DeGette, others introduce legislation to simplify permitting process for outdoor recreational guides
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Reps. Diana DeGette (D-CO), Deb Haaland (D-NM) and John Curtis (R-UT) introduced bipartisan legislation today to make it easier and less expensive for professional outfitters and guides to obtain the permits they need to lead adventure-seeking clients on trips through Colorado’s federally-managed public lands.
Colorado’s outdoor recreation industry contributes more than $28 billion a year to the state’s economy. In an effort to help this booming industry grow even more, the lawmakers’ legislation would streamline the federal permitting process and reduce fees for small businesses and organizations that provide guided tours and experiences on Colorado’s federal lands.
“Our guides and outfitters are the heart and soul of Colorado’s outdoor recreation industry,” said DeGette, who serves on the House Natural Resources Committee. “These hardworking men and women are a key reason why so many adventure-seeking visitors flock to our state each year. This bill would make it easier for them to get the permits they need to continue operating on the public lands in our state.”
U.S. Forest Service rules require any individual or organization that accepts a fee to provide guided services on national forests land to obtain a permit. With a limited number of permits available, guides and outfitters can sometimes be forced to wait up to six months for one to be issued.
Under current Forest Service rules, guides and outfitters must obtain either a temporary permit, which costs $150 and allows them to operate for up to 50 days; or a priority permit, which allows them to operate for up to 10 years but requires they pay the national forest service three percent of their annual gross revenue.
In addition to paying the required permit fees, all permit holders are required to carry public liability insurance that protects both them and the federal government from any claims.
If approved, the bill DeGette and others introduced today would simplify the permitting process and shortening the processing time. It would also lower the cost of permits, allow guides to share unused days and help reduce the cost of liability insurance guides are required to carry by allowing their clients to sign liability release forms.
Specifically, the legislation – known as the Simplifying Outdoor Access for Recreation Act, or SOAR Act – would:
• Reduces time to process permit requests by eliminating duplicative processes and simplifying environmental review.
• Increases opportunities for guided recreation by allowing outfitters and guides to share unused service days.
• Extends the term of temporary permits from 50 days to 2 years, and allows those permits to convert to a longer term after 2 years of satisfactory performance.
• Requires agencies to notify the public when new permits are available and requires agencies to provide timely responses to permit applicants.
• Simplifyies permitting process for trips involving multiple land management agency by authorizing agencies to issue a single joint permit for trips that cross agency boundaries.
• Reduces permit fees and expenses for small businesses by excluding certain revenue from permit-fee calculations and establishing a 50-hour fee exemption for permit processing.
• Helps control liability insurance costs for permit holders by allowing them to use liability release forms with their clients.
• Increases 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 has widespread support from several prominent outdoor industry groups, including: America Outdoors Association, American Mountain Guides Association, American Sportfishing Association, Association of Outdoor Recreation and Education, Colorado Mountain School, Colorado River Outfitters Association, International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association, National Association of RV Parks & Campgrounds, National Marine Manufacturers Association, National Outdoor Leadership School, National Shooting Sports Foundation, Outdoor Alliance, Outdoor Industry Association, Outdoor Recreation Roundtable, Outdoor Research, REI, RV Dealers Association, RV Industry Association, Specialty Equipment Market Association, The Mountaineers, The Wilderness Society, Transforming Youth Outdoors, Western River Expeditions. Western Spirit Cycling, Wilderness Education Association, Worldwide Outfitters and Guides Association, and YMCA.
In addition to DeGette, Haaland and Curtis, the legislation is cosponsored in the House by U.S. Reps. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), Chris Stewart (R-UT), Paul Cook (R-CA).
A similar version of the bill was recently introduced in the Senate by U.S. Sens. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Shelley Capito (R-WV).
A copy of the bill is available here.