RRFW Riverwire – Outfitter Legislation Continues To Move During COVID-19 Crisis

RRFW Riverwire – Outfitter Legislation Continues To Move During COVID-19 Crisis

March 29, 2020

Many river runners and do-it-yourself visitors to Federal lands are feeling lost and alone these days of sheltering in place during the COVID-19 pandemic. Imagine if it was like this all the time.

River runners all across the country know what access to federal lands means every time they lose the river permit lottery. Very few know that the loss is a byproduct of Federal land managers giving do-it-yourself river runner access to private commercial tour groups.

In the case of the Yampa and Lodore river canyons at Dinosaur National Monument and the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, that giveaway started in the 1950s. The Middle Fork of the Salmon River giveaway happened in the 1970s.

This hasn’t happened everywhere. The U.S. Forest service was going to give75 percent of all river access on the Salt River in Arizona to commercial interests until Do-It-Yourself river runners stepped forward in the 1980s and pointed out there was no commercial use on the river and the commercials should only have25 percent of the available river access. The U.S. Forest Service listened, and the DIY river runners were able to keep 75 percent of their access.

The list of federal lands where use ceilings are limited, like the Salt River, Salmon, Yampa, Green and Grand Canyon all rely on the National Environmental Policy Act to set use limits and access allocations.

Special interest legislation is being reviewed now by Congress that will remove National Environmental Policy Act limits on commercial private tour guiding.

This legislation, called the “Simplifying Outdoor Access to Recreation Act,” is put forward by America Outdoors, the private business guided tour trade association. It seeks to remove any review of Federal land needs assessments which include analysis defining critical carrying capacities. This legislation seeks to bypass these important analysis, often the only place the agency can acknowledge the resource is already at, or above, its carrying capacity. What do-it-yourself river runners were able to do on the Salt would no longer be possible.

This legislation would bypass comments from the do-it-yourself public who wish to speak up to protect their access from being given away to unlimited numbers of private tour companies. This legislation would exempt commercial tours from carrying capacity limits but does not exempt Do-It-Yourself recreationists from access limitations based on carrying capacity limits.

A recently retired career employee of the Bureau of Land Management sized up the legislation like this:

“It is a bad bill. Basically makes the land management agencies a rubber stamp approval for outfitters wants and wishes. Safety and experience of their clients no longer a consideration. Agencies restricted on dealing with capacity issues. Commercial permits can be used for speculation. No evaluation of need so you end up with more guides than surface area of water."

If you think your access is constrained now, look ahead 10 and 20 years. This legislation will allow the access problems river runners experience today to balloon out of control for all DIY federal lands recreational activities, from mountain biking to climbing to horseback riding, ATV and four wheel driving, hunting and fishing. This legislation removes commercial use limits, giving away access that the DIY public has now, and takes for granted.

If you are missing your access to federal lands right now, and you don’t want to gripe about losing a permit lottery on presently unpermitted federal lands, tell your friends and please share this Riverwire. Then send a quick email to your congressional representatives in both the House and Senate.

What you might want to say:

Include that you recreate on federal lands and that you are aware getting do-it-yourself permits to recreate is harder and harder.

Mention you are aware of the “Simplifying Outdoor Access to Recreation Act” called S.1665 in the Senate and HR 3879 in the House, and that you do not support these bills that give away your federal land access to for-profit companies.

Mention you do not want your Senators and Congresspeople to support this legislation either.

Mention that this legislation does not include safeguards to protect do-it-yourself recreational access.

Mention that outfitting and guiding permit approval on federal land should not have categorical exclusion protection from the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Demand that these bills require a NEPA Needs Assessment for every new commercial use permit. State that removing this tool removes your voice from the management of your federal lands.

Mention that language in S.1665 in the Senate and HR 3879 in the House must not give away actual commercial tour use plus 25%. That is your access the bills give away.

Be polite but stand up for your access to your federal lands.

You can find your House representative here:


You can find your Senate representative here:


Tell your Senators and Representatives to vote NO on the “Simplifying Outdoor Access to Recreation Act” SOAR (called S.1665 in the Senate and HR 3879 in the House). Or, don’t speak up, and stay home, just like you are now. It’s up to you.

Please share this with your outdoor friends.


RIVERWIRE is a free service to the community of river lovers from River Runners for Wilderness. To sign-up for future Riverwires, send an e-mail address to riverwire@rrfw.org and we'll add it to the RRFW Riverwire e-mail alerts list.

RRFW has a number of robust Facebook discussion groups to stay abreast of and participate in the latest river issues.

For Grand Canyon discussion, see  https://www.facebook.com/groups/raftgc/

For The Yampa, Lodore, and the Canyonlands rivers, see https://www.facebook.com/groups/utahrafters/

For the entire basin, see https://www.facebook.com/groups/643263936458197/

Join RRFW's Yahoogroup discussion group to stay abreast of and participate in the latest river issues. It's as easy as sending a blank e-mail to


Check out RRFW's Rafting Grand Canyon Wiki for free information on how to organize a Do-It-Yourself Grand Canyon rafting trip at https://rrfw.org/RaftingGrandCanyon/Main_Page

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