Guides and Outfitters on Federal Lands: Issues and Legislation in the 116th Congress in Brief

Guides and Outfitters on Federal Lands: Issues June 3, 2020
and Legislation in the 116th Congress in Brief
Mark K. DeSantis
Guides and outfitters play a role in facilitating recreational use of the country’s public lands.
Analyst in Natural
Congress routinely considers issues related to these service providers, often in the context of
Resources Policy
broader recreation issues. Generally, these issues concern how best to balance opportunities for

commercial activities on federal lands and waters with the general public’s usage of and access to
these lands.

Congress also has considered issues specific to commercial guides and outfitters operating on federal lands. It has focused
particular attention on whether and how to simplify the current permitting framework for commercial guide and outfitting
usage on lands managed by the four major federal land management agencies (FLMAs): the Bureau of Land Management
(BLM), Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and National Park Service (NPS)—all in the Department of the Interior (DOI)—
and the Forest Service (FS) in the Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Generally, commercial guides and outfitters are required to obtain a permit to operate on lands owned and administered by
the FLMAs. Some stakeholders view the rules, regulations, and guidance across the four FLMAs as disparate and see it as an
administrative and financial hindrance to guide and outfitting operators—particularly small businesses and entities whose
operations cross multiple federal jurisdictions. Opponents of adjusting permitting requirements assert that doing so would
open federal lands to additional guide and outfitter operators, to the detriment of noncommercial visitor use.
In addressing these concerns and others, the 116th Congress has considered multiple bills that include provisions addressing
the permitting process for guides and outfitters operating on land owned or administered by the FLMAs. These bills include
the Simplifying Outdoor Access for Recreation Act (SOAR Act; S. 1665/H.R. 3879), the Recreation Not Red Tape Act (RNR
Act; S. 1967/H.R. 3458), and the Guides and Outfitters Act (GO Act; H.R. 316). The specifics of the proposed amendments
vary across bills, but generally the bills all provide for adjustments in permit fee and cost-recovery calculations, potential new
categorical exclusions (CEs) under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA; 42 U.S.C. §§4321 et seq.) for certain
recreation-related activities, and new multi-jurisdictional permits for activities that cross multiple federal lands.
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Contents
Issues for Congress ......................................................................................................... 1
Access to Federal Lands and Waters ............................................................................. 2
Reauthorizations........................................................................................................ 3
Permitting ................................................................................................................ 3

Streamlining Efforts and Multi-jurisdictional Permitting............................................. 4
Permit Fee Calculations......................................................................................... 5
Agency Capacity and Funding................................................................................ 6
Insurance and Liability Requirements ...................................................................... 6

Legislation in the 116th Congress ....................................................................................... 8
Simplifying Outdoor Access for Recreation Act ............................................................. 8
Recreation Not Red Tape Act....................................................................................... 8

Guides and Outfitters Act............................................................................................ 8

Tables
Table 1. Bil s Addressing Permitting Issues for Guides and Outfitters on Federal Land,
116th Congress ............................................................................................................. 9

Contacts
Author Information ....................................................................................................... 10

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Guides and Outfitters on Federal Lands: Issues and Legislation in the 116th Congress

Introduction1
Guides and outfitters play a role in facilitating recreational use of the country’s public lands.2
These operators can provide specialized knowledge, skil s, and expertise, as wel as equipment,
for people to recreate on public lands regardless of their skil level or prior experience.
As visitation to public lands has increased in recent years, various stakeholders have raised
questions about the degree to which the federal government should al ocate access to lands and
resources to commercial guides and outfitters. Although guides and outfitters and their clientele
general y represent a fraction of the total visitation to public lands, some stakeholders view any
commercial access as infringing on the available use of these lands by do-it-yourself recreational
users. Some stakeholders have raised particular concerns about issues of overcrowding at specific
sites that al ow commercial guides and outfitters. By contrast, some other stakeholders see guides
and outfitters as a valuable resource for visitors and an asset to local economies, providing safe,
reliable access to federal lands. In some cases, supporters of guides and outfitters have stated that
federal agencies rely on the expertise of guides and outfitters to reduce incidents that involve
search and rescue or to promote ethical use of federal lands and resources (i.e., Leave No Trace
ethics).3
This report discusses some of these issues and other areas of congressional interest related to
commercial guides and outfitters. The report pays particular attention to commercial guide and
outfitting usage on lands managed by the four major federal land management agencies
(FLMAs): the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and
National Park Service (NPS)—al in the Department of the Interior (DOI)—and the Forest
Service (FS) in the Department of Agriculture (USDA). These issues include whether and how
best to facilitate access to federal lands for existing or new recreational providers; whether to
reauthorize or amend existing laws related to guides and outfitters; and whether and how to
simplify the current permitting framework for commercial guides and outfitters operating on
federal lands and waters. The report also provides an overview of certain legislation introduced in
the 116th Congress that addresses some of the issues discussed.
Issues for Congress
Congress routinely considers issues related to guides and outfitters, often in the context of
broader recreation issues. General y, these issues concern how best to balance opportunities for
commercial activities on federal lands and waters with the general public’s usage of and access to

