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Rep. Bishop supports bill for more recreation on public lands

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SALT LAKE CITY — A new bipartisan effort could soon allow outdoor adventurers easier access to climbing, skiing, paddling and off-roading on public lands.

The Recreation Without Red-Tape Act, sponsored by Sen. Rob Wyden, D-Oregon, and House Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop, R-Utah, would streamline permitting for outfitters and guides catering to outdoor enthusiasts and encourage land management agencies to create more permissive guidelines for recreation on public lands.

"The final goal is to make sure that people have faster and easier access to recreate in the outdoors," Bishop said.

The bill is a resurrection of Wyden's past efforts to ease outdoor recreation restrictions, and the new cooperation found between Wyden and Bishop works to introduce more bipartisan stakeholders and expedite the process to garner support for the bill. Wyden and Bishop each introduced the legislation in their respective chambers in a bicameral effort to propel the bill forward.

"If you have a ranking Democrat in the Senate and the chairman of the committee who is a Republican in the House, both introducing the same bill, both moving them on tracks in both of their agencies, we think we can move it faster because of that," Bishop said.

Bishop said he enjoyed the opportunity for a bipartisan process. Though he said the bill doesn't give either conservatives or liberals everything they desire on land policy, he said it creates a narrow compromise where "people who recreate" are the clear winners.

Stakeholders throughout the outdoor community helped to craft legislation, providing feedback on how issues like permitting, conservation and overall access is complicated by often outdated or inconsistent land-use standards that tend to change from one location to the next.

"There were some sticking points for sure, but the basic tenants of the bill certainly crossed both aisles and everyone is interested in more-efficient permitting, better land designation, (and) encouraging stewardship," said Erick Murdock, the policy director for the Access Fund, which is a national climbing and environmental group.

Murdock said outfitters and climbing guides often have difficulty getting permits in climbing areas where there can be jurisdictional problems with adjacent Forest Service, BLM and state lands. He said the bill would introduce more cross-agency communication and ease access to recreation areas governed by different state and federal agencies.

"This bill encourages agencies to kind of come together and allow visitors to buy state and federal passes at one place, at one transaction," Murdock said.

In addition to easing permitting guidelines, the bill aims to recognize National Recreation Areas that are specifically designated with recreation in mind. Managing federal agencies would have to consider recreation more carefully and set forth plans for increasing access.

Outdoor Alliance policy director Louis Geltman said the new legislation reflects a change in how land agencies may interpret their managing roles.

"For a long time, the way our land managers were sort of evaluated in the Forest Service had to do with how well they were meeting performance measures for timber production," Geltman said. "I think that recreation is appropriately becoming more of a focus for some of the land management agencies."

The Outdoor Industry Association reports that $887 billion is spent annually on outdoor recreation and employs 7.6 million workers. Easier access for outfitters and guides and increased recreation opportunities for adventurers could increase that economic output.

"Any good policy that gets more people outside and helps make sure that the lands can continue to provide recreation for Americans and international tourists is good for the recreation economy," said Jessica Wahl, government affairs manager for the Outdoor Industry Association.

Wahl said easing permitting costs would lower barriers to entry for small businesses hoping to cater to local recreation spots and would also encourage large-scale trends in the outdoor recreation industry as states and agencies work together to market land use toward recreation.

She said the opportunity creates a "sweet spot" where both businesses and customers benefit from the increased access to recreation areas and lowered requirements for permitting.

Bishop said he expects the bill to move forward once Congress reconvenes in the fall.


Ryan Morgan is a news media student and a senior at BYU. He currently works as an intern for the Deseret News. Contact Ryan at rmorgan@deseretnews.com.

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