017, and a new law would keep more of that money at home.
U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton is supporting the Recreation Not Red-Tape Act.
The bill is designed to leave more of the money in areas where it’s being generated, instead of throwing it down a Beltway black hole, said Tipton, who represents Colorado’s Western Slope, including most of Eagle County.
“Too often, Americans see the money they send to the federal government swallowed up in a black hole,” Tipton said in a news release. “I believe it is important for everyone who enjoys our public lands to see how their money is going back to support the land and enhance their experience.”
FEES BASED ON REVENUE
Ski areas pay fees to the Forest Service to do business on public land. Those fees are based on the ski area’s revenue. As revenue goes up, the ski area’s fees go up, the Forest Service said.
The White River National Forest’s 11 resorts paid $19.94 million in 2016, up 11 percent over the $17.92 million paid in 2015, the U.S. Forest Service said when that data was released in December 2016.
The Forest Service said Tuesday, Oct. 3, that for fiscal year 2017, the 11 ski resorts in the White River National Forest paid $20.1 million, up another 9 percent.
Vail Mountain is North America’s biggest ski area and pays the highest fee, $6.53 million in 2016, up 9.3 percent over 2015.
In fact, Vail Mountain’s 2016 fee was more than the Aspen Skiing Co. paid in Forest Service fees for all four of its resorts.
Vail Resorts reported record revenue for fiscal year 2017, Aug. 1 to July 31.
DOWN THE SWAMP IT GOES
Those increased ski area fees helped the White River National Forest send $10 million more to Washington in 2016 than in 2015.
The money went to Washington but did not come back.
The White River National Forest’s budget for fiscal 2016 was $16 million — or about $4 million less than was generated by the ski area fees. The White River National Forest also collects fees from oil and gas leases, timber sales and grazing.
The White River National Forest’s budget has dropped from $30.39 million in 2009 to $18.4 million in 2015.
Meanwhile, the White River National Forest is the most visited national forest in the country, with more than 13 million annual visits.
Activities on Forest Service lands contribute more than $36 billion to the U.S. economy each year, supporting nearly 450,000 jobs.
KEEPING THE MONEY HOME
The Recreation Not Red-Tape Act would establish a Ski Area Fee Retention Account in the U.S. Treasury. A portion of the ski area permit fees would be returned to the ski areas to create other recreational opportunities.
Under the current federal law — the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act — federal land management agencies such as the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management can charge fees for recreation use on federal land and then distribute that money to recreation sites.
However, under Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act, ski areas do not get to play into that pool of recreational money.
Under Rep. Rob Bishop’s Recreation Not Red-Tape Act, if a ski area generates more than $15 million a year, then half of the fees it pays would be deposited in the Ski Area Fee Retention Account.
If your ski area generates less than $15 million, then 65 percent of Forest Service fees are deposited into that Ski Area Fee Retention Account.
The funds can then be distributed back to the ski area from which they were generated.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and email@example.com.
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