1 For a more general overview of guide and outfitter activities on federal lands, see CRS Report R46380, Guides and
Outfitters on Federal Lands: Background and Perm itting Processes
, by Mark K. DeSantis.
2 Generally, an outfitter is considered a business that provides clients with various products and services (which may
include food, shelter, horses, equipment , etc.) for a particular outdoor recreational activity. Outfitters often register and
employ guides to lead clients in these activities. For example, an outfitter may supply clients wishing to engage in a fly -
fishing trip with rods, flies, and waders, and it may engage a guide to lead clients to local fishing areas, advise on
fishing techniques, and ensure clients’ safety by monitoring local conditions. Guides also may operate independent of
outfitters.
3 See, for example, T estimony of Aaron Bannon, National Outdoor Leadership School in U.S. Congress, House
Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation, Im pediments to
Public Recreation on Public Lands
, 113th Cong., 1st sess., May 7, 2013 (Washington: GPO, 2013). For examples of
past agency perspectives, see Forest Service (FS) comments on agency need for outfitting and guiding services at FS,
“Final Directives for Forest Service Outfitting and Guiding Special Use Permits and Insurance Requirements for Forest
Service Special Use Permits,” 73 Federal Register 53829, September 17, 2008.
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these lands. Some specific issues deliberated by Congress include how best to facilitate access for
existing or new recreational providers; whether to reauthorize or amend existing laws related to
guides and outfitters, particularly the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA; 16
U.S.C. §§6801-6814); and whether and how to simplify the current permitting framework. These
and other issues are discussed below.
Access to Federal Lands and Waters
The abundance and diversity of outdoor recreation on federal lands have increased the chal enge
of balancing recreation—and, in turn, guide and outfitting operations—with other land uses for
which the federal government manages lands and waters. Issues related to access, including the
types of recreational activities permitted on federal lands and waters and the extent to which
individuals have physical access to these areas to recreate, are of perennial concern to Congress.4
FLMAs have considered and implemented various permitting processes to provide commercial
entities—including guide and outfitter operators—physical access to public lands in certain
contexts (see “Permitting”). Some stakeholders see efforts to streamline and expedite these
permitting processes as granting preferential access to commercial guides and outfitters at the
expense of the unguided public.5 These stakeholders contend that legislative and administrative
proposals aimed at facilitating access to commercial guides and outfitters could prevent new
visitors from accessing lands, as some proposals would prioritize private companies that
primarily serve paying customers.6 However, FLMA regulations typical y specify that use permits
do not grant exclusive use to commercial operators.7 In addition, supporters of additional access
for guides and outfitters on federal lands claim that these services al ow many visitors to have a
safer, more reliable experience on public lands than they could have individual y. Supporters also
state that guides and outfitters play a vital role in introducing public lands to diverse visitor
segments.
Similarly, some stakeholders see attempts to facilitate additional access by guides and outfitters as
an impediment to managing visitation and protecting valuable resources. Many federal lands
across the country have experienced record-high visitation in recent years.8 The effectiveness or
extent to which FLMAs have policies in place to limit the amount of use by commercial operators
in the event of overuse or resource degradation may be a subject of congressional interest.

