RRFW Riverwire - Kiss Your Federal Land Access Goodbye

RRFW Riverwire - Kiss Your Federal Land Access Goodbye

September 18, 2019

You may have noticed access to your federal lands is becoming a lot harder. Competition for scarce permits that come with ever higher fees are becoming more and more commonplace. Areas that require no permits are becoming more crowded.

The commercial outfitting and guiding industry have noticed this too. And they are trying to get out ahead of the general do-it-yourself public with special interest legislation to guarantee their access.

Two bills in the House would allow unlimited special use permits for outfitting, guiding, recreational and competitive events, including guided fishing and hunting, both motorized and nonmotorized, and include areas that are already allocated with previously established ceilings of use.

Committee hearings on these bills continue September 19, 2019, according to the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands. There is a ten day comment period on the September 19 hearing.

The hearing will cover two very similar pieces of legislation.

The first bill, H.R. 3458, introduced by Utah’s Representative Rob Bishop, seeks to change how long-term special recreation permits are issued on National Park Service, Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation and National Wildlife Refuge lands. The Bishop bill is slyly called the Recreation not Red Tape Act and is geared to promote outdoor recreation businesses and tourism.

The second bill, H.R. 3879, introduced by New Mexico Representative Debra Haaland, is called the Simplifying Outdoor Access for Recreation (SOAR) Act.

Supporters of the legislation claim the bills are to help at-risk populations who require an outfitter or a guide to gain access to federal lands. The fact that disadvantaged and at-risk groups are underserved is not for lack of private tour companies operating on Federal lands.

That lack of at-risk access is because the private companies cater to the more lucrative high-end part of the business spectrum. There is no language in the legislation explicitly aimed at disadvantaged and at-risk populations, nor is there any language in the proposed legislation specifically focused on that need.

Both bills do absolutely nothing to assure access for do-it-yourself recreational users. Once access ceilings are reached by the outfitted groups, there will be no access remaining for the do-it-yourself public. The bills both state “If additional use capacity is available, the Secretary may, at any time, assign the remaining use to 1 or more qualified recreation service providers.”

The bills dictate that the fees generated by commercial clients can only be used to process the permits and improvement of the operation of the special recreation permit system.

These bills both require the federal land agencies to bypass the National Environmental Policy Act by incorporating categorical exclusions using “extraordinary circumstances procedures” and “revise relevant agency regulations and policy statements to implement those categorical exclusions.

The bill removes the do-it-yourself public’s voice when it comes to reviewing the need for new commercial permits. Both bills state that “the Secretary concerned shall not conduct a needs assessment as a condition of issuing a special recreation permit for a public land unit under this Act.” In fact, the bills require that once an application is received, the permit will need to be issued within 60 days.

Both bills allow actual commercial use plus 25 percent. That 25 percent comes right out of the public do-it-yourself access.

Oh, and get this. Language in the bills frees the permitee and the Federal Government from litigation by clients except in cases of gross negligence.

For an announcement on the hearings, click hear:


The fill text of H.R. 3458 here:


and H.R. 3879 here:


You have a choice. You can give up your and your children’s do-it-yourself access to federal lands, or you can comment about this giveaway. You can also tell your friends and please share this Riverwire.

But you only have ten days to comment. That’s no later than Friday September 27, 2019. Comments should be emailed directly to the H.R 3458 and H.R. 3879 Hearing Clerk:


What you might want to say:

Include that you recreate on federal lands and that you are aware getting permits is harder and harder.

Mention you are aware of H.R 3458 and H.R. 3879 and that you do not support these bills that give away your federal land access to for-profit companies.

Mention that H.R 3458 and H.R. 3879 must include safeguards to protect do-it-yourself recreational access.

Mention that outfitting and guiding 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 Special Use Permit. State that removing this tool removes your voice from the management of your federal lands.

Mention that language in the bills must state new Special Use Permits must be for underserved populations and youth only.

Mention that language in H.R 3458 and H.R. 3879 must not give away actual use plus 25%. That is your access the bills give away.

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

Special note: If you are so inclined, you should also email your Congressional Representative your concerns about this legislation. You can find your representative here:



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.

Join RRFW's Facebook discussion group to stay abreast of and participate in the latest river issues. It's as easy as visiting https://www.facebook.com/groups/raftgc/

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 Do-It-Yourself Grand Canyon rafting info https://rrfw.org/RaftingGrandCanyon/Main_Page

Check out new items and donate at the RRFW Store! RRFW is a non-profit project of Living Rivers. https://rrfw.org/catalog/donations