On April 20th, U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W. Va.) introduced the Simplifying Outdoor Access for Recreation (SOAR) Act, bipartisan legislation to improve the permitting process for outfitters, educational organizations, and community groups to access public lands. Senators Heinrich and Capito are hopeful that the bill will maintain the momentum created in the previous Congress where it received a hearing in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
"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," said Heinrich. "The SOAR Act streamlines the permitting process so that more outfitters and outdoor enthusiasts can access public lands. This will be a key component to ensuring that the outdoor recreation industry continues to play a vital role in supporting a strong economic recovery."
“Making it easier for folks to explore and enjoy the incredible beauty of our public lands is a key priority, especially right here in West Virginia,” said Capito. “The SOAR Act reduces bureaucratic red tape and makes commonsense changes to current permitting requirements that sometimes discourages outfitters from utilizing our public lands and in turn, constrains economic development in these areas. These changes to federal public lands regulations would not only help support outdoor recreation, but also benefit the local communities and economies they support.”
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, and shorten processing times.
- 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.
- 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 regulations issued by the Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management.
- 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.).
- 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 Steven Daines (R-Mont.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), James Risch (R-Idaho), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Angus King (I-Maine), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), and Richard Burr (R-N.C.).
The Simplifying Outdoor Access for Recreation (SOAR) Act is supported by a wide range of organizations, including the Wilderness Society, American Mountain Guides Association, The Mountaineers, Outdoor Recreation Roundtable, and the Outdoor Industry Association.
“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 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.”
“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 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.”
“As a volunteer-driven nonprofit outdoor education and conservation organization, The Mountaineers have been getting people outside responsibly for over a century,” said Tom Vogl, CEO of The Mountaineers. “Streamlining the permitting process will enable more people to get outside safely and responsibly through organized experiences facilitated by outdoor leaders and educators.”
"Senator Heinrich's leadership on making the outdoors more accessible for all, increasing the quality of the experience, and supporting recreation economies is embodied in his introduction of the SOAR Act," said Jessica Wahl, Outdoor Recreation Roundtable Executive Director. "Smart management is needed to ensure everyone can have safe and fun experiences outside, while sustaining the backbone of the $788 recreation economy — healthy public lands and waters. We thank Senators Capito and Heinrich and look forward to this bill moving through Congress and how it will preserve outdoor access and experiences for generations to come."
“Making it easier for everyone to access our country's public lands should be a goal we all share," said Lise Aangeenbrug, Executive Director of the Outdoor Industry Association. "This is particularly true today, when record levels of people -- including more women, ethnically diverse populations, and those who live in urban areas -- are getting outdoors to maintain their physical and mental health. This important legislation would achieve this goal by eliminating unnecessary regulatory red tape and streamlining permits. It also has the added benefit of supporting the $788 billion outdoor recreation economy, thousands of businesses, and millions of employees around the country. We commend Sens. Heinrich and Capito for their leadership, and we encourage every member of the Senate to support this commonsense bipartisan proposal."
Read the full bill text here.