4 For more information on issues related to recreation, see CRS Report R43429, Federal Lands and Related Resources:
Overview and Selected Issues for the 116th Congress
, coordinated by Katie Hoover.
5 For example, see public comments regarding updated FS permitting regulations at FS, “Final Directives for Forest
Service Outfitting and Guiding Special Use Permits and Insurance Requirements for Forest Service Special Use
Permits,” 73 Federal Register 53824, September 17, 2008. (“A number of respondents opposed the proposed directives
because they perceived them as granting exclusive access to National Forest System (NFS) lands to commercial
outfitters and guides at the expense of the unguided public and without the opportunity for public input.”)
6 River Runners for Wilderness, “ Kiss Your Federal Land Access Goodbye,” September 18, 2019, at https://rrfw.org/
node/886.
7 For example, see FS regulations at 36 C.F.R. §251.55(b).
8 T he COVID-19 outbreak that began in early 2020 may affect visitation figures for the year. T he degree to which the
pandemic may increase or decrease visitation is still unclear, although some federal lands were closed to the public
temporarily.
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Reauthorizations
Congress often considers extensions and other amendments to programmatic authorities that
directly or indirectly relate to guide and outfitting permits. In particular, ongoing deliberations
encompass whether to let FLREA expire, to extend it, or to make it permanent, with or without
modifications.9 Among other provisions, FLREA provides the four FLMAs and the Bureau of
Reclamation with authority to issue special recreation permits for specialized recreation uses —
including guide and outfitting operations—and to charge fees for those permits. FLREA also
authorizes these agencies to retain certain fee revenues and use them for specified purposes that
aim to benefit visitors directly. If FLREA were to expire, some FLMAs may stil have other
authority to set fees for commercial recreational use on federal lands; however, fees established
under these other authorities general y would be directed to the Treasury rather than retained by
agencies.10
Some stakeholders have suggested that should FLREA authority lapse, agency capacity to
administer recreation programs would be diminished. According to these stakeholders, the loss of
permit and amenity fee retention would “likely result in the elimination of outfitted services and
recreation access” on FLMA lands.11 In the FY2021 budget request, the Administration supported
permanent reauthorization of FLREA and requested appropriations language to provide a two-
year extension of FLREA “as a precaution” to ensure FLREA authorization does not lapse.12 In
the FY2020 Interior appropriations law, the authority in FLREA was extended through October 1,
2021.13
Permitting14
General y, al commercial guides and outfitters are required to obtain a permit to operate on lands
owned and administered by the FLMAs. Over the years, the various FLMA permitting processes
for commercial recreation providers have been of interest to Congress, the Administration, and

