Legislation to Prioritize Outdoor Recreation on Public Lands
A few years ago I was in Washington DC in a meeting with a Congressional staffer who asked a simple question, “what do you want?” I’m sure I had been talking about a long list of legislative priorities for public lands and rivers and the question caught me a little off guard — hadn’t I just spent the last 20 minutes talking about what I wanted? The staffer clarified, “I understand everything we have discussed is important but if you were to craft your own legislation, what would it be?” I realized I did not really have an answer but it got me thinking. Up until that point I had simply been explaining the benefits or downsides of bills others had drafted. A few months later a staffer from Senator Wyden’s office pulled me aside and said her boss wanted to do an outdoor recreation bill — “would you be willing to join us and serve as a resource as we craft the legislation?” I responded in the affirmative and several other colleagues were invited, but the details remained elusive. A conversation among kayakers on the Flake at Great Falls on the Potomac, casual banter at the climbing gym, and a few sessions out in the snowscape of the North Cascades. With these conversations and many others, the process of crafting the bill now known as Recreation Not Red Tape (a name I was never totally thrilled with but one that made for the short acronym: RNR) was underway. It can take years to move a bill through Congress and this one continues to be refined. I thought it would be helpful to provide a bit of the history on this bill as well as a section-by-section explanation of the bill.
Quick Summary — What Does the Bill Do?
- Enable Congress to protect places for their recreation value with a new organic designation for National Recreation Areas;
- Direct land managers to inventory for areas where there is valuable recreation and help Congress move toward protecting these recreational experiences;
- Make it easier to buy national and state recreation passes;
- Extend seasonal recreation opportunities where appropriate;
- Make recreation a bigger part of how land managers do their jobs by directing land management agencies to develop recreation performance metrics for evaluations;
- Add recreation to the mission of some land management agencies that don’t already have it;
- Help land managers accept volunteers to conduct stewardship activities and facilitate trail maintenance across agency jurisdictions.
The Legislative Process
Legislation is Drafted and Introduced — 114th Congress (2015–2016)
“We need to prioritize sustainable outdoor recreation for the important, powerful role that it plays in our economy, in our communities, and in our environment.” — Representative Blumenauer (D-OR-3) March 17, 2016
“Recreation supports communities and businesses large and small throughout urban and rural Oregon and can have astounding benefits on veterans, youth, and seniors.” — Senator Wyden (D-OR) March 17, 2016
The original genesis of the bill began in conversations with Senator Wyden from Oregon over five years ago (see also, Outdoor Alliance — Where It All Started). Senator Wyden has been a champion for public lands and wild rivers and serves as a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee; he reached out to groups and organizations who represent the outdoor recreation community and shared early drafts of his bill concepts. I worked closely with his staff as did my colleague Louis Geltman with Outdoor Alliance. We had several opportunities to suggest edits as did many other individuals in the outdoor recreation community. The Wilderness Society was also present at the beginning and provided important feedback to ensure the bill appropriately focused on sustainable outdoor recreation. As an organization they realize that protecting public lands requires an informed citizenry who understands the value of these places. Unlike many bills where we are simply joining on, this one was truly a product of our community.
In 2016, Democratic Senator Ron Wyden and Democratic Representative Earl Blumenauer from Oregon introduced the first version of Recreation Not Red Tape (H.R. 4790 and S. 2706). They were joined by Democrat Jared Polis from Colorado and Democrat Suzanne Bonamici from Oregon. Like many bills that get introduced, the bill never received a hearing in the 114th Congress; a Democratic bill in a Republican-controlled Congress received little attention.
Legislation is Reintroduced Along with a Strategy to Move it Through Committee — 115th Congress (2017–2018)
The bill was reintroduced as S. 1633 and H.R. 3400 in the 115th Congress and Senator Wyden personally reached out to Representative Rob Bishop from Utah who became the chief sponsor in the House. At the time, Representative Bishop was Chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, the primary committee of jurisdiction for the bill. Senator Wyden understood that any bill that is a priority for the Chair is much more likely to move through committee and eventually make it to the floor. While I can find plenty of things to disagree with Representative Bishop on when it comes to public lands, we were thrilled to have his interest in something positive. This made the bill bipartisan and bicameral (i.e. supported by both parties and both legislative chambers). Representative Bishop’s commitment was sincere and he secured 13 bipartisan co-sponsors for the bill and followed through in scheduling the first public hearing on the bill. At the hearing Louis Geltman, Policy Director for Outdoor Alliance and longtime member of American Whitewater, testified before the Committee. While the bill passed out of the House Natural Resources Committee at the end of the 115th Congress, it never made it to a hearing in the Senate despite Senator Wyden’s constant urging and his successful efforts to secure 4 bipartisan co-sponsors.
