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Our favorite stories about public lands and opportunities for you to get involved in protecting your outdoor experiences.

 

Two Very Positive New Bill Introductions: Recreation Not Red-Tape & the SOAR Act!

Tania Lown-Hecht

Photo credit: Luke Bender

Photo credit: Luke Bender

This summer, we’re fired up to share the introduction of two bills to make public lands more accessible and help protect priority landscapes for outdoor recreation. Outdoor Alliance and our partner organizations have worked hard on these bills, and we hope that they will form the nucleus of a recreation package in this Congress.

The Recreation Not Red-Tape Act (S. 1967/H.R. 3458) is a bill that we’ve worked on extensively over the last two Congresses and was reintroduced today. The bill, introduced by Sen.Ron Wyden (D-OR), Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT), and Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI), includes provisions that will help ensure that more Americans have ready access to outdoor experiences on America’s public lands. The bill:

  • Supports the creation of state offices of outdoor recreation;

  • Makes federal and state recreation passes more available and facilitates their online sale;

  • Improves access to outdoor recreation programs for service members and veterans;

  • Extends seasonal recreation opportunities where appropriate;

  • Directs management agencies to develop recreation performance metrics for the evaluation of land managers;

  • Adds recreation to the mission of important land management agencies, including the Corps of Engineers, the Bureau of Reclamation, FERC, and the Department of Transportation; and

  • Helps land managers accept volunteers to conduct stewardship activities, and facilitate trail maintenance across agency jurisdictions.

Most importantly, the bill will set up a process to help identify and protect important areas for outdoor recreation through a National Recreation Area System.

In our land management system, recreation has often been treated as a secondary benefit of conservation-focused designations. This arrangement can work extremely well in many circumstances, but our focus on the most iconic and pristine backcountry areas can sometimes leave close-to-town, accessible, frontcountry areas—which can be some of the most important places for recreation—exposed to inappropriate development pressure or leave recreationally significant areas subject to less than ideal management. This can be particularly problematic in the way it affects mountain bike access, which can face challenges when land managers and Congress don’t have a ready set of options to provide conservation-minded protections that still support bike opportunities.

Currently, when land managers conduct planning activities like Forest Planning for National Forests or Resource Management Plan development for BLM units, they are required to inventory for areas that could become new Wilderness or Wild and Scenic River designations. While these inventories and designations are essential, right now there is no analogous land-use designation process specifically dedicated to assisting Congress in evaluating, protecting, and enhancing outdoor recreation opportunities.

Recreation Not Red-Tape will instruct land managers, during their existing planning processes, to inventory for places of recreational significance, just as they currently are required to inventory for potential new Wilderness or Wild and Scenic Rivers designations. This process will assist Congress in developing new National Recreation Area designations and help to ensure that management plans appropriately account for recreation.

The second bill we’re jazzed about is the new Simplifying Outdoor Access for Recreation (SOAR) Act from Sens. Heinrich (D-NM) and Capito (R-WV). The SOAR Act will improve the recreational permitting systems of federal land management agencies so more people can experience public lands through volunteer-based clubs or with an outfitter, guide, non-profit outdoor leadership organizations, or university outdoor program.

In addition to being introduced on its own, the permitting language in the SOAR Act is also now incorporated into RNR. The SOAR Act is the product of years of painstaking collaboration from the full spectrum of facilitated access providers (meaning everyone from rafting companies to nonprofits working to introduce kids to the outdoors), and it should go a long way toward ensuring that structured experiences are available to new participants in outdoor recreation activities, giving more people a chance to develop a connection to the outdoors and learn to be safe and respectful visitors to wild places.

Our partners, including The Mountaineers, have worked on the SOAR Act for several years. Among other things, the SOAR Act will:

  • Reduce permit fees;

  • Streamline the permitting process for recreation and increase recreational access;

  • Increase flexibility for outdoor leaders by allowing them to engage in activities that are substantially similar to the activity specified in their permit; 

  • Make 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;

  • Simplify 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.

  • Reduce barriers to access for state universities, city recreation departments, and school districts.

Now is a great time for people who love the outdoors to speak up in support of these bills and give them momentum in Congress. Use the tool below to write a quick message to your elected officials telling them to prioritize these recreation bills.