9 For more information on particularly the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA; 16 U.S.C. §§6801 -
6814), see CRS In Focus IF10151, Federal Lands Recreation Enhancem ent Act: Overview and Issues, by Carol Hardy
Vincent .
10 For example, a number of statutes other than FLREA authorize FS to charge fees for the occupancy and use of NFS
lands. A difference between FLREA and other fee authorities is that FLREA provides the agencies with the fle xibility
to test different types of fees and retain most of the revenue at the site where the fee was collected. T he primary
exception to this would be the National Park Service Concessions Management Improvement Act of 1998 (P.L. 105-
391; 54 U.S.C. §§101911-101926), which is the authority the National Park Service (NPS) typically uses to issue
permits to commercial guides and outfitters operating on agency lands. Similar to FLREA, the law allows 80% of fees
to be retained at the park where they are collected and stipulates that these funds may be used for visitor services and
high-priority resource management activities. T he remaining 20% of the fees are deposited in a speci al account to
support activities throughout the park system.
11 T estimony of David L. Brown, Executive Director, America Outdoors Association, in U.S. Congress, Subcommittee
on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation of the House Committee on Natural Reso urces, Citizen and Agency
Perspectives on the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancem ent Act
, 113th Cong., 1st sess., June 18, 2013.
12 Department of the Interior (DOI), Fiscal Year 2021, The Interior Budget in Brief, p. DH-37, at https://www.doi.gov/
sites/doi.gov/files/uploads/2021-highlights-book.pdf, and DOI, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Budget
Justifications and Perform ance Inform atio n
, Fiscal Year 2021, p. XI-6, at https://www.doi.gov/sites/doi.gov/files/
uploads/fy2021-blm-budget-justification.pdf.
13 P.L. 116-94, Division D, T itle IV, §425.
14 For a detailed discussion of the permitting process across federal land management agencies for commerc ial guides
and outfitters, see CRS Report R46380, Guides and Outfitters on Federal Lands: Background and Perm itting
Processes
, by Mark K. DeSantis.
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the guide and outfitting industry. Certain stakeholders view the rules, regulations, and guidance
across the four FLMAs as disparate and see them as an administrative and financial hindrance to
guide and outfitting operators—particularly smal businesses and entities whose operations cross
multiple federal jurisdictions.15 These stakeholders general y support increasing consistency and
uniformity across agencies and limiting the administrative costs of applying for and issuing
permits. Opponents of such changes assert that doing so would open federal lands to additional
guide and outfitter operators, to the detriment of noncommercial visitor use.16
Some of the permitting issues recently considered by Congress include establishing more
standardized permitting processes across FLMAs, implementing multi-jurisdictional permits for
guide and outfitting operations that span multiple federal lands, reforming cost-recovery
calculations for applicable permits, addressing possible staff or budget capacity issues for
processing guide and outfitting permits, and controlling liability and insurance costs for permit
holders. These issues are discussed below.
Streamlining Efforts and Multi-jurisdictional Permitting
Each FLMA has established its own regulations, policies, and guidance for permitting guide and
outfitter operations. Some stakeholders in the outfitting community claim that these various
authorities have created a system that is difficult to navigate for commercial operators that work
with multiple FLMAs.17 Some commercial guides operating trips that cross multiple federal lands
contend the current system—which may require guides to apply for and maintain multiple
permits with different agencies for a single trip—is overly time-consuming and costly.18 Other
stakeholders suggest the different permitting processes are necessary and tailored to the different
legislative mandates under which each FLMA operates.19 Several Members of Congress have
introduced bil s that would authorize the use of single joint permits for multi-jurisdictional trips,
along with various amendments to FLREA that seek to improve the efficiency and reduce the cost
of applying for and administering permits for commercial guides and outfitters (See “Legislation
in the 116th Congress
”). Agencies general y have expressed support for these efforts, although
concerns have been raised regarding how single joint permits would ensure compliance with each
agency’s different statutory authorities and management mandates.20

15 T estimony of Matt Wade, American Mountain Guides Association in U.S. Congress, House Committee on Natural
Resources, Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands, Legislative Hearing, 116th Cong., 1st sess.,
September 19, 2019. (“It is time consuming and costly for guides to apply for and maintain multiple permits with
different agencies for just a single trip.”)
16 For example, see Brodie Farquhar, “Sweet Deal for Outfitters? Some Criticize Forest Service’s Proposed Rule
Change,” Casper Star-Tribune, December 23, 2007.
17 Coalition for Outdoor Access, “Comments on U.S. Department of the Interior Secretarial Order 3366, Issued on
April 18, 2018,” June 29, 2018.
18 U.S. Congress, House Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public
Lands, Legislative Hearing, 116th Cong., 1st sess., September 19, 2019.
19 T estimony of Leah Baker, Acting Assistant Director for Resources and Planning, BLM, in U.S. Congress, House
Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands, Legislative Hearing,
116th Cong., 1st sess., September 19, 2019. Hereinafter, T estimony of Leah Baker, September 2019.
20 T estimony of Leah Baker, September 2019. (“The Department supports delegating enforcement authorities among
agencies, but would like to ensure that these delegations conform with the statutor y authorities for each agency.... If an
agency needs to withdraw from a single joint [special recreation permit (SRP)], presumably it is because the agency
needs to issue a permit under terms different from the single joint SRP, whether due to differing ma nagement concerns
or other circumstances.”).
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Permit Fee Calculations
Guides and outfitters pay various permitting fees to FLMAs to operate on federal lands. Although
FLREA and other permitting and fee retention authorities provide general guidance as to how
these fees shal be applied, the FLMAs have established specific regulations and policies that
dictate permit costs. Two issues related to permit fees have attracted Congress’s attention in
recent years: gross revenue permit fee calculations and cost-recovery formulas.
Among the permitting fees established by FLMAs, commercial guides and outfitters general y are
required to pay annual, nonrefundable land-use rental fees. These fees—primarily in the cases of
FS and BLM—are set at 3% of the permit holder’s adjusted gross revenue. However, FS and
BLM differ in detail as to how to calculate adjusted gross revenue. BLM general y excludes the
pre-trip and post-trip costs (e.g., for client transportation and lodging) incurred by the permittee
outside federal land boundaries,21 whereas FS fee policy requires revenue calculations to be based
on the total cost of the trip, including services delivered outside the boundaries of public lands.22
Congress has debated whether revenue generated on nonfederal land should be included in gross
revenue calculations, with some Members introducing legislation to prohibit FLMAs from
including such costs in future permitting fee calculations (see “Legislation in the 116th
Congress”).
In addition, some FLMAs may charge a fee for cost recovery as a means to fund the costs
incurred in issuing permits, including necessary environmental documentation, on-site
monitoring, and permit enforcement.23 For example, FS and BLM have cost-recovery
requirements for commercial recreation permits if more than 50 hours of staff time are required to
process and administer the permit.24
In instances where extensive analysis is required (e.g., new permitted recreational uses, increases
in resource capacity), cost-recovery fees can reach into the tens of thousands of dollars. Some
industry stakeholders and some Members of Congress have suggested that in such cases, recovery
costs are prohibitive to smal businesses, which may be shut out of federal lands as a result.25
Some Members have introduced legislation that would adjust the cost-recovery process, seeking

