June 07, 2021

Congressman Joe Neguse Introduces Legislation to Simplify Permitting Process for Outdoor Guides

Washington D.C.— Today, Congressman Joe Neguse, Chair of the U.S. Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands introduced the Simplifying Outdoor Access for Recreation (SOAR) Act, legislation which would simplify the permitting process for outdoor guides, outfitters, education organizations, and college and university programs. The legislation is cosponsored by Representatives Diana DeGette (CO), Debbie Dingell (MI) and Ruben Gallego (AZ).

Organized groups like outfitters, guides, outdoor education organizations, college and university programs, and volunteer-based clubs are required to have a permit to take people to national parks, national forests, and other federal lands for things like hiking, climbing, mountaineering, and other outdoor sports. The permitting process used by the agencies to issue outfitter-guide permits is outdated, overly complex, and time intensive. As a result, federal land management agencies are often unable to issue permits for guided outdoor recreation activities – even when the activities are within carrying capacity limits already established for the landscape. The unintended consequence is fewer people get to enjoy outdoor recreation activities, local economies don’t receive the benefit of outdoor recreation visits, and guides have fewer opportunities to grow their careers and businesses.

“In Colorado, access to the outdoors is a part of our way of life. Outdoor guides and retailers on our mountain Main Streets drive our local economies and allow visitors from across the globe to visit the treasured areas Colorado is known for,” said Congressman Joe Neguse. “The SOAR Act simplifies the permitting process for outdoor guides who require Forest Service permits to operate to help expand access to the outdoors and allow more people to enjoy the lands we love. This bill is a no-brainer for Colorado, it supports small businesses at the heart of our communities and continues our efforts to make outdoor recreation more accessible to everyone.”

“Colorado’s guides and outfitters are the heart and soul of our state’s outdoor-recreation industry,” said Congresswoman DeGette, who serves on the House Natural Resources Committee. “These hardworking men and women are a key reason why so many visitors flock to our state each year and this bill will make it easier for them to do their job.”

“The Simplifying Outdoor Access for Recreation Act is an important step to ensuring more people can enjoy public lands and strengthen the outdoor recreation economy,” said Congresswoman Debbie Dingell. “This bill reduces barriers for the American people to access public lands by simplifying and expanding permitting processes. We must work together to streamline recreational access for our communities so that more Americans can get outside and experience our nation’s public lands and waters.”

“I am proud to join my colleagues in introducing the SOAR Act to improve access to America’s treasured public lands and support the over 100,000 jobs generated by outdoor recreation in Arizona,” said Representative Gallego. “The SOAR Act will improve permitting and access for recreation, education, volunteering, and conservation on public lands, ensuring these special places are truly open to all.”

“Accessing America’s public lands will be a lot easier when this bill passes,” said Jamie Williams, President of The Wilderness Society. “Representative Neguse deserves 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.”  

“The Colorado Mountain School applauds the introduction of the Simplifying Outdoor Access for Recreation Act,” said Russell Hunter, CEO of Colorado Mountain School. “It will make long-overdue improvements to the outfitter-guide permitting system so the process is more efficient and less cumbersome. We look forward to the swift passage of this bill so we can focus on helping people enjoy our nation's treasured climbing and skiing opportunities.”

“As a small outfitting business my infrastructure is public lands,” reports David Leinweber, owner of Angler’s Covey in Colorado Springs. “I view this bill as a positive development for my business. Any business needs predictability and the ability to grow and this bill will help my company predict the future in providing facilitated recreation services in demand on public lands.”

“Record numbers of people are spending time outdoors, including more women, people who live in urban communities, and ethnically diverse populations,” said Outdoor Industry Association executive director Lise Aangeenbrug. “The reason is simple: outdoor recreation provides important mental and physical health benefits, not to mention supports local economies, thousands of businesses, and millions of jobs. Keeping up this momentum is critical, which is why the outdoor industry supports the SOAR Act. This legislation would expand access to the outdoors for everyone by eliminating unnecessary red tape and streamlining permits. We applaud Representative Neguse for his unwavering support of the outdoors.”

“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,” said Jessica Wahl, Outdoor Recreation Roundtable Executive Director. “We thank Congressman Neguse’s leadership and look forward to this bill moving through Congress and how it will preserve outdoor access and experiences for generations to come.”

“By modernizing the public land permitting process, the Simplifying Outdoor Access to Recreation Act creates more opportunities for all facilitated outdoor recreation providers,” said Aaron Bannon, Executive Director of America Outdoors Association. “This in turn creates more access points for folks from all walks of life to engage in outdoor recreation. We thank Congressman Neguse for leading on this vital bill for the outdoor industry.”

The SOAR Act: 

  • Reauthorizes outfitter and guide permitting authority for the Forest Service, the BLM, and brings the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Reclamation under FLREA so those agencies can keep permit fees;
  • Authorizes agencies to issue one permit when a trip crosses multiple agency boundary, an authorization that includes NPS Commercial Use Authorizations and other agency permits;
  • Reauthorizes permit fees and allows use for permit administration and simplifying processes as well as for previously authorized purposes;
  • Eliminates fees based on goods and services delivered and consumed off federal lands and authorizes a flat, per person fee to simply permit calculations;
  • Authorizes temporary permits to help facilitate access for new uses and provides for conversion to long term permits when appropriate (does not require conversion);
  • Sets important deadlines for simplifying and revising permitting processes and regulations, a goal the Forest Service adopted internally but has never been able to deliver on;
  • Provides more flexibility for use of permitted capacity by qualified service providers;
  • Reforms cost recovery in the Forest Service and the BLM by giving a 50-hour credit for each permit when a group of permits is renewed and provides exceptions to the cost recovery requirement, a practice that the agencies have adopted although it is not authorized in their regulations;
  • Prohibits the use of waivers for gross negligence, requires indemnification of agencies by permit holders and allows waivers for ordinary negligence.