Access Group co-founder believes creating a constituency around public land and environmental issues means first getting people exposed to outdoor activities.
This past week U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell announced steps aimed at making it easier for the recreation community to access national forests. The new policies, once fully implemented, will streamline the process of securing permits for guides, outfitters, non-profits and educational institutions. Many forests have had permit moratoriums for years that have prevented a wide range of user groups from the opportunity to experience their public land.
The announcement last Friday builds on work done in collaboration with leaders in the U.S. Forest Service and members of the recently formed Outdoor Access Working Group (OAWG).
Outdoor Research CEO Dan Nordstrom is a founding member of the OAWG and has been closely involved in the process of developing these recommendations over the past year. The OAWG was formed as an umbrella organization to create a comprehensive political footprint representing the full range of human-powered outdoor recreationalists, advocacy groups, educators, guides, outfitters and gear manufacturers.
“Outdoor Research believes that the first step in solving today’s environmental crisis begins with getting the next generation outside. We know that first experience sets the hook for developing an understanding of the importance of getting that next generation personally engaged and re-invigorating the environmental movement,” Nordstrom said.
According to a March 2015 White Paper that outlined the vision and goals for the OAWG working group, outdoor activities provide people a range of benefits, including better mental and physical health, connection with friends and family, as well as economic benefits resulting from a recreation-based economy. Yet, as a percentage of population, fewer people are getting outside on public land, and young Americans are increasingly less connected to the outdoors in their daily lives.
For many people who aren’t familiar with outdoor activities, exposure to them through group activities offers an excellent entry point. However, because the process to obtain group activity permits has become complex and cumbersome, and group permits extremely limited, the current system frequently serves as a barrier to organized groups helping get new people outside.
According to Nordstrom, creating a constituency of people interested in protecting the places people recreate and creating solutions to environment problems means first getting people interested in the outdoors, and group activities on public land are a great way to do that.
“I’ve been impressed with the open-minded and solution-oriented approach among the leadership team of U.S. Forest Service and key members of the Department of Agriculture leadership team,” Nordstrom said. “Based on initial meetings that took place just over a year ago, they have moved quickly and thoughtfully toward a set of policy reforms and modernizations that are true game changers. I look forward to a continued partnership as we move forward to the next phase of fully implementing the new recommendations in all of our national forests.”
Recreation-service providers who take groups of people to national forests and grasslands to experience outdoor recreation are managed under U.S. Forest Service recreation special-use permits. Those permits allow the Forest Service to manage visitor volume in specific locations and, in the process, protect resources.
According to last week’s Forest Service announcement, the streamlined special-use permit process will be implemented over time, and incorporate ongoing user feedback to improve customer service. Specific steps being taken include:
- Streamlining the process to receive or renew a recreation special-use permit, making it simpler and faster through the use of existing agency authorities.
- Increasing staff capacity and the consistency of the permit process across the country by developing new standardized training programs and exploring new staffing strategies.
- Encouraging managers to take greater advantage of allowable waivers when a special-use permit is not required; for example, where a proposed use would have only nominal impact on lands, resources, and programs or operations.
- Investing in technology to improve business tools and data that support recreation special uses, including an electronic permit application process.
- The U.S. Forest Service estimates that outdoor recreation on public lands contributes more than $13 billion dollars to the national economy and supports over 205,000 jobs annually.
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