Organized groups like outfitters, guides, outdoor education organizations, college and university programs, and volunteer-based clubs are required to have a permit to take people to national parks, national forests, and other federal lands for things like hiking, climbing, and water sports. These permits have different names depending on the agency but are generally referred to as “outfitter-guide permits.” The permitting process used by the agencies to issue outfitter-guide permits is outdated, overly complex, and time intensive. As a result, federal land management agencies are often unable to issue permits for guided outdoor recreation activities – even when the activities are within carrying capacity limits already established for the landscape. The unintended consequence is fewer people get to enjoy outdoor recreation activities, local economies don’t receive the benefit of outdoor recreation visits, and there are fewer advocates for the preservation of public lands.
To solve these problems, Senators Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-NM) introduced the Simplifying Outdoor Access for Recreation Act (SOAR Act) in the U.S. Senate in May 2019. This bipartisan legislation makes changes to the outfitter and guide permitting systems of the federal land agencies to make permits less complicated for land agencies to administer and easier for outfitters and guides to acquire.