New House Bill to Simplify Public Land Permit Process


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Two conservation organizations provided testimony last week in favor of a bipartisan bill meant to increase access to outdoor recreation.

Imagine not having to fill out multiple permits for a single trip. Imagine having the flexibility to change your permit dates or location. In 2020, planning a guided trip could be a completely different deal.

The Simplifying Outdoor Access for Recreation Act sets out to “improve the permitting system for outfitters and guides on national and public lands.” Two major groups, The Wilderness Society and the Coalition for Outdoor Access, support the bill.

Although the bill was written in May, it was introduced to the House of Representatives just last week in a legislative hearing. The bill aims to simplify permitting systems for guides and outfitters, specifically the special-use permit process. Bipartisan representatives Debra Haaland (D-N.M.) and John Curtis (R-Utah) are sponsoring the bill.

“We should all be familiar with how our public lands contribute to our nation’s outdoor recreation economy,” said Haaland. “We’ve experienced firsthand the challenges and opportunities of a growing demand for more outdoor recreation.”

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“The SOAR Act is common-sense legislation,” said Paul Sanford, national director of Recreation Policy at The Wilderness Society. “It would help a wide range of organizations that provide guided recreation experiences.” Supporters for the bill represent eight states including California, Colorado, and Washington.

Witnesses at the legislative hearing included members from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the Department of Agriculture, the YMCA, and the American Mountain Guides Association. If the bill is passed, guiding and recreation programs will have better access to national parks like the Badlands and the Grand Canyon.

SOAR Act: Changes to Outdoor Recreation Permitting

In order to provide better guided outdoor access, the bill would amend sections of the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act. The bill suggests improvements to recreation permits themselves and the federal permitting system across different land units. It also addresses fees, multi-jurisdictional permits, and the topics of cost, federal revenue, and liability.

Take, for example, Twin Lakes in Colorado, a popular spot near the Continental Divide Trail. Within just a 4-mile radius, there are four different land entities: local, BLM, state, and U.S. Forest Service land.

Organizing a guided trip through regions like this currently requires applying for permits with each entity. The SOAR Act would allow for a single multiagency special-use permit, for both short-term and long-term use.

Currently, depending on your trip length, difficulty, or span, a special recreation permit with the BLM “may take up to 180 days to complete.” The bill’s representatives hope the improvements will decrease the permit processing time and allow more people to get outside. 

“Providing more outdoor experiences on public lands is good for the people. And it’s also good for the lands and the agencies that administer them,” stated the Coalition for Outdoor Access.

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