Outfitter Land-Grab Bill Is Back

For the 6th straight year, the Outfitters Policy Act is back in Congress. On Wednesday, March 3, 2004, a Senate subcommittee on Public lands and Forests hearing was held on S1420, the "Outfitter Policy Act". You can read the complete bill text at the Thomas website: http://thomas.loc.gov and type in S 1420, for a link to the Full Display of the bill's text. This year, the bill seems to be gaining some headway and your comments are needed once again.

The Outfitters Policy Act affects all resources managed by the United States Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Bureau of Reclamation. This includes access to all of our country's lakes, streams, rivers, reservoirs, mountains and prairies managed by the USFS, BLM and BOR. This legislation gives outfitted patrons a preference of access to these lands over other user groups by giving outfitters and guides a fixed allocation of use. More specifically, this guarantee of allocation is given to a few businesses that guide individuals on federal lands, lakes and rivers. It would turn the privilege of a federal recreational use permit into a form of legal property right that these companies could trade, sell or inherit indefinitely.

Under this law, a fixed number of commercial permits would be renewed, even when outfitters performed in a substandard fashion, even as the do-it-yourself public is turned away, unable to obtain highly sought after permits to enter the nation's most popular and heavily used areas.

Most importantly, this bill embraces the "allocation" model of public land access. Allocations guarantee that a large portion of our access to all federal lands would be given to a small group of businesses to the detriment of the general public and the businesses that support the public.

The bill would also reduce or eliminate outings by non-profit civic, religious, children's, and environmental education groups in our nation's most popular recreation areas. Even volunteer-led outings could be reduced or eliminated, as these groups would have to use the authorized middlemen. The only other option for these groups would be to stay away from our federal lands.

Since the inception of our federal land management agencies, small guiding and outfitted services have enjoyed healthy business opportunities while providing value and enjoyment to many visitors in our federal lands. These outfitter and guide businesses have survived for more then a century in the free market without specific legislation allocating them a guaranteed percentage of access to our federal lands.

Demand for access to our federal lands has increased dramatically in the last few decades. Access to our federal lands now has to be divided between a wide variety of visitors, from the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, church groups, non-profit groups, do-it-yourself visitors and the guided passenger, along with outfitters and guides themselves. We must support all of these groups with fair, equitable and allocation-free access to our federal lands. Only one group out of all these users, outfitters and guides, are the beneficiaries of the allocation language in this bill.

Local economies and the outdoor gear industry are at risk if this bill passes. Exclusionary language that solely benefits a specifically defined type of outfitted and guided service is very detrimental to local regional economies. Once the specific type of outfitter and guide services is established by allocation, any other type of similar or variation of service in the local community is excluded. This limitation stifles the local creative small business economy that would otherwise thrive on providing a very wide range of diverse services to the regional visitor. This bill would ignore the various and changing needs or the public for support services when accessing our federal lands.

You need to comment about this, or hang up your fishing pole/backpack/boat-raft-kayak-jetboat/rifle/climbing gear/ATV/saddle/dune buggy. Here are some of the issues you should speak to:

-) The free market does not guarantee businesses a "reasonable opportunity" for a successful business venture. This bill would force our federal land managers to be burdened with the requirement of having to manage our federal lands to guarantee "a reasonable opportunity to engage in a successful business" to one subset of our economy, the commercial outfitters and guides using public lands. Land managers would not provide the same shelter from market forces to the rest of our rural economies that are adjacent to federal land. The Outfitters Policy Act will adversely impact regional economies and gateway communities by stifling market driven competition.

-) This bill would insert commercial outfitter use ahead of the general public in areas where high recreational demand exists. This means you may not be able to get a do-it-yourself permit while outfitters advertise to fill their unused allocation.

-) In areas with restrictions on public recreation access requiring the issuance of use permits to gain access to all types of recreation on our federal lands, this bill would immediately create disproportionate use of scarce public resources. Access would be guaranteed to a select group, regardless of market forces driven by what the public wants and the resource needs. This means allocation-free federal lands would have to start setting aside access for outfitter businesses. This forced set-aside would adversely impact permitting systems like the existing Boundary Waters Canoe Area allocation-free permitting system, which already supports a thriving and diverse outfitting and guide community.

-) This special interest legislation would elevate commercial outfitter permits to a legal status greater than other types of federal permits, allowing outfitter permits to be transferred, sold or inherited forever, while restricting the ability of public officials to modify or revoke permits.

-) There is a simple solution for all this. Let the permit holder seek out whatever services they need once they have secured a permit from the agency. This eliminates the need for set-asides and allows free-market forces to flourish.

RRFW encourages all our members to comment directly to the Senators on this subcommittee in the next two weeks. Now is the time for you to be heard on this issue. Please call the Senator nearest you. Ask them for their fax number, then ask to speak with their staffer working on the Outfitter Policy Act. Tell them what you think about this issue, and tell a friend to do the same!

Here are the phone numbers for the Senator nearest to you:

Larry Craig (ID) Chairman 202.224.2752
Conrad Burns (MT) Vice-Chairman 202.224.2644
Gordon Smith (OR) 202.224.3753
Jon Kyl (AZ) 202.224.4521
Ben Nighthorse Campbell (CO) 202.224.5852
Lamar Alexander (TN) 202.224.4944
Lisa Murkowski (AK) 202.224.6665
James M. Talent (MO) 202.224.6154
Pete Domenici (NM) Ex-officio Member 202.224.6621

Ron Wyden (OR) Ranking Member 202.224.5244
Daniel K. Akaka (HI) 202.224.6361
Byron L. Dorgan (ND) 202.224.2551
Tim Johnson (SD) 202.224.5842
Mary L. Landrieu (LA) 202.224.5824
Evan Bayh (IN) 202.224.5623
Dianne Feinstein (CA) 202.224.3841
Jeff Bingaman (NM) Ex-officio Member 202.224.5521