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EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR UPDATE (6/6)
Greetings AORE Members!
On May 23, Senators Martin Heinrich (Democrat – New Mexico) and Shelley Moore Capito (Republican – West Virginia) introduced legislation in the United States Senate that will, if enacted, increase access to federal lands and waters for AORE members and other outdoor leaders. This legislation will improve the operation of the recreational permitting system for federal lands and directly address the indemnification issue that has been so challenging for state universities and municipal recreation programs.
This legislation is known as the "Simplifying Outdoor Access for Recreation Act or “SOAR Act,” numbered as: S. 1665. I am proud to say that AORE has been directly involved in the development of this important legislation with input being provided at many levels within the association, including our volunteer-led Access and Permitting Committee. We have been advocating collectively for improvements to the permitting system for several years, and that advocacy helped lay the foundation for the introduction of the SOAR Act.
In addition, I currently serve as the Chair of the Coalition for Outdoor Access (COA), an alliance of many of the key stakeholders who have an interest in improving the permitting systems of federal agencies in order to increase access to public lands for guided outdoor recreation and education activities. The COA has been working directly with Senators Heinrich and Capito to write the SOAR Act. As AORE’s Executive Director, I have been able to connect the dots between the critical conversations happening at COA and those also taking place at our association, ensuring that AORE membership is up-to-date on the latest challenges and opportunities impacting our industry.
Here’s what you need to know about the SOAR Act and how it will help to advance the programs and projects of AORE members:
Increase recreational access by directing the agencies to improve the process for issuing recreation permits (eliminating duplicative processes, reducing costs, shortening processing times and simplifying environmental review).
Increase flexibility for outfitters, guides and other outdoor leaders by allowing them to engage in activities that are substantially similar to the activity specified in their permit.
Make more recreation opportunities available by directing the agencies to offer more short-term permits and create a program for sharing unused permit service days between permit holders.
Improve system transparency by directing agencies to notify the public when new recreation permits are available and requiring the agencies to provide timely responses to permit applicants.
Simplify the permitting process for trips involving more than one land management agency by authorizing the agencies to issue a single joint permit covering the lands of multiple agencies.
Reduce permit fees and cost recovery expenses for small businesses and organizations by excluding certain revenue from permit fee calculations and establishing a simple 50-hour cost recovery fee exemption for permit processing.
Provide new protections for Forest Service permit holders by recognizing seasonal demand fluctuations and waiving permit use reviews in extraordinary circumstances beyond the control of the permit holder (wildfire, etc.).
Help control liability insurance costs for permit holders by allowing them to use liability release forms with their clients.
Reduce barriers to access for state universities, city recreation departments, and school districts by waiving the permit indemnification requirement for entities that are prohibited from providing indemnification under state law.
Still curious to know more about the SOAR Act? Below are some additional materials that offer background on the origin and proposed goals of this crucial legislation:
We will share more information about what you can do to support the SOAR Act in the next few weeks. In the meantime, here is link to a form that you can use if you’d like to add your organization to the following list of supporters of this bill (just make sure that you’ve obtained your organization’s permission before doing so!).
We would like to extend a special thank-you to longtime AORE member, Paul Sanford (National Director of Recreation Policy, The Wilderness Society | The Wilderness Society Action Fund) for his devoted service and support of AORE’s commitment to advancing the SOAR Act. He currently volunteers on the association’s Access and Permitting Committee and has previously served as an AORE board member. Paul also helps to lead the national charge for access to public lands through his position at The Wilderness Society.
Want to learn more about Paul’s advocacy efforts on behalf of AORE as well as his overall experiences as an association member and volunteer? Check out this special member interview with Paul in our newsroom!