City Manager Dave Kiff said he wasn't sure when the Lands Pass requirement went into effect, although the fee seems to have "been on the Sacramento books" for several years. In the Back Bay, however, that requirement was not enforced. Then the signs appeared about three weeks ago saying, as Kiff put it, "This is an obligation here and we're going to start collecting."
A Fish and Wildlife spokesperson could not be reached for comment Friday.
According to a staff report, money generated by Lands Pass sales "attempts to cover some of the costs of lands management at reserves and wildlife areas across California."
It is unclear how the state plans to enforce such a requirement at Upper Newport Bay, which is surrounded by trails accessible from numerous public roads.
"It's easier for them to collect at more isolated reserves," Kiff said. "Is somebody going to kind of motor up to you and say, 'You just crossed over the line'?"
In the letter, the city pledges to continue to work with the department on volunteer land management and other efforts but urges leaders to "reconsider" the Lands Pass requirement.
"Knowing the tight fiscal situation that CDFW too often finds itself in, we can somewhat see the rationale behind CDFW's application of its Land Pass requirement to places like [the Upper Newport Bay Ecological Reserve]," the letter says. "However, we believe the nature of [the reserve] is not conducive to collecting fees under the Lands Pass system, nor has our long-term partnership between CDFW, the city, and the county of Orange warranted its application."
Horse permit, other items