(TRIBUNE) Hiking to Vallecito alpine lake, Weminuche Wilderness, Colorado (copy)
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If passed, the SOAR bill, sponsored by Colorado’s U.S. senators Cory Gardner (R) and Michael Bennet (D), would allow outfitters, guides and others to work in a broader range of outdoor activities with a single permit. Pictured: Three hikers on a shale trail leading to Vallecito Lake in the Grenadier Mountains in Silverton.

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WASHINGTON — Colorado’s U.S. senators have introduced a bill to boost the outdoor recreation industry on public lands.

It would benefit outfitters, educational organizations and community groups by giving them easier access to the permits they need to work or seek recreation on federal lands.

Senators Cory Gardner, a Republican, and Michael Bennet, a Democrat, call their bill the Simplifying Outdoor Access for Recreation (SOAR) Act.

Nearly 68 percent of Colorado’s forests are owned by the federal government. About 11.3 million acres of the land are managed by the U.S. Forest Service.

The SOAR bill, which was introduced May 24, would allow outfitters, guides and others to work in a broader range of outdoor activities with a single permit. Permits issued now by the Forest Service and other U.S. Interior Department agencies are often more narrowly defined in the activities they allow.

In addition, a single permit could replace the multiple permits now required by different agencies.

Gardner said the bill “will not only allow greater access to the outdoors, but also boost Colorado’s outdoor recreation economy.”

Bennet said in a statement, “Simplifying and streamlining the permitting process will remove unnecessary hurdles for outfitters and guides, and improve access to our public lands for all Coloradans to enjoy.”

Other provisions of the bill would control liability insurance costs for permit-holders by allowing them to use liability release forms with their clients. In addition, the Interior Department agencies would be required to offer more short-term permits and create a program for sharing unused permit service days between permit-holders.

The agencies also would be required to notify the public when new outdoor recreation permits become available.

In addition to the Forest Service, other federal agencies that manage public lands include the Bureau of Land Management, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service.

Supporters of the proposed legislation include the America Outdoors Association and the Colorado River Outfitters Association.

“SOAR is written to make common-sense changes to the permitting processes and provides greater access to public lands in a way that increases economic benefits and continues environmental protections,” said Julie Kahlfeldt, executive director of the America Outdoors Association, which represents outdoor adventure businesses.

David Costlow, executive director of the Colorado River Outfitters Association, said, “If there is one thing business enjoys, it is predictability and consistency in decision-making at all levels. This bill makes great strides in accomplishing this.”

The Colorado River Outfitters Association represents whitewater and float fishing outfitters.

The Colorado senators introduced the bill at a time the state’s outdoor recreation industry is bracing for a sharp spike in prices from recently announced Trump administration tariffs on equipment made in China.

The tariffs are scheduled to rise 25 percent this year on Chinese-manufactured goods, including skis, kayaks, camping gear and bicycles.

Working in favor of the SOAR Act is a Trump administration policy of making public lands more widely available for commercial use.

So far, the policy has included allowing more mineral extraction by oil, gas and mining companies. It also has meant reductions in the size of protected wildlands, such as Bears Ears National Monument in Utah near the border with Colorado.

The policy has outraged environmental groups in western states. Several lawsuits are pending against the Trump administration by environmentalists in California, Arizona and elsewhere.

They have not yet commented on the SOAR Act.

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