While the issue of debating health care is causing a sharp political divide in Congress, U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) took time recently to highlight what he described as the right way of advancing legislation.
During a conference call with reporters, Wyden announced he is reaching across the aisle to revive the Recreation Not Red-Tape Act — a bill that supporters say would make it easier for people to enjoy the great outdoors.
Wyden co-sponsored a version of the bill last year with fellow Oregon Democrat Rep. Earl Blumenauer after they made the rounds visiting each of Oregon’s “Seven Wonders.” This year, Wyden has reintroduced the bill alongside Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee.
The focus of the bill is to get more people outside enjoying national lands, Wyden said, by expediting the permit process for outfitters and directing federal agencies to prioritize recreation when making land and water management decisions.
“A number of key laws really stem from yesteryear,” Wyden said. “To a great extent, I think this is really trying to come up with some policies that modernize the challenges of outdoor industries.”
To illustrate his point, Wyden mentioned river guides who need to obtain multiple permits from multiple different agencies for trips that cross jurisdictions. The Recreation Not Red-Tape Act would require the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to review their permitting processes, shorten processing times and work with states so visitors can buy a state and federal pass all in one transaction.
The bill also directs agencies like the Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation and Department of Transportation to make outdoor recreation a priority for the first time, and holds land managers accountable for achieving recreation goals.
According to the Outdoor Industry Association, outdoor recreation generates $887 billion in annual spending and 7.6 million jobs across the country. Yet Wyden said he has heard concerns from within rural communities that outdated laws are holding back these opportunities.
“Some of the concerns I’ve heard just sounded like bureaucratic water torture,” he said.
Other provisions in the bill would extend to the U.S. military, requiring all branches to include information about outdoor recreation as part of the basic services they provide to veterans.
As for maintaining public lands, the bill establishes a pilot program for interagency trail management while also creating a system of National Recreation Areas, which would be managed to uniform guidelines.
Wyden said parts of the bill have been modified in this latest version, but still maintains the same intent while garnering greater bipartisan support with the help of Rep. Bishop.
“Cumbersome permitting processes and other bureaucratic roadblocks have significantly undermined access to recreational opportunities for lands that should be available for all Americans to enjoy,” Bishop said in a statement. “This bipartisan bill cuts through that red-tape and ensures federal land managers are focused on their role in providing the public with high-quality outdoor experiences.”
A number of outdoor recreation groups have come out in favor of the bill, including the Association of Northwest Steelheaders, International Mountain Biking Association, Trout Unlimited, the American Alpine Club and American Canoe Association.