necessary to plan and authorize outdoor recreation services on public lands was
a hot topic at a two hour hearing yesterday in the U.S. House of
Representatives Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and
Environmental Regulation. The hearing was conducted by Subcommittee Chairman
Rob Bishop (R-UT). AOA members testifying included Aaron Bannon from NOLS,
Brian Merrill from Western River Expeditions, Sutton Bacon from Nantahala
Outdoor Center, along with David Brown, AOA’s Executive Director, and Grant
Simonds from Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association. Rick Lindsey, Prime
Insurance, in Salt Lake and other outfitter witnesses also testified.
already contracting in some backcountry settings due to impassable trails.
Planning and regulatory processes are creating logjams to the authorization of
Executive Director David Brown testified that several issues have to be
addressed to avoid a contraction in recreation access especially for the
outfitted public. He told the subcommittee that agency processes for
authorizing permits have become more complex and expensive in part because of
lawsuits. He cited cost recovery for extensive NEPA, need assessments and other
analyses as a potential threat to the industry and explained why those costs
cannot be passed on to outfitters with relatively low profit margins. He urged
the committee to help the agencies streamline their processes by adopting
categorical exclusions and programmatic environmental assessments.
He also urged
the committee to take up reauthorization of the Federal Lands Recreation
Enhancement Act (FLREA), which is the authority for Forest Service, BLM and
Refuge permits. FLREA expires in 2014. He asked the committee to consider
better accountability to promote effective use of fee revenues.
expressed concern to the committee about the new BLM National Landscape
Conservation System and its apparent lack of support for recreation. While
agency manuals require a science plan for each NLCS unit, the NLCS does not
require or promote planning for permitted recreation services. He suggested
that any new BLM designation, which by law automatically becomes part of the
NLCS, have recreation as a purpose and authorize outfitted recreation
opportunities. He said a new "backcountry designation” which promotes outdoor
recreation, should be considered as an alternative to wilderness.
from Prime Insurance provided the committee with examples of high liability
insurance limits in National Parks as a threat to outfitted services. He
challenged NPS to provide examples of awards that justified high limits.
Policy Director Aaron Bannon expressed concerns about group size limits in
wilderness constraining commercial outfitters. He said, "Group size limitations
are a persistent threat. Land managers struggle to balance the dual mandates of
the Wilderness Act, those of preserving naturalness while retaining
opportunities for visitors.” He elaborated by saying that agency managers often
find the easiest way to manage visitation is through constraining commercial outfitter
providers. NOLS ceased operating in Canyonlands National Park after the party
size there was reduced to seven persons.
identified cost recovery as another barrier to development of recreation
opportunities on public lands and private sector involvement in the expansion
of recreation opportunities. Grant Simonds also testified that cost recovery
was a threat to outfitter operations and a barrier to permit issuance. He also
pointed to the degradation of trails in the Frank Church Wilderness as the
reason the state of Idaho declared the wilderness there a "disaster area”. He
called for fee credits to outfitters who open up trails for public use and
other strategies to open up impassable trails.
round of questioning accompanied each panel throughout the two-hour hearing in
one of the most extensive hearings ever devoted to outfitter issues.
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