21 BLM, H-2930-1, BLM Recreation Permit and Fee Administration Handbook, 2014, p. 1-31, which states that, “For
commercial use, deductions from gross receipts are allowed for actual transportation and lodging co sts incurred by the
permittee before the client’s arrival at the beginning of a trip, and after departure at the end of a trip.” Hereinafter
referred to as BLM, H-2930-1.
22 FS, FSH 2709.11, Special Uses Handbook, Section 37.05, 2008. The FS handbook definition of gross revenue
specifically includes “Revenue from goods or services provided off National Forest System lands, such as lodging and
meals, unless specifically excluded.”
23 See 36 C.F.R. §251.58 for FS regulations related to cost recovery and 43 C.F.R. §2932.31(e) for BLM regulations.
24 36 C.F.R. §251.58(g)(4) and 43 C.F.R. §2932.31(e)(2). T his policy has, at times, been referred to as a 50-hour
“credit” for commercial recreation permits. However, in practice, the policy operates more as a threshold in which
permit holders are subject to complete cost -recovery fees when administrative costs surpass 50 hours. For example, a
permit that takes 60 hours to process would be subject to all 60 hours of cost recovery, as opposed to 10 hours.
25 For example, see U.S. Congress, House Committee on Natural Resources, Guides and Outfitters Act, Report to
accompany H.R. 289, 115th Cong., 1st sess., September 21, 2017, H.Rept. 115-320, p. 6. See also U.S. Congress, House
Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation, 113 th Cong., 2nd
sess., April 4, 2014, H.Hrg. 113-68 (Washington: GPO, 2015). In the publication of its final rule on cost -recovery fees,
FS acknowledged the potential negative economic impact of cost recovery on small entities: “ T he Forest Service has
prepared a cost -benefit analysis of the final rule, which concludes that the final rule could have an economic impact on
small businesses if their application or authorization requires a substantial amount of time and expense to process or
monitor.” FS, “Recovery of Costs for Processing Special Use Applications and Monitoring Compliance with Special
Use Authorizations,” 71 Federal Register 8897, February 21, 2006.
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to limit the potential burden placed on smal businesses and other guide and outfitting operators.
For example, legislation in the 116th Congress would provide FS and BLM with authority to
waive cost recovery on a case-by-case basis if such costs “would impose a significant economic
burden on any smal business.”26 FS and BLM have suggested that such cost-recovery reforms
likely would have little impact on most smal service providers, as permits for these entities
topical y require few administrative hours to process and rarely exceed the existing 50-hour
threshold for cost-recovery fees. Instead, the agencies assert that the proposed new exemptions
general y would benefit large recreation service providers and would result in processing delays
for new and existing permits.27 Other legislative proposals regarding cost recovery would prorate
aggregate recovery costs for multiple applications for similar services in the same area and
provide categorical exclusions for certain agency actions subject to the National Environmental
Policy Act (NEPA; 42 U.S.C. §§4321 et seq.) review, thereby reducing administrative costs (see
“Legislation in the 116th Congress”).
Agency Capacity and Funding
Some Members of Congress have shown interest in reducing the backlog and processing time for
guide and outfitter permit applications. According to FS, that agency alone has a backlog of more
than 5,000 applications for new special-use permits and renewals of existing special-use permits
that are awaiting environmental analysis and decision.28 Industry groups have raised concerns
regarding the processing times, and agencies have pointed to their limited staff capacity as a main
reason for permit backlogs. Some estimates suggest that nearly 87% of al FS permitting work is
conducted as a collateral duty by agency employees, meaning the employees have other primary
job assignments that may not include processing permits.29 Other FLMAs also have indicated that
processing special-use permits is largely a collateral duty for staff. In 2010, DOI officials testified
that fewer than 20 national park units had staff dedicated to managing the special park uses
program and processing permit requests.30
Insurance and Liability Requirements
Al guide and outfitter permits issued by FLMAs require the operator to possess commercial
general liability insurance.31 Commercial general liability is a type of insurance policy that,
broadly speaking, provides coverage to a business for bodily injury, personal injury, and property
damage caused by the business or its products. The level of coverage provided under commercial
general liability typical y depends on a given insurance policy’s provisions.

