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Dumont Dunes Fee Increase?

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Lone motorcyle crosses Dumont DunesFee's have been in place at Dumont Dunes for only two years and the BLM is considering an increase to help meet operational costs of the popular motorized recreation area.

For many of the most avid duners the current $60 annual fee is just a grain of sand compared to the cost of their sand toys, RV, hauler, and fuel.  Can the BLM justify the increase?  And will another $15 or $20 meet any opposition?

For decades Dumont Dunes was just another BLM "OHV open area", which are lands that have been designated appropriate for OHV recreation.  Other OHV open areas managed by the BLM's Barstow Field Office include El Mirage, Razor, Johnson Valley and Stoddard Wells, but since 2004 only Dumont Dunes began charging users a recreation fee to visit.

This levying of fees resulted from newly granted authorization from Congress to do so, combined with dwindling allocations from the California's OHV fund, and a surge in visitors at the Dunes.  To offset the siphoning of resources from other needs of the Barstow Field Office, the BLM implemented a user fee program which attempts to meet the costs of managing the 20,000+ visitors who congregate at the Dunes during the peak weekends of the winter season.

In prior years grant allocations from the State's OHV licensing and gas tax programs provided significant funding to meet the expense of providing law enforcement personnel and vehicles, road maintenance, restroom cleaning and maintenance, and visitor safety and medical teams.

Because OHV activity and number of visitors continues to balloon at Dumont Dunes, so do the costs of managing the area. Unfortunately, State OHV grants are highly competitive and increasingly political.  As more and more of the grant program's pie is allocated to route closures and restoration, it become more and more difficult for law enforcement and operations and maintenance grants to receive adequate funding, if any at all.

As a result, funding for Dumont Dunes has become more unpredictable and less adequate.  With funding levels changing drastically from year to year it has become impossible to initiate any planning beyond the end of a fiscal year.  Multi-year projects are out of the question, and achieving consistency in the BLM's level of services from one year to the next is a tremendous challenge.

The previous objective was to keep user fees at Dumont Dunes as low as possible, and augment them when possible with the increasingly iffy annual allocations from the Federal budget and the State OHV Commission.  One year the fees may be sufficient enough to fill unmet needs, but not the next.

With the goal of providing a consistent and predictable source of revenue for Dumont Dunes the BLM is considering increasing users fees, possibly enough to meet ordinary operating costs.  Grants and special allocations may no longer be relied upon for regular operations, but could be sought for special or long-term improvements in facilities and services.

Arriving for Halloween Weekend 2006But can Dumont Dunes ever be entirely self sufficient based solely on user fees?  How high would users fees need to be raised to do so?  We don't know.

I say we because I server on a new BLM advisory committee that provides the Barstow Field Office with input on management and spending decisions regarding the motorized recreation area. This group is called the Dumont Dunes Technical Review Team (TRT) and I represent the limited interests of motorized users other than motorsport recreationists.

At our meetings we receive raw system reports of aggregate totals which usually require verbal presentations in order to adequately paint the current financial picture for us.  The need for such lengthy sidebars is due in part to what I might call the "complexities" of federal agency accounting practices. It is also in part because producing a more intuitive P&L is difficult and time consuming.

Fellow TRT member Ed Waldheim once developed and successfully used a program P&L spreadsheet while a Commissioner for the California Off Highway Motor Vehicle Commission.  Our hope is that the Barstow Field Office can use the "Waldheim budget" or something similar to more thoroughly and accurately define the issues surrounding the need for a fee increase at Dumont Dunes.

Without such a budget this TRT member will find it very difficult to justify a vote in favor of the increase.

I'd be interested to hear from Dumont Dunes visitors about how they feel about a fee increase, particularly one that might not develop anything more than consistency in the current level of services.  How will users feel about paying significantly more for a permit yet receive what they perceive as nothing new?

Ultimately I am compelled to work for a recreation area that is as enjoyable and safe as possible for motorized enthusiasts, and one that is accessible as possible to anyone who wishes to visit this unique and magnificent piece of our vast and wonderful public lands.  I am also committed to protecting the surrounding limited use and wilderness lands from unnecessary impacts of this popular destination.  And none of these objective can be met without adequate funding for the management of Dumont Dunes.

To contact me, click here.

For more information about Dumont Dunes:
- Click here for the Dumont Dunes web site from the BLM's Barstow Field Office
* Click here to visit the Dumont Dunes TRT web site, which includes minutes and meeting dates