Forest Service:

Difficult Choices Face the Future of the Recreation Program

RCED-91-115: Published: Apr 15, 1991. Publicly Released: Apr 15, 1991.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the Forest Service's: (1) management of its recreation program; and (2) corrective actions in response to previous GAO recommendations.

GAO found that: (1) Service funding and staffing levels were not sufficient to bring recreational sites and areas up to Service plans and standards, resulting in a backlog of unmet needs; (2) despite its use of cost-sharing programs and volunteers to assist with maintenance and reconstruction work, the Service was unable to complete the needed work with the available resources; (3) the Service lacked uniform and consistent data on the condition of its recreational sites and areas or on its maintenance and reconstruction needs, making it difficult for Congress to fully assess the future direction of the program; (4) the Service implemented actions to gather better data on the extent and severity of recreational sites and area conditions, enabling it to better manage the program and inform Congress of recreation program conditions and resource needs; (5) funding could be increased through appropriations, although that could be difficult in an era of fiscal constraint and competing demands; (6) the Service would require legislative changes to impose higher fees; (7) increasing the use of volunteers and cost-share programs could increase funds, but not to the level of the resources needed; (8) in lieu of funding increases, the Service could still meet its current maintenance standards if it reduced the number of sites and areas to be developed and maintained, but that action could further strain existing sites and areas due to increased use; and (9) the Service could lower its development and maintenance standards to more closely match the resources available, but that could result in providing the public with a lower-quality recreational experience.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Forest Service has developed a strategy that addresses funding levels and sources, the number of sites to be developed and maintained, and the standards to which these sites and areas should be maintained.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Chief, Forest Service, to develop a strategy to guide the future direction of its recreation program. This strategy should include recommendations on funding levels and sources, the number of sites and areas to be developed and maintained, and the standards to which those sites and areas should be maintained. The strategy should also describe the benefits, drawbacks, and costs associated with each alternative.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture


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