Legislation is Reintroduced and Action Begins Early in the Current Session of Congress — 116th Congress (2019–2020)
“Recreating on our nation’s public lands often requires special permits, parking passes, and payments of fees that while important to help maintain our public lands too often involve confusing cumbersome and costly processes.” — Representative Curtis (R-UT-3), September 19, 2019
The first action in the 116th Congress began in March of 2019. Shortly after Congress passed the Dingell Act, a broad and bipartisan public lands conservation bill, I was invited to testify before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in a hearing to Examine Opportunities to Improve Access, Infrastructure, and Permitting for Outdoor Recreation. This was an oversight hearing which means we were not discussing specific legislation but exploring topics that would form the basis and justification for future legislation — in other words we were identifying the problems and opportunities that legislation could address. Senator Lisa Murkowski from Alaska and Senator Manchin from West Virginia presided over the hearing. I shared an anecdote from Sam Drevo, a kayak instructor from Oregon, that it is easier for him to take a group kayaking in Costa Rica than it is to take them out in his own backyard of the Mt. Hood National Forest. Senator Murkowski and I spoke after the hearing and the story clearly resonated with her.
Shortly after the hearing, Senator Wyden once again reintroduced his Recreation Not Redtape Act jointly with Representative Bishop as S. 1967 and H.R. 3458 (See Outdoor Alliance — Two Very Positive Bill Introductions: Recreation Not Red Tape and The SOAR Act). With the Republicans losing control in the House, Representative Bishop was no longer the Chair but he stayed true to his commitment to work with our community on the bill. In the Senate, Democrat Ron Wyden from Oregon was joined by Republican Joni Ernst from Iowa as the original co-sponsor. In the House, Republican Rob Bishop from Utah was joined by Democrat Debbie Dingell from Michigan as an original bill co-sponsor. More recently, Republican John Curtis from Utah, Democrat Derek Kilmer from Washington, and Republican Greg Gianforte from Montana have joined on.
The latest iteration of the bill also includes language from the Simplifying Outdoor Access for Recreation Act or SOAR Act (S. 1665 and H.R. 3879) that was introduced in the Senate by Democratic Senator Martin Heinrich from New Mexico and Republican Senator Shelley Capito from West Virginia with 11 original co-sponsors, and in the House by Democratic Representative Haaland from New Mexico with 9 original co-sponsors. The SOAR Act thus forms the basis for the special recreation permit reforms in the Recreation Not Red Tape Act.
RNR and SOAR were both the subject of a recent hearing before the House Natural Resources Committee (see Outdoor Alliance — Two Big Recreation Bills Get a Hearing! that includes a link to Take Action in support of these bills).
What Does the Bill Language Mean? — a section-by-section explanation
TITLE I — MODERNIZING RECREATION PERMITTING
Title I covers special recreation permits and includes the language from the SOAR Act. Like many of my friends, I enjoy — and prefer — planning my own trips to go out and experience public lands and rivers but special recreation permits are critical for many experiences. If the YMCA wants to take local youth, many of whom have never had the opportunity to experience public lands or waters, they need a special recreation permit (YMCA testified that they can’t take kids fishing on the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest because they can’t secure a permit); when I take a Member of Congress or their staff out to experience a river we are considering for Wild and Scenic designation, we need a special recreation permit (a Member of Congress can often make it happen); if I want to take a hydropower operator or agency decision maker out on a river flowing through federal lands where we are working to restore flows for hydropower licensing, I need a special recreation permit (and too often I can’t get it); if I want to hire someone to teach my kids to kayak on a river flowing through the National Forest, they need a special recreation permit; if we want a local outfitter to make use of a river on federal lands where we have worked to restore flows through hydropower licensing and introduce local community members to the river, they need a special recreation permit; and if a local kayak shop wants to offer a waterfall-running clinic on a local creek flowing through a National Forest, they need a special recreation permit (typically the agency won’t even act on these requests). While I was not involved in writing this section of the bill, I did have several opportunities for input along with many other colleagues who work to represent the interests of the general public and their opportunities to enjoy recreation on public land. My colleagues at The Mountaineers, who have had challenges securing permits for programs they have provided for decades, were intimately involved in developing the legislative concepts of this section and they have a good overview on their blog: The SOAR Act to Help Groups Get Outside).
