Bipartisan bill would improve the permitting process for outfitters, educational organizations, and community groups that help people get out on our public lands

WASHINGTON, D.C. (May 23, 2019) – Today, U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) introduced S. 1665, the Simplifying Outdoor Access for Recreation (SOAR) Act, to improve the permitting process for outfitters, educational organizations, and community groups to access and enjoy our public lands.

“Our public lands are where locals and visitors alike go to camp under the stars, chase bugling elk or wet a fly in a mountain stream, and they fuel the $887 billion outdoor recreation economy that directly sustains 7.6 million American jobs – many in rural communities,” said Heinrich. “By streamlining the permitting process, the Simplifying Outdoor Access for Recreation (SOAR) Act will make it easier for outfitters to participate in the outdoor recreation economy and strengthen the communities that rely on it.”

“By reducing the bureaucratic red tape of duplicative and ever-changing permitting requirements, the SOAR Act will make it easier for West Virginians and others to explore and enjoy the incredible beauty and natural resources we have all across the country,” said Capito. “These much-needed changes to federal public lands regulations will not only help support outdoor recreation, but they will also benefit the local communities and economies they support.”

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The Simplifying Outdoor Access for Recreation Act streamlines and improves the recreational permitting process for federal agencies:

  • Improves the process for issuing recreation permits by directing the agencies to eliminate duplicative processes, reduce costs, shorten processing times and simplify environmental review.
  • Increases flexibility for outfitters, guides and other outdoor leaders by allowing them to engage in activities that are substantially similar to the activity specified in their permit.
  • Makes more recreation opportunities available by directing the agencies to offer more short-term permits and create a program for sharing unused permit service days between permit holders.
  • Increases system transparency by directing agencies to notify the public when new recreation permits are available and requiring the agencies to provide timely responses to permit applicants.
  • Simplifies the permitting process for trips involving more than one land management agency by authorizing the agencies to issue a single joint permit covering the lands of multiple agencies.
  • Reduces permit fees and cost recovery expenses for small businesses and organizations by excluding certain revenue from permit fee calculations and establishing a simple 50-hour cost recovery fee exemption for permit processing.
  • Provides new protections for Forest Service permit holders by recognizing seasonal demand fluctuations and waiving permit use reviews in extraordinary circumstances beyond the control of the permit holder (wildfire, etc.).
  • Helps control liability insurance costs for permit holders by allowing them to use liability release forms with their clients.
  • Reduces barriers to access for state universities, city recreation departments, and school districts by waiving the permit indemnification requirement for entities that are prohibited from providing indemnification under state law.  

The bill is cosponsored by U.S. Senators Angus King (I-Maine), Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), James Risch (R-Idaho), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), and Steven Daines (R-Mont.).

The Simplifying Outdoor Access for Recreation (SOAR) Act is supported by a wide range of organizations, including for-profit outfitters and guides, non-profit outfitters and guides, university recreation programs, and volunteer-based clubs.

“REI operates outdoor programs across the country and we support hundreds of vendors and nonprofits who do the same. The outdoor provider community has consistently struggled with the complexity of the federal recreational permit system,” said Rebecca Bear, Director, REI Outdoor Programs and Experiences. “Streamlining the application process will help outdoor organizations more rapidly get people outside and promote an outdoor life. REI and our 17 million members are grateful for Senator Heinrich and Capito’s leadership.”

“Outdated regulations in the permitting system have made it time consuming, unpredictable, and in many cases-impossible-for outdoor organizations and businesses to provide outdoor experiences for the public on public lands,” said Alex Kosseff, Executive Director at the American Mountain Guides Association. “The Simplifying Outdoor Access for Recreation Act removes old roadblocks to facilitated outdoor recreation and enables more Americans to get outside and enjoy public lands.”

“Accessing America’s public lands will be a lot easier when this bill passes,” said Jamie Williams, President of The Wilderness Society. “Senators Heinrich and Capito deserve a lot of credit for developing a bill that eliminates bureaucratic red tape making it easier for youth programs, university recreation programs, nonprofit organizations and outfitters and guides to apply for and obtain recreational permits for public lands. The Wilderness Society is committed to connecting more Americans with the outdoors and this bill will help do just that.”

“Thank you to Senators Heinrich and Capito for their efforts to simplify the recreational permitting process through the SOAR Act,” said Kevin Washington, President and CEO, YMCA of the USA. “Outdoor recreation helps children build positive relationships and develop a sense of achievement and belonging. Easing the currently complicated and restrictive process will enable youth-serving organizations like the Y to share nature’s wonders with many more kids and families and instill in our youth a lifelong appreciation for the outdoors.”

Members of the outdoor industry and the conservation community supporting the bill include:

  • Aerie Backcountry Medicine 
  • Alaska Guide Collective 
  • America Outdoors Association 
  • American Alpine Club 
  • American Alpine Institute 
  • American Fly Fishing Trade Association 
  • American Hiking Society American Horse Council 
  • American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education 
  • American Mountain Guides Association 
  • American Sportfishing Association 
  • Angler’s Covey
  • Appalachian Mountain Guides Archery Trade Association 
  • Association for Experiential Education 
  • Association of Marina Industries 
  • Association of Outdoor Recreation and Education 
  • Avid4 Adventure 
  • Chicks Climbing and Skiing 
  • Colorado Mountain School 
  • Colorado River Outfitters Association 
  • Dude Ranchers Association 
  • Exum Mountain Guides 
  • Grand Canyon River Outfitters Association 
  • Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association 
  • International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association 
  • Las Cruces Green Chamber of Commerce 
  • Los Alamos Mountaineers 
  • Mazamas 
  • Middle Fork Outfitters Association 
  • Montana Alpine Guides 
  • Montana Mountaineering Association 
  • Montana Outfitters and Guides Association 
  • Montana Wilderness School 
  • Mountain Skills Rock Guides 
  • Nantahala Outdoor Center 
  • National Association of RV Parks & Campgrounds 
  • National Marine Manufacturers Association 
  • National Outdoor Leadership School 
  • National Shooting Sports Foundation 
  • New Mexico Council of Guides and Outfitters 
  • New Mexico Wild 
  • New River Mountain Guides 
  • Oregon Outfitters and Guides Association 
  • Outdoor Alliance Outdoor Industry Association 
  • Outdoor Recreation Roundtable 
  • Outdoor Research 
  • REI 
  • Rising Tide Associates 
  • RV Dealers Association 
  • RV Industry Association 
  • Santa Fe Climbing Center 
  • Seneca Rocks Climbing School 
  • Sierra Mountain Center 
  • Siskiyou Outdoor Recreation Alliance 
  • Specialty Equipment Market Association 
  • Suntoucher Mountain Guides 
  • The Mountaineers 
  • The Wilderness Society 
  • Transforming Youth Outdoors 
  • Utah Guides and Outfitters Association 
  • West Virginia Professional River Outfitters 
  • Western Spirit Cycling 
  • Wyoming Outfitters and Guides Association
  • YMCA of Los Angeles
  • YMCA of the USA