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FEDERAL LANDS RECREATION ENHANCEMENT ACT GETS UNANIMOUS COMMITTEE APPROVAL

In what is a good sign for the future of the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act reauthorization, H.R. 5204 was marked-up July 30 in the House Committee on Natural Resources by unanimous consent, meaning there were no objections to the bill from anyone on the committee. The bill had complete bipartisan support. It now heads to the House floor, possibly as part of a package of non controversial bills or as an addition to other legislation, where it could also be passed by unanimous consent if there are no objections to it.

AOA led efforts to get the bill revised and passed out of committee with Congressional testimony from AOA's Executive Director, Utah outfitter Brian Merrill, and NOLS Public Policy Director Aaron Bannon testifying on behalf of a revision to the original draft at the April 4, 2014 hearing. We thank Representative Bishop (R-UT) and Representative DeFazio (D-OR) for working together to get this bill through the Committee.

The final bill includes the following changes that are favorable to the outfitting industry:

 1.    Provides a waiver from NEPA for outfitting and guiding when the use has been previously analyzed and is similar and not substantially increased over the previous authorization. This provision will help greatly with cost recovery and is a major improvement.
 2.    Allows one permit to be issued by a lead agency when trips