Heinrich, Capito Introduce Public Land Recreational Opportunities Improvement Act

Bipartisan bill would improve the permitting process for commercial outfitters and other businesses on public lands that fuel outdoor recreation economy

WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) introduced the Public Land Recreational Opportunities Improvement Act to improve the permitting process for commercial outfitters and other businesses on 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 Senator Heinrich. "By streamlining the permitting process, the Public Land Recreational Opportunities Improvement Act will make it easier for commercial outfitters to participate in the booming 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 Public Land Recreational Opportunities Improvement Act will help get people back out where they belong—exploring and enjoying the incredible beauty and natural resources we are fortunate to have in our country,” said Senator Capito. “These much-needed, bipartisan changes to federal regulations on public lands will not only help support the outdoor recreation industries, but it will also benefit the local economies they support in West Virginia and across the nation.”

The Public Land Recreational Opportunities Improvement 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"Outdated regulations in the permitting system have made it time consuming, unpredictable, and in many cases-impossible-for outdoor organizations and businesses to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 Public Land Recreational Opportunities Improvement 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."

"Outdoor recreation helps children build positive relationships and develop a sense of achievement and belonging. It is an essential part of the Y's approach to youth development," said Kevin Washington, President and CEO, YMCA of the USA. "The current process for recreational permitting is complicated and restrictive. This legislation will simplify the process, enabling the Y and others to share nature's wonders with many more kids and families and instill in our youth a lifelong appreciation for the outdoors. We thank Senators Heinrich and Capito for their passionate leadership in easing the recreational permitting process for our public lands."

Members of the outdoor industry and the conservation community supporting the bill include Adventure WV, American Mountain Guides Association, Angler's Covey, Appalachian Mountain Guides, Association of Outdoor Recreation and Education (AORE), Association for Experiential Education, Exum Mountain Guides, Las Cruces Green Chamber of Commerce, Los Alamos Mountaineers, Mazamas, Mountain Skills Rock Guides, New River Mountain Guides, National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), Outdoor Alliance, Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), Outdoor Research, REI, Santa Fe Climbing Center, YMCA, Seneca Rocks Climbing School, Sierra Mountain Center, Suntoucher Mountain Guides, The Mountaineers, The Wilderness Society, West Virginia University, and Western Spirit Cycling.

The Public Land Recreational Opportunities Improvement Act streamlines and improves the commercial permitting process for federal agencies:

  • Updates the authorization of fees for special recreation permits currently contained in the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA).
  • Directs agencies toidentify opportunities for permitting process improvement, including complying with National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to reduce duplicative analyses.
  • Creates flexibility by allowing permit holders to engage in activities that are substantially similar to the permitted activity, and establishing temporary permits and a pilot program for return of unused service days to other permittees.
  • Clarifies permit administration by directing agencies to determine whether recreation permits are available at each public land unit, and to issue timely notifications and decisions to permittees.
  • Streamlines the process for multi-jurisdictional trips by authorizing, at the discretion of the agencies, the use of a single joint permit for permitted trips involving more than one land management agency.
  • Makes permit fees fair for business by excludingfrom the calculation of a permit fee any revenue associated outside of the public land unit covered by the permit, such as transportation costs.
  • Improves Forest Service (FS) permits by accounting for the fact that recreation demand can vary considerably across a season and during off-peak periods when making allocation decisions and allows the FS to waive a use review for an uncontrollable interrupted period, such as wildfire.
  • Makes public land access easier for state universities, city recreation departments, and school districts by exempting a permit holder from indemnification requirements if the permittee is prohibited from providing indemnification to the United States by state or local law, as is the case for most government agencies.
  • Encourages best practices for liability protection by allowing recreation permit holders the option to use exculpatory agreements between the permit holder and their customers.

A copy of the bill is available here.