For the 6th straight year, the Outfitters Policy Act is back in Congress. Introduced in the Senate by Larry Craig (R-ID) on July 16, 2003, the bill is somewhat scaled down from last year's version, but still contains many key elements detrimental to the general public's access to federal lands.
The bill affects all lands managed by the United States Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Bureau of Reclamation and the commercial outfitters that use those lands. This bill embraces the "allocation" model for outfitter access and would be detrimental to every member of the general public who wants to access federal land with or without an outfitter for any purpose. Allocating access to a resource with a fixed number of outfitters moves outfitting from the free market to an oligopoly. This increases prices for the public who needs outfitted services by decreasing competition among outfitters. It could turn the privilege of a federal recreational use permit into a form of legal property right that the outfitters could trade, sell or inherit. The bill burdens federal land managers by forcing them to guarantee a "reasonable opportunity" for a successful business venture to commercial outfitters and guides using public lands, thus granting outfitters potentially greater access to federal lands than the general public. The result of this bill would be to give the outfitters and their patrons a preference over other user groups. The bill could 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.
River Runners for Wilderness has learned that there may be hearings on the bill this fall. If this happens, it will be your chance to go on record with your thoughts about this legislation. We'll send out another alert at that time. You can read the full text of the bill at the Thomas website: http://thomas.loc.gov and by typing in S1420.