It’s important to understand what this bill does not do: it does not make changes to existing carrying capacity determinations or change allocations between different user groups. In other words, the bill does not take capacity away from the general public and allocate it to commercial outfitters. The bill does not take user days away from the general public on rivers like the Middle Fork Salmon and allocate them to commercial outfitters or outdoor programs. It was personally important to me to ensure that reforms to special recreation permits sought by the outfitting and guiding community did not come at the expense of those who enjoy recreational opportunities on their own.
Following is a section-by-section overview of Title I which covers special recreation permits:
Sec. 101. Definitions.
This section is a simple overview of definitions for key terms in this section.
Sec. 102. Special recreation permit and fee.
Subsection a establishes basic definitions.
Subsection b includes provisions to ensure that those providing outfitter-guide services are paying fees based on the activities that occur on public lands and waters as opposed to total gross revenue. The section specifically states that “revenue from goods, services, souvenirs, merchandise, gear, food, and activities provided or sold by a special recreation permit holder in a location other than the Federal recreational lands and waters covered by the permit, including transportation costs, lodging, and any other service before or after a trip” will be excluded from calculation of gross revenue used to determine outfitter-guide fees.
Subsection b also directs agencies to establish a protocol to allow those with special recreation permits who provide services that are “substantially similar to the specific activity authorized under the special recreation permit” to offer those activities under their existing permit. As a specific example, this provision would allow an outfitter who provides kayak and canoe trips to also add stand-up-paddleboarding without having to go through a new administrative process to add a “new activity” to their permit. Specific safeguards are included to ensure that the new activity “does not result in a greater impact on natural and cultural resources than the authorized activity.”
Subsection c covers use of special recreation permit revenue. Currently this revenue can be used for a number of activities as listed under 16 USC §6807 that include “A) repair, maintenance, and facility enhancement related directly to visitor enjoyment, visitor access, and health and safety; B) interpretation, visitor information, visitor service, visitor needs assessments, and signs; C) habitat restoration directly related to wildlife-dependent recreation that is limited to hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, or photography; D) law enforcement related to public use and recreation; E) direct operating or capital costs associated with the recreation fee program; and F) a fee management agreement established under section 6805(a) of this title or a visitor reservation service.” The bill would add expenses “associated with processing applications for special recreation permits” to this list. Currently resource agencies cite lack of resources as a reason they won’t even respond to a request for an application for a special recreation permit.
Subsection d eliminates the sunset provision for the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act. For the past several years a mad scramble has ensued at the end of the federal fiscal year to extend this Act for another year. Reforms are needed, and I have had many conversations with Congressional offices to discuss how fees are collected for use of public lands but we need to take the time and care to do this right.
Sec. 103. Permitting process improvements.
Subsection a directs the agencies to “evaluate the special recreation permitting process and identify opportunities — (i) to eliminate duplicative processes; (ii) to reduce costs; and (iii) to decrease processing times.” Subsection b gives the agency the authority to incorporate information from previous environmental analyses that have been conducted. We have had situations where analysis has been conducted in hydropower licensing but when we try to work with outfitters to introduce people to the resource we have restored, the agency won’t utilize the extensive environmental analysis and work we have already done.
Subsection c directs the agencies to consider whether additional categorical exclusions, under the National Environmental Policy Act, could be adopted to improve the permitting process “without significantly affecting the quality of the human environment.” As noted in the text of the bill, any such categorical exclusions must be “in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act” and be implemented through a revision to regulations that will be subject to public input and comment.
As stated in current law (40 CFR § 1508.4), a “Categorical Exclusion means a category of actions which do not individually or cumulatively have a significant effect on the human environment and which have been found to have no such effect in procedures adopted by a Federal agency in implementation of these regulations (§ 1507.3) and for which, therefore, neither an environmental assessment nor an environmental impact statement is required.” In cases where Extraordinary Circumstances exist (see 7 CFR § 799.33), “the presence and impacts of Extraordinary Circumstances require heightened review of proposed actions that would otherwise be categorically excluded.”
A real world example of the implications of this section would be a local kayaking shop who wants to lead a couple creeking clinics on the Cooper River, located on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest on the east side of Snoqualmie Pass. When a local shop in Seattle inquired about offering such a clinic, the Forest Service responded that they would be required to conduct an Environmental Assessment before issuing a permit at a cost of several thousand dollars. This section does not bypass the National Environmental Policy Act but directs the agencies to identify opportunities for increased efficiency within the process. Where Extraordinary circumstances exist (e.g. impacts to endangered salmon), a more comprehensive environmental review is justified and can be done.
