Cost Recovery FAQ

What is the rationale for cost recovery fees?

The agency receives some 6,000 applications for special use authorizations each year. Each application is subject to some environmental analysis—a costly, time-consuming process.  In 1999, the agency received congressional direction in Public Law 106-113 to “develop and implement a pilot program for the purpose of enhancing Forest Service administration of rights-of-way and other land uses.”   The outcome is to have more expeditious approval of special use authorizations.

Additionally, two audits of agency’s operations recommended that the agency (a) operate its special uses program in a more businesslike manner, and (b) develop regulations to exercise statutory authorities to recover from applicants and holders the agency’s costs to process special use applications and monitor compliance with special use authorizations.

Is cost recovery unique to the Forest Service?

No.  For more than 20 years, the Bureau of Land Management has collected cost recovery fees from applicants for and holders of authorizations to use public lands.  BLM has revised the cost recovery fees it assesses and collects for special recreation permits and right-of-way applications and authorizations.  The Forest Service cost recovery regulations are consistent with those BLM revisions.

Are the Forest Service’s cost recovery regulations consistent with those of BLM?

Yes.  The Forest Service and BLM use identical fee schedules and rates for processing and monitoring minor category cases, and apply the same principles in assessing, processing, and monitoring fees for major category cases.

What are some of the benefits of cost recovery regulations?

First, they will improve customer service in processing special use applications and monitoring special use authorizations.  The agency will have additional resources to fund a more skilled and efficient workforce to meet the needs and expectations of applicants for and holders of special use authorizations.

Second, the agency can spend appropriated funds that were being used to process applications or monitor authorizations to address other special use management objectives.  The additional funds realized from cost recovery will enhance the agency’s ability to decrease the backlog of expired authorizations, which will reduce the potential liability of the United States associated with uses that continue on NFS lands under an expired authorization.

Third, taxpayers will benefit in having at least some agency processing and monitoring costs, which are benefiting identifiable recipients and not the public at large, paid for by the recipients of those services rather than with appropriated funds.

What will the Forest Service do with the fees collected?

The agency is authorized to retain and spend the cost recovery fees it collects for processing special use applications and monitoring compliance with special use authorizations.

 All cost recovery funds will remain at the local agency offices that collect them and will be used for processing applications or monitoring authorizations.

I already pay a land use fee for my special use authorization.   Why should I also pay cost recovery fees?

Cost recovery fees are assessed to cover the administrative costs incurred by the Forest Service to process a special use application or monitor compliance with a special use authorization.

 Cost recovery fees are entirely separate from fees charged for use and occupancy of NFS lands.  Land use fees are charged to the holder of a special use authorization based on the market value of the use and occupancy of NFS lands.

I pay federal taxes.  Shouldn’t my taxes pay for processing and monitoring costs?

No.  The rule and its underlying authority identify those recipients who receive services and benefits from a Federal agency beyond those received by the public, should generally be charged for those services and benefits.

 Who must pay cost recovery fees?

Cost recovery fees apply to applicants for or holders of special use authorizations, unless their applications or authorizations are exempt from cost recovery fees under the rule.

 Monitoring fees will apply to authorizations issued or amended on or after the effective date of the rule.

 Who is exempt from cost recovery fees?

 Exemptions include the following:

  • Special use applications or authorizations that require 1 hour or less for the agency to process or monitor.
  • Applications or authorizations for recreation special uses that require 50 hours or less for the agency to process or monitor.
  • Applications or authorizations for noncommercial group use.

 How will cost recovery fees be determined?

 Determination will be based on an estimate of the number of hours Forest Service personnel will spend on work necessary for processing an application and monitoring an authorization.  That estimate will be applied to the corresponding category and rate in the appropriate processing or monitoring fee schedule.

 Can an applicant or a holder dispute a cost recovery fee?

Yes.  Applicants and holders may submit a written request for substitution of an alternative fee category or alternative estimated cost to the immediate supervisor of the authorized officer who made the initial determination.