WASHINGTON, D.C. (Oct. 31, 2019) — Today, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee heard testimony on the bipartisan Simplifying Outdoor Access for Recreation (SOAR) Act, legislation U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) introduced to improve the permitting process for outfitters, educational organizations, and community groups to access public lands, and grow the outdoor recreation industry, which is a major economic driver in New Mexico, particularly in rural communities.
During his questions, Senator Heinrich emphasized the need for federal land management agencies to dedicate the attention and resources necessary to meet growing demands and encourage the growth of recreation opportunities. Witness Aaron Bannon, the Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability Director at the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), told Senator Heinrich that NOLS has been operating under a tenuous agreement with the U.S. Forest Service and without an existing permit in the Gila National Forest for the last two years because of ongoing complications during the proposal phase of the forest's management plan.
The Simplifying Outdoor Access for Recreation Act streamlines and improves the recreational permitting process for federal agencies:
- Improves the process for issuing recreation permitsby directing the agencies to eliminate duplicative processes, reduce costs, shorten processing times and simplify environmental review.
- Increases flexibility for outfitters, guides and other outdoor leadersby allowing them to engage in activities that are substantially similar to the activity specified in their permit.
- Makes more recreation opportunities availableby directing the agencies to offer more short-term permits and create a program for sharing unused permit service days between permit holders.
- Increases system transparencyby 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 agencyby 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 organizationsby 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 holdersby 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 holdersby allowing them to use liability release forms with their clients.
- Reduces barriers to access for state universities, city recreation departments, and school districtsby waiving the permit indemnification requirement for entities that are prohibited from providing indemnification under state law.
The Simplifying Outdoor Access for Recreation (SOAR) Act 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.), Steven Daines (R-Mont.), and Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine), and is supported by a number of members of the outdoor industry and the conservation community.
Senator Heinrich serves as the co-chair of the bipartisan Outdoor Recreation Caucus and the Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus and has championed efforts to grow the outdoor recreation economy.