26 See, for example, H.R. 316 in the 116th Congress.
27 T estimony of Chris French, Deputy Chief, NFS, FS, in U.S. Congress, Senate Committee on Energy and Natural
Resources, 116th Cong., 1st sess., October 31, 2019.
28 T hese numbers reflect total special-use authorization applications under review, some of which are for activities
conducted by commercial guides and outfitters. FS, “National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Compliance,” 84
Federal Register
27544, June 13, 2019.
29 T he 87% figure reflects a FS estimate from December 2019 (FS, “Working with Federal Agencies,” presentation at
2019 America Outdoors Conference, Salt Lake City, UT , December 2019).
30 T estimony from Marcilynn A. Burke, Deputy Director, BLM, in U.S. Congress, Senate Committee on Energy and
Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests, 112 th Cong., 2nd sess., April 28, 2010, S.Hrg. 111–744,
p. 35.
31 Depending on the activity in question and the facilities used, operators also may be required to carry additional
insurance coverage, such as automobile insurance, property insurance, and/or umbrella policies that provide liability
coverage higher than the limits set under individual policies held by the operator.
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Requirements for operators to possess commercial general liability insurance vary across FLMAs.
Some FLMAs have issued agency-wide guidance or policies that set minimum coverage limits—
based on either aggregate or per occurrence policies—whereas others evaluate guide and outfitter
permits on a case-by-case basis.32 These various policies have been the subject of congressional
interest in recent years. For instance, concerns about increasing insurance minimums were raised
in 2012, when Grand Teton National Park increased general liability requirements for rafting
guides and outfitters from a minimum of $500,000 to a minimum of $5 mil ion in coverage.
Following this decision, concessioners and permit holders testified before Congress that such a
change would increase premium costs and place a substantial burden on their ability to continue
offering services to park visitors.33 NPS testified that these increases were the result of insurance
experts’ recommendations to the agency and were in line with industry standards.34
Some agencies also have established policies that either al ow or prohibit the use of liability
waivers and/or visitor acknowledgment-of-risk (VAR) forms by commercial guides and outfitters
operating by permit on lands managed by FLMAs. Liability waivers are exculpatory contracts
that may excuse a party from responsibility when the other contracted party is injured by either
known or unknown risks in a particular activity. The enforceability of a liability waiver may vary
depending on the provisions within the waiver, as wel as any statewide insurance laws that may
limit or prohibit the effect of such waivers. As a result, agencies such as NPS have prohibited the
use of liability waivers, instead permitting only the use of VAR forms. Unlike liability waivers,
VAR forms simply inform visitors of the inherent risk of the activity and provide a means for
visitors to declare in writing that they understand the risks of the activities they are to engage in
and possess certain prerequisite skil s or experience.
Some Members and stakeholders contend that FLMAs could limit the need for high insurance
minimums, which have caused concern among some permit holders, by general y permitting
guides and outfitters to require trip participants to sign liability waivers.35 Some industry
advocates have asserted that this would be particularly beneficial for smal -scale operators that
may not be able to afford the premium costs associated with coverage required by a given
agency.36 Since liability waivers may be unenforceable depending on the state in which an
operator is licensed or operating, it is not clear whether this would be the case general y.

