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Congress, stick up for outdoor recreation, not red tape


Outdoor recreation is part of our national heritage, and the vast majority of Americans want outdoor recreation accessible and ensured for future generations to enjoy.

Public lands and waters, from the pristine backcountry to urban escapes like D.C.’s Rock Creek Park, are the backbone of an $887 billion outdoor recreation economy and jobs for 7.6 million Americans. Given all this, it is more important than ever for us work together through a thoughtful, bipartisan process to improve our public lands system, the processes to designate and utilize them and ensure we all have a place to recreate.

{mosads}As representatives of outdoor business and outdoor recreation enthusiasts, we recognize that recent conflicts related to the review of national monuments highlight some of the challenges inherent in managing public lands, balancing recreation, economic, and social values. If we want to ensure sustainable use of our lands for generations to come, Congress needs more tools it can use to protect balanced use through a bipartisan legislative process.

Our open spaces and landscapes are uniquely American and extremely popular outdoor recreation draws millions of Americans and international tourists alike. Activities like backpacking, fishing, boating, stand-up paddle boarding, mountain biking, hunting, skiing, ATVing and climbing are enjoying their highest participation ever. Many of these activities take place on our public lands and waters, which not surprisingly, received record visitation in the last year.

Congress has already taken commonsense measures to support this growing economic sector. Last year, Outdoor Recreation Jobs and Economic Contributions Act of 2016, which will measure the impact of outdoor recreation on the U.S. economy, passed with unanimous, bipartisan support.

This summer, Senator Ron Wyden and Representative Rob Bishop, Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, took the next step to ensuring outdoor access and a growing outdoor recreation economy by introducing the Recreation Not Red-Tape Act (RNR), which will update processes and policies on our national public lands to improve the outdoor recreation experience.

RNR aims to reduce barriers to outdoor recreation access, and improve public land management for Americans who enjoy recreation pursuits of all types. Public lands offer many exceptional opportunities for outdoor recreation, but too often unique or exceptional settings for outdoor recreation are not formally recognized in land use planning. This legislation, including its system of National Recreation Areas, will identify and protect landscapes where sustainable outdoor recreation should be a priority use for jobs, local economies and quality of life.

Today Congress can designate a Wilderness area, a Wild and Scenic River, or a new National Park, all organic designations with relatively well-defined management plans. Also, the President can designate a national monument. While these are all important vehicles for protecting certain landscapes, Congress does not have its own flexible tool to protect landscapes that don’t meet Wilderness criteria but should be managed for sustainable outdoor recreation.

This is why Outdoor Alliance, the Outdoor Industry Association, the National Marine Manufacturers Association and many other partners are supporting the RNR Act. Among other improvements, the bill creates an organic designation for National Recreation Areas (NRA) that gives Congress another way to protect landscapes for their recreation values. NRAs take the best parts of Wilderness — planning, inventory, transparent public process, and the ability for Congress to vote — and couple it with a more flexible frame that makes room for different forms of outdoor recreation and a potential to grandfather in other uses of the land.

As outdoor recreation grows in popularity, it is imperative to preserve the Antiquities Act, the Wilderness Act, and other landmark conservation laws. It is also time to give Congress more tools to protect important landscapes in modern, flexible ways. Public lands provide diverse values to Americans, from oil and gas and clean air and water, to recreational access. Rather than dissolving tools that have worked for decades, we need more tools that our elected officials can use to work in collaboration with local communities and stakeholders to better manage our vast and diverse public lands system and the changing needs of the 21st century.

A diversified public lands system made up of parks, wilderness, wild and scenic rivers, developed areas and NRAs, is key to the continued success of the outdoor recreation industry and to ensuring all Americans can access public lands to enjoy them.

The Recreation Not Red-Tape Act offers commonsense solutions that will unite — rather than divide — a growing population of outdoor enthusiasts, and ensure access to sustainable recreation experiences for generations to come.

Amy Roberts is executive director of the Outdoor Industry Association. Adam Cramer is executive director of the Outdoor Alliance. Thomas Dammrich is president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association.

Tags Rob Bishop Ron Wyden
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