Regarding the needs assessment in subsection d, I have personally worked with individuals who have sought to offer new opportunities for kayak instruction on rivers on our National Forests and the agency has responded that they have not conducted a needs assessment to determine if the public has an interest in these services. I have even had staff on my local National Forest say that they don’t see a need for any whitewater kayaking services (e.g. local shops who want to teach a clinic a couple times a year) because the number of people whitewater rafting has declined over the past decade. The agency logic is clearly we don’t need to offer any permits for whitewater kayaking instruction because fewer people are rafting. A small business owner or local paddling club is more capable of determining if a market exists for a service than the resource agency; recognizing this reality, the bill states that the “Secretary concerned shall not conduct a needs assessment as a condition of issuing a special recreation permit under this Act.”
Accommodations to submit an application online is included in subsection e. Currently the process for submitting an application for a special recreation permit involves numerous phone calls and visits to a local office to find out who can accept an application. In several cases, a small business owner or organization has to enlist the services of their Member of Congress to get the agency to even acknowledge receipt of an application. Many just give up.
Sec. 104. Permit flexibility.
This section allows those with special recreation permits to “voluntarily and temporarily return to the Secretary concerned one or more service days, to be made available to any other existing or potential permittee.” It also includes a provision to “establish and implement a program to authorize the issuance of temporary special recreation permits for new or additional recreational uses of Federal recreational lands and waters.” Too often permits are locked in to one type and style of trip and do not recognizing changing recreation demand. For rivers, an outfitter may have been offering guided whitewater trips with passengers sitting passively in a raft. A new business owner might have ideas for offering different types of trips or experiences where participants take a more active role in the experience (e.g. kayaking, inflatable kayaking, or stand-up-paddleboarding trips). This section would allow a business owner or instructor to test out new ideas for trips or experiences.
Sec. 105. Permit administration.
Subsection a provides information for those seeking special recreation permits as well as the general public in a transparent format on a website as well as an email notification system. This level of visibility will help everyone and take the administrative process associated with special recreation permits out of the backrooms of agencies ensuring that everyone has knowledge of where the agency might be making opportunities for special recreation permits available.
Subsection b requires agencies to acknowledge receipt of an application for a special recreation permit within 60 days and either issue a decision or provide a “projected date for a final decision on the application.” In too many cases a small business or organization seeking opportunities to provide an experience on public lands is not even able to get a response to their request. Here is an example of a response that an outfitter received in response to his request for a timeline for his application:
“Hi XXXX, my apologies for not responding to your message. I did get it and have been consumed by many things. I appreciate your patience with us, but the XXX Ranger District is trying to work through a very difficult and complex program of work, including some legacy projects and court ordered settlements. I don’t want to be a wet blanket, but also do not want to give any false hope on your proposal to provide outfitting services on the XXXX River. As I have said, its not a bad proposal, actually its one with a lot of merit. Just that we have so much required work and have all but cut out our discretionary projects. I truly cannot see us doing the required NEPA analysis and consultation anytime in the near future.”
As I said in my testimony before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, since when did recreation become a “discretionary activity?” You know what the Ranger District above is spending all their time on? — evaluating a proposal for a new mine.
Sec. 106. Permits for multijurisdictional trips.
With river trips and other outdoor activities it is not uncommon to cross jurisdictions. You might start a trip on Bureau of Land Management land and end the trip on Forest Service land. This section includes provisions for coordinated special recreation permits for a single trip or experience that crosses more than one land management agency.
Sec. 107. Forest Service permit use reviews.
This section includes a provision that applies to a specific set of circumstances that occur when the Forest Service reviews a permit holder’s performance and the number of service days actually used under the permit. As currently-stated in USFS Forest Service Handbook 2709.14 Section 53.1n, “During the 5th year of a priority use permit, review actual use, and adjust the allocation of use to match the highest amount of actual use in one calendar year during that period.”
Section 107(a)(2) of the bill specifically states, “if the special recreation permit holder receives a satisfactory performance review, allocate to the special recreation permit holder the highest level of actual annual use during the period under review plus 25 percent of that use, not to exceed the level allocated to the special recreation permit holder on the date on which the special recreation permit was issued.”
This section directs the Forest Service to take the highest actual use level during the five-year review period and add 25%. However, it limits this adjustment to the amount allocated when the permit was originally issued. Consequently, there is no overall increase in the permittee’s allocation, and no overall increase in the allocation of use to permit holders. Existing Forest Service policy directs the agency to make a similar adjustment. See USFS Handbook 2709.14 Section 53.1n(2) and (3).