32 Insurance policies may be issued on a per occurrence (or per claim) basis, in which the limit refers to the amount the
insurer pays per incident during the policy term. Aggregate policies establish the limit the insurer will pay for multiple
claims over the course of a single policy term.
33 For stakeholder perspectives, see T estimony of David L. Brown, Executive Director, America Outdoors Association ,
in U.S. Congress, House Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands,
Concession Contract Issues for Outfitters, Guides and Sm aller Concessions, 112th Cong., August 2, 2012 (Washington:
GPO, 2012).
34 T estimony of Peggy O’Dell, Deputy Director, NPS, in U.S. Congress, House Committee on Natural Resources,
Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, Concession Contract Issues for Outfitters, Guides and
Sm aller Concessions
, 112th Cong., 2nd sess., August 2, 2012 (Washington: GPO, 20 12).
35 See Sen. Martin Heinrich, “ Heinrich, Capito Introduce Simplifying Outdoor Access for Recreation Act ,” May 23,
2019, at https://www.heinrich.senate.gov/press-releases/heinrich-capito-introduce-simplifying-outdoor-access-for-
recreation-act.
36 T estimony of Rick J. Lindsey, Prime Insurance Company, U.S. Congress, House Committee on Natural Resources,
Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation, Im pediments to Public Recreation on Public Lands,
113th Cong., 1st sess., May 7, 2013 (Washington: GPO, 2013).
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Legislation in the 116th Congress
Multiple bil s have been introduced in the 116th Congress that address permitting issues for
commercial guides and outfitters on federal lands. These bil s include the Simplifying Outdoor
Access for Recreation Act (SOAR Act; S. 1665/H.R. 3879), the Recreation Not Red Tape Act
(RNR Act; S. 1967/H.R. 3458), and the Guides and Outfitters Act (GO Act; H.R. 316). See Table
1
for a list of issues covered in these bil s. Versions of these bil s, as wel as broader legislation on
some of the issues addressed within them, have been introduced in prior Congresses. This section
does not address al prior versions or similar legislation introduced prior to the 116th Congress.
Simplifying Outdoor Access for Recreation Act
S. 1665/H.R. 3879, the SOAR Act, would make various changes to the administration of special
recreation permit programs authorized under FLREA and the commercial use authorization
(CUA) program administered by NPS under the authority of the National Park Service
Concessions Management Improvement Act of 1998 (P.L. 105-391; 54 U.S.C. §§101911-
101926). Among its various provisions, the bil would adjust permit fee and cost-recovery
calculations, authorize the establishment of potential new categorical exclusions (CEs) under
NEPA for certain recreation-related activities, and codify a temporary permit program for BLM
and FS lands. The bil also would create new multi-jurisdictional permits for activities that cross
multiple federal lands and would al ow guides and outfitters to share unused service days. The
House Committee on Natural Resources held subcommittee hearings in September 2019, and the
Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held a full committee hearing in October
2019. For a section-by-section analysis of the SOAR Act, see Table 1.
Recreation Not Red Tape Act
S. 1967/H.R. 3458, the RNR Act, would support the creation of state offices of outdoor
recreation, facilitate and support outdoor recreation programs for servicemembers and veterans,
and establish a National Recreation Area System. The RNR Act contains the provisions in the
SOAR Act addressing permitting language. The House Committee on Natural Resources held
subcommittee hearings in September 2019, and the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural
Resources held a full committee hearing in October 2019.
Guides and Outfitters Act
The GO Act (H.R. 316) also would address recreation-related permitting and fee programs. The
GO Act includes provisions similar to those in the SOAR and RNR Acts, with some distinctions.
For example, some provisions in the GO Act—specifical y, the multi-jurisdictional permit
authority—would apply only to FS and BLM, whereas the SOAR Act and the RNR Act would
apply such provisions across the four FLMAs and the Bureau of Reclamation. Similarly, the GO
Act would not specifical y apply to CUAs issued by NPS under P.L. 105-391, whereas the SOAR
and RNR Acts would apply to these CUAs, unless otherwise specified. The GO Act also would
expand the authority of the Secretary of the Interior (and, in the case of FS, the Secretary of
Agriculture) to waive cost-recovery fees on a categorical or case-by-case basis. This provision
would include instances in which costs would impose a “significant economic burden” on smal
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businesses or would threaten an applicant’s ability to provide recreational services, as wel as
cost-recovery fee waivers in times of “unfavorable” economic conditions.37
The GO Act also differs from the SOAR and RNR Acts in the application of CEs for outfitter
permits intended to streamline the NEPA process. Whereas the SOAR and RNR Acts would direct
the agencies to consider whether additional CEs could be adopted to improve the permitting
process, the GO Act would explicitly create a statutory CE for new permits if the proposed use is
similar to previously authorized uses.38
Table 1. Bills Addressing Permitting Issues for Guides and Outfitters on Federal
Land, 116th Congress
(issues by Title/Section in S. 1665, S. 1967, and H.R. 316)
Provision
SOAR Act (S. 1665)
RNR Act (S. 1967)
GO Act (H.R. 316)
Limits permit fee calculations to revenue generated on
federal lands, unless otherwise specified
§3(b)
Title I, §102b
§4(a)
Authorizes use of permit fee revenue for expenses
associated with processing permits and/or improving
§3(c)
Title I, §102c
§5
recreation permit system
Permanently authorizes FLREA for guides and
§3(d)
Title I, §102d

