The Mountaineers Testifies Before Congress

We were incredibly honored to testify before Congress last week in support of the Simplifying Outdoor Access to Recreation (SOAR) Act, our permitting reform bill. Read our trip report on the hearing and how the SOAR Act would benefit our programs.
The Mountaineers The Mountaineers
June 15, 2021

We were incredibly honored to bring The Mountaineers mission and priorities to a national stage last week. Conservation and Advocacy Director Betsy Robblee was invited to testify before a House Natural Resources Subcommittee on increasing access to the outdoors by improving the federal recreational permitting process. We’ve been working for years on legislation to improve the current inefficient, unpredictable recreational permitting system, and were grateful for the opportunity to share our ideas with Congress. 

Normally, these types of legislative hearings occur in ornate hearing rooms, with witnesses seated at a table in front of rows of members of Congress. During the pandemic, most hearings are virtual, with members and witnesses Zooming in from different corners of the country. 

On June 8, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands held a virtual legislative hearing on four bills, including H.R. 3670, the Simplifying Outdoor Access to Recreation (SOAR) Act. As we’ve shared before, The Mountaineers has been working on this legislation for over six years. The SOAR Act will help fix the current permitting system that creates barriers for people to experience the outdoors. We helped shape this bill because it impacts an integral part of who we are as Mountaineers: our volunteer-led trips, courses, and youth programs. 

The Mountaineers was invited to testify on the SOAR Act to share our longstanding challenges with the permitting process and our ideas for how it could be improved. As an outdoor education organization, we continue to feel the negative effects of the bureaucratic barriers of the federal permitting process. “We spend an enormous amount of staff and volunteer time navigating the various permitting processes of land management agencies,” said Betsy.  

These challenges aren’t just a bureaucratic headache. “When outdoor education organizations like The Mountaineers aren’t able to get the permits we need to conduct our programs, we miss out on opportunities to introduce young people to the wonders of nature and inspire the next generation of outdoor leaders and stewards,” Betsy stated. “Fortunately, the SOAR Act gives us an opportunity to improve the efficiency and functionality of the federal outfitting and guiding permitting systems.” 

Here are some of the improvements included in the legislation:

  • The SOAR Act will direct the agencies to evaluate the process for issuing special recreation permits and identify ways to eliminate duplicative processes, reduce administrative costs, and shorten processing times. 
  • It will increase flexibility for outdoor leaders by allowing them to engage in activities that are substantially similar to the activity specified in their permit.
  • The bill improves transparency by directing agencies to notify the public when new recreation permits are available and requires the agencies to provide timely responses to permit applicants. 
  • It simplifies the permitting process for trips involving more than one land management agency by authorizing the agencies to issue a single joint permit covering the lands of multiple agencies.

You can read our full written testimony here. The SOAR Act has full support from a broad spectrum of stakeholders who take people outside on public lands, and represents significant collaboration between Senators and members of Congress from both parties. 

Following our testimony, Subcommittee Chair Joe Neguse (also the lead House sponsor of the SOAR Act) thanked Betsy for her support of the SOAR Act and for highlighting the great mission of The Mountaineers. “I think your organization and your testimony perfectly represents the importance of this legislation to commercial outfitters and guides as well as those operating in the not-for-profit space, and I applaud The Mountaineers for the ongoing focus on youth programs and prioritizing those from underserved areas,” said Congressman Neguse. 

Chair Neguse asked Betsy what has been one of her biggest frustrations with the permitting process, and she shared that “while the bureaucratic challenges are a regular frustration for our staff and volunteers, the biggest frustration is probably the barriers that it presents for accessing the outdoors.” She concluded that “simplifying the permitting system would allow groups like The Mountaineers to get more people out on public lands safely and responsibly.”

It was truly an honor to have the opportunity to share the great work of our staff and volunteers with Congress, and we’re optimistic that Congress will pass the SOAR Act and help improve access to the outdoors. 

You can watch the hearing below or here, and you can view our full written testimony here

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