This section includes a provision that “if additional use capacity is available, the Secretary may, at any time, assign the remaining use to one or more qualified recreation service providers.” It’s important to understand that land use plans and river management plans sets limits on guided recreational access and where those limits have been reached, then no additional capacity is available and this section cannot be used to increase an allocation.
This section also states the “The Secretary may waive a special recreation permit use review for any period during which use of the assigned capacity for the special recreation permit has been prevented by a circumstance beyond the control of the special recreation permit holder, such as — (1) unfavorable weather; (2) fire; (3) natural disaster; (4) wildlife displacement; (5) business interruption; (6) insufficient availability of hunting and fishing licenses; or (7) significant seasonal variability or off-peak periods within the allocated period of use.” I have seen examples where low snowpack, wildfire, or dam removal have severely impacted operations for small business owners. This section ensures that they are not “penalized” for not using their allocation in these situations.
Sec. 108. Liability
This section authorizes a recreation permit holder to require a client of the permittee to sign a liability release form. There is nothing particularly revolutionary about liability release forms. They are commonly used across the outdoor recreation industry and they are recognized as valid and enforceable in many states. Furthermore, liability release forms are already allowed in many circumstances on public lands. For example, the Bureau of Land Management allows permittees to use them. Some National Forests do as well. However, other forests do not, and the National Park Service prohibits them. Accordingly, the bill seeks to establish consistency in the use of liability release forms across the federal land agencies by establishing the principle that State law rather than federal law governs the use of these forms.
Sec. 109. Cost recovery reform.
“Cost recovery” is the mechanism through which the agencies charge permit applicants and permit holders the costs of processing and administering their permits. Cost recovery charges are in addition to the permit fees based on gross revenue that are set forth section 102 of the bill. Section 109 modifies existing cost recovery rules to provide an “exemption providing that fees may not be recovered for not less than the first 50 hours of work necessary in any 1 year to process the application or monitor the authorization.” Currently, cost recovery is waived for less than 50 hours of work, but if the agency goes over 50 hours, the applicant must pay for the full 50+ hours. The modification in section 109 provides applicants with greater certainty regarding cost recovery expenses.
Sec. 110. Extension of special recreation permits.
This section suspends the expiration of a special recreation permit if the agency hasn’t gotten around to processing the permit holder’s application for renewal. The agencies often do not complete renewals before the expiration of a permit.
Sec. 111. Availability of Federal and State recreation passes.
The section includes language whereby “the Secretaries are encouraged to consult with States to coordinate the availability of Federal and State recreation passes to allow a purchaser to buy a Federal recreation pass and a State recreation pass in the same transaction.”
Sec. 112. Online purchases of National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass.
This section directs agencies to make recreation passes available through a website.
TITLE II — ACCESSING THE OUTDOORS
This section recognizes the benefits of outdoor recreation for physical and mental health for service members and veterans. Key provisions include the following:
“The Secretaries are encouraged to work with the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to ensure service members and veterans have access to outdoor recreation and to outdoor-related volunteer and wellness programs as a part of the basic services provided to service members and veterans.”
“Each branch of the Armed Forces is encouraged to permit members of the Armed Forces on active duty status, at the discretion of the commander of the member, to use not more than 7 days of a permissive temporary duty assignment or terminal leave allotted to the member to participate in a program related to environmental stewardship or guided outdoor recreation following deployment.”
TITLE III — MAKING RECREATION A PRIORITY
I was most directly involved in this section of the bill that includes the provisions that provide significant benefits to those who value outdoor recreation opportunities on public lands and waters.
Following is a section-by-section overview of Title III that directs our land management agencies to make outdoor recreation a higher priority:
Sec. 301. Extension of seasonal recreation opportunities.
In this section, federal land managers are directed to “extend the recreation season or increase recreation use in a sustainable manner during the offseason.” Whitewater kayakers know that our activity may not be aligned with the typical Memorial Day to Labor Day recreation season. In the Pacific Northwest where I live the rain falls during the winter and snowmelt begins in early spring — on many rivers the opportunities for whitewater boating are starting to diminish by Memorial Day. Too often we encounter locked gates, closed campgrounds, and areas that are not accessible during the peak of the whitewater boating season. The bill provides direction for “improvement of access to the area to extend the season” and will enable me to more effectively advocate for access to opportunities that might not take place in the summer recreation season.
Sec. 302. Recreation performance metrics.