outfitters
Requires applicable Secretary to eliminate duplicative
processes and identify opportunities for cost
§4(a)
Title I, §103a
§2
reduction
Authorizes use of programmatic environmental
reviews and evaluation of categorical exclusions under
§4(b)-(c)
Title I, §103b-c
§2a
NEPA or certain recreation-related activities
Limits use of needs assessments
§4(d)
Title I, §103(d)

Establishes online application for permits
§4(e)
Title I, §103(e)
§9(b)
Authorizes the use of existing permits for substantial y
§5(a)
Title I, §102(b)

similar activities
Provides for voluntary return of unused service days
for shared use among operators
§5(b)
Title I, §104(a)

Establishes temporary permit program for FS and BLM
§5(c)
Title I, §104(b)
§7
Requires the agencies to notify the public when new
recreation permits are available and requires the
agencies to provide timely responses to permit
§6
Title I, §105

applicants
Creates new multi-jurisdictional permits for activities
that cross multiple federal lands
§7
Title I, §106
§3
Revises FS permit use review process to provide for
additional use capacity should a permit holder meet
§8
Title I, §107
§6
certain performance requirements and waives such
use reviews in extraordinary circumstances
Authorizes use of liability waivers by permit holders
§9
Title I, §108
§8

37 H.R. 316, §10.
38 T he Secretary would still be required to determine that such new proposed uses have no “significant environmental
effects” for a categorical exclusion to apply. See H.R. 316, §2.
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Guides and Outfitters on Federal Lands: Issues and Legislation in the 116th Congress

Implements cost-recovery reform (i.e., 50-hour credit,
group applications, use of existing studies and analysis)
§10
Title I, §109
§10
Establishes five-year permit extension limit for delayed
processing on long-term permit renewals
§11
Title I, §110
§11
Source: CRS, with information from S. 1665, S. 1967, and H.R. 316, as introduced.
Notes: BLM = Bureau of Land Management; FLREA = Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act, 16 U.S.C.
§§6801-6814; FS = Forest Service; GO Act = Guides and Outfitters Act (H.R. 316); NEPA = National
Environmental Policy Act (42 U.S.C. §§4321 et seq.); RNR Act = Recreation Not Red Tape Act (S. 1967/H.R.
3458); SOAR Act = Simplifying Outdoor Access for Recreation Act (S. 1665/H.R. 3879). Issue area is for
categorization purposes only; language may differ among bil s.
a. Whereas the SOAR Act and RNR Act would direct the agencies to consider whether additional categorical
exclusions (CEs) could be adopted to improve the permitting process, the GO Act would explicitly create a
legislative CE for new permits if the proposed use is similar to those previously authorized.
H.R. 316 includes additional language authorizing the Secretary (of the Interior and Agriculture)
to waive cost-recovery fees in certain instances, including if economic conditions were
unfavorable or if such costs would impose a burden on a smal business or would threaten an
applicant’s ability to provide recreational services.

Author Information

Mark K. DeSantis

Analyst in Natural Resources Policy



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