BLM’s El Centro Field Office administers the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area (ISDRA) in southern California. It’s a popular destination for off-highway vehicle enthusiasts, who come to ride on the dunes in an area designated for motorized use. These self-described “Duners” don’t mind paying a modest fee for a permit to operate their vehicles, because FLREA specifies that motorized recreation is a “specialized recreation use,” and specialized facilities and services unique to OHV recreation are provided. If BLM implemented the fee program at ISDRA as a permit to operate an OHV, it would be controversy-free.

But that’s not how they do it. Instead, they require everyone who enters the area for any purpose to purchase a “specialized recreation permit,” even those who don’t have an OHV and just want to play in the sand or take a few photos. The fee ($35 if purchased off-site or $50 if purchased on-site) is the same for a brief visit as for someone who is staying for a week. Because the fee is applied per “primary vehicle,” a family with one OHV in the back of a pickup pays the same as one hauling a trailer with multiple OHVs.

There is no way to describe this system other than as an “entrance” fee, a type of fee that BLM is prohibited from charging. But in an impressive display of double-think, they say it’s not for “entrance,” it’s for a “specialized use.” It’s due upon entrance, regardless of what “use” a visitor is engaging in, but it’s not an entrance fee.

This is a classic example of a federal agency using tortured logic to evade the clear requirements of federal law. You can read more about the long battle to bring some common sense to the ISDRA fee program in the documents posted below.