Adding recreation performance metrics will recognize those land managers who go the extra mile to take actions that benefit outdoor recreation. It stipulates that agencies “shall evaluate land managers under their jurisdiction based on the achievement of applicable agency recreational and tourism metrics as described in applicable land management plans.” I’m particularly pleased that we were able to focus metrics on experiences and not just encouraging a greater number of visitors; examples include “the quality of visitor experience” and “visitor satisfaction.”
Sec. 303. Recreation mission.
Many agencies may not have recreation as their central focus but are engaged in management actions that affect outdoor recreation. This section states, “With respect to the mission of the [Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and Department of Transportation] each Federal agency shall consider how land and water management decisions can enhance recreation opportunities and the recreation economy.”
Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation, and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission all manage dams that impact river-based recreation. Management decisions on how these agencies operate dams on rivers like the West (VT), Green (WA), Crooked (OR), Gauley (WV), Feather (CA), and Deerfield (MA) can enhance or diminish recreational opportunities. With the Department of Transportation we see additional opportunities to work together with transportation officials to ensure that river access at bridges is available.
Sec. 304. National Recreation Area System.
This is one of the most exciting sections of the bill. Currently land managers are not required to evaluate lands they manage for their recreation value. Subjection f is particularly important as it requires agencies, in land management planning, to:
- “(A) identify eligible areas that possess one or more remarkable recreational attributes;”
- “(B) develop and maintain a list of eligible areas as potential additions to the [National Recreation Area System];”
Currently land managers are not required to assess areas within their unit for their recreation value. When I was engaged in Forest Planning for the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, several members of the outdoor recreation community tried to engage the Forest Service in identifying Icicle Creek as a corridor to be recognized and managed for its recreation value. The response we got was that the Forest Service was not required to recognize the special recreation values of this destination for climbing, hiking, and whitewater paddling.
This bill would require the agency to identify areas with Remarkable Recreation Values that includes “A) a natural feature that supports high-quality outdoor recreation opportunities and experiences; B) a unique cultural or historic feature or attribute that supports high-quality recreation opportunities and experiences; C) the offering of outstanding existing or prospective recreation opportunities and uses; D) having an important role in, and contributing significantly, to the outdoor recreation economy; and E) having high fish and wildlife values.” I am particularly pleased that the section focuses on quality of the recreational experiences a place provides and not the total use numbers or popularity.
This section is in part inspired by the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act where rivers are inventoried for potential addition to the Wild and Scenic River system during agency planning, are managed by our federal resource agencies for the values that make them eligible for addition to the system, and can ultimately be added to the Wild and Scenic Rivers system by an act of Congress. Why can’t we do the same for areas that have remarkable recreation values?
TITLE IV — MAINTENANCE OF PUBLIC LAND
Subtitle A — Volunteers, Sec. 401. Private-sector volunteer enhancement program.
As stated in the bill text, “the purpose of this section is to promote private-sector volunteer programs within the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture to enhance stewardship, recreation access, and sustainability of the resources, values, and facilities of the Federal recreational lands and waters managed by the Federal land management agencies.” This section provides authority for cooperative agreements between organizations like American Whitewater and federal agencies. Authorized programs include on-the-ground projects like development or maintenance of a river put-in but also includes programs that “increase awareness, understanding, and stewardship of Federal land through the development, publication, or distribution of educational materials and products.” This could provide new opportunities for information sharing and coordination of recreational river resources — e.g. the National Whitewater Inventory — in a similar manner to what we have done with the U.S. Coast Guard to provide river safety information.
Subtitle B — Priority Trail Maintenance, Sec. 411. Interagency trail management.
Under this section “the Secretaries shall establish an interagency trail management plan to manage and maintain in a uniform manner trails that cross jurisdictional boundaries between Federal land management agencies.”
Recreation Not Red Tape is a good bill for the outdoor recreation community. I have taken several trips to Washington DC over the last year to advocate on behalf of the general public and specifically those who enjoy opportunities to enjoy rivers. I am acutely aware of the challenges of securing permits for several rivers in the Western Rivers where demand for trips greatly exceeds capacity — like many of my friends, I apply for river permits every January. Many of these rivers are in desperate need of updates to their management plans that were developed decades ago — an issue I raised in my testimony before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee this year. While this legislation does not address that issue, I am engaged in those conversations and seeking ways to find ways to update management plans to better reflect current recreational interests. In the meantime, Recreation Not Red Tape advances the ball for outdoor recreation and all who enjoy the opportunities our public lands and waters provide.