Copper Mountain and Tenmile Range Mountain View Winter Sunset

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Outdoor recreation industry asks Congress for easier permitting process

{child_byline}Tom Ramstack for Colorado Politics{/child_byline}

{p dir=”ltr”}WASHINGTON — A spokesman for the Boulder-based American Mountain Guides Association tried to convince Congress on Thursday that proposed financial incentives for the outdoor recreation industry would boost the U.S. economy.

{p dir=”ltr”}He said the two congressional bills discussed at a House Natural Resources subcommittee hearing would reduce regulatory obstacles to using public lands for fun and profit.

{p dir=”ltr”}“In particular, we believe there is a significant opportunity to enhance accessibility of public lands and increase recreational opportunities by modernizing the outfitter and guide permitting systems of the federal land agencies,” Matt Wade, advocacy and policy director for the American Mountain Guides Association, said in his testimony.

{p dir=”ltr”}He was referring to the Simplifying Outdoor Access for Recreation (SOAR) and the Recreation Not Red Tape Acts introduced in Congress earlier this year. SOAR seeks to streamline procedures for obtaining special recreation permits on public lands.

{p dir=”ltr”}The Recreation Not Red Tape Act would increase opportunities for private contractors to use federal land.

{p dir=”ltr”}Contractors and specialized recreation on public lands require government permits.

{p dir=”ltr”}“Currently these systems are antiquated, layered with unnecessary analysis, and they lack the tools necessary to quickly and efficiently authorize outfitted and guided activities,” Wade told the subcommittee on national parks, forests and public lands.

{p dir=”ltr”}The regulatory procedures of the U.S. Forest Service and other agencies interfere with business of the outdoor recreation industry and limit opportunities for the public, he said. In addition, fire suppression costs of recent years make regulatory agencies less responsive to permit seekers.

{p dir=”ltr”}The American Mountain Guides Association is a nonprofit group that provides training and certification for climbing, skiing and mountain guides.

{p dir=”ltr”}Its members include Boulder’s Colorado Mountain School, which teaches rock climbing, mountaineering, backcountry skiing and avalanche awareness in the Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forest.

{p dir=”ltr”}The company has complied with its Forest Service permits for more than a decade in business, Wade said.

{p dir=”ltr”}Nevertheless, the Colorado Mountain School “is required to resubmit a temporary permit application every 180 days because the agency is unable to complete the analyses required to issue a longer-term permit,” Wade said in his testimony. “The repetitive reissuance of a short-term permit is unnecessarily time consuming and inefficient for both the Colorado Mountain School and for the Forest Service.”

{p dir=”ltr”}Both the SOAR and Recreation Not Red Tape Acts have bipartisan support among the Colorado delegation to Congress. Colorado U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse, a Boulder Democrat, is a member of the subcommittee on national parks, forests and public lands.

{p dir=”ltr”}The Boulder-based Outdoor Industry Association estimated the value of Colorado’s outdoor recreation economy last year at $28 billion. The trade association reported the industry supports about 229,000 direct jobs.

{p dir=”ltr”}A different report last October sponsored by Colorado Parks and Wildlife estimated the state’s outdoor recreation economy at $62.5 billion, supporting 511,000 jobs. That report counted more activities than the Outdoor Industry Association study.

{p dir=”ltr”}The association supports the congressional bills reviewed at the congressional hearing Thursday.

{p dir=”ltr”}The bills would help “lower barriers to getting more Americans outside,” Patricia Rojas-Ungar, vice president of government affairs at the Outdoor Industry Association, told Colorado Politics.

{p dir=”ltr”}“These bills work together to streamline and improve everything from the processes for recreation permits and outdoor programs for veterans to identifying areas in need of protection and enhancing the use of volunteers for maintenance and stewardship,” she said.

{p dir=”ltr”}Matt Baker-White, acting director of New Mexico’s Cottonwood Gulch Expeditions, told the subcommittee that his foundation spends at least a quarter of its administrative time seeking permits or responding to requirements of the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service or Bureau of Land Management.

{p dir=”ltr”}The foundation organizes wilderness hiking and backpacking expeditions with an emphasis on education.

{p dir=”ltr”}“If these bills pass, that would reduce the administrative time significantly,” Baker-White said.

{p dir=”ltr”}It also would free his staff to seek new funding and expand programming, such as for children’s outdoor recreation, he said.

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