RRFW Riverwire – Senate Holds Hearing On Outdoor Recreation Act

RRFW Riverwire – Senate Holds Hearing On Outdoor Recreation Act

November 20, 2023

US Senate Bill 873, The America’s Outdoor Recreation Act (AORA), received a hearing before the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship on Wednesday, November 1, 2023. 

The AORA does for private tour companies providing outdoor recreation what the 1872 Mining Act did for mineral extraction, opening the doors to federal land recreational commercialization. This comes at a time when federal land managers across the country are seeing record levels of do-it-yourself recreational demand. 

This April, the US Forest Service received a landslide of public comments opposing plans to allow private tour companies to lead guided hikes on the San Francisco Peaks outside Flagstaff, Arizona. Overwhelming public comments in opposition to the new services were part of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process. Based on the public’s comments, the Forest Service nixed the plan. AORA removes this public comment process along with many additional things to force new privatization of federal lands. Here is a short rundown:

Seasonal closures on federal lands are reduced or eliminated. Existing seasonal closures are in place for human safety, to protect critical wildlife habitats in critical seasons, or to protect soils or people from soils when the roads are too wet to drive on.  

Increases parking at trailheads even if existing parking limitations keep trail use within capacity.  The analogy here is fixing overcrowded freeways by building bigger on-ramps.

Vetting of new private tour permits would decrease by allowing online applications with no analysis of need.  If an area already has 100 fishing guides on 6 miles of stream, 100 more would be able to apply for a permit. The market for fishing guides would quickly become over-saturated causing many to go out of business while the river resource is overfished.

Unused private tour company user days may be temporarily reallocated, including to other private tour companies or to the do-it-yourself recreational public without any guidelines on who gets what. 

Establishes pilot programs to authorize financing partnerships on National Forest Service lands for new recreation projects up to $15 million in size and to allow the privatization of more campgrounds.

Allows fixed anchors for climbing in Wilderness.

Requires that each National Forest and BLM district to provide at least one constructed and free to access target shooting range without providing funds to the agencies for lead contamination cleanup.

Semi-primitive campgrounds are to receive broadband. Focusing on one’s computer reduces the quality of the experience the land agency is trying to provide with landscape sights and sounds.

The legislation directs agencies to establish a permit administration protocol allowing temporary private tour company permits to be converted to long-term permits. In addition, the bill directs agencies to automatically authorize permittees  to engage in activities substantially similar to those for which they have a permit. 

If you recreate on federal lands without using a private tour company for access, you need to speak up! 

Email your Senators! (You can find your Senators here: https://www.senate.gov/senators/)

This is especially important if your Senators include any of the following Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee members:

Jeanne Shaheen (NH), Marco Rubio (FL), Maria Cantwell (WA), James Risch (ID), Ben Cardin (MD), Rand Paul (KY), Ed Markey (MA), Tim Scott (SC), Cory Booker (NJ), Todd Young (IN), Chris Coons (DE), John Kennedy (LA), Josh Hawley (MO), Mazie Hirono (HI), Tammy Duckworth (IL), Jacky Rosen (NV), John Hickenlooper (CO), Joni Ernst (IA), and Ted Budd (NC) 


Include that you recreate on federal lands without guided and outfitted services, that you are aware that federal land recreation is skyrocketing, and getting permits is harder and harder.


At the November 1, 2023, hearing, the committee ONLY heard from entities standing to benefit (financially) from this bill.  With the utmost respect, please remind the Committee members that the interest of the outdoor recreation industry is not outdoor recreation per se. The industry's interest is in making increased profits from outdoor recreation and that is what this bill seeks to accomplish. So while it may have been proper that the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship hear from the specific people the committee represents, remind the Committee that Congress exists to represent a more diverse populous.


State that you do not support America’s Outdoor Recreation Act, S. 873.


Point out that S. 873 must include safeguards to protect do-it-yourself recreational access to federal lands free of the use of private tour companies.


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


Demand that S. 873 require a NEPA Needs Assessment for every new Special Use Permit and must consider resource protection, how many private tour companies will be allowed, how much use they will get, where will their use be, and what are the forecasts for expanding noncommercial use. State that removing this NEPA analysis removes protections to federal lands and removes your voice from the management of your federal lands.


Mention that language in S. 873 must not assign additional use capacity to private tour companies. That’s your and your families access this bill is giving away.


Be polite but stand up for your access to your federal lands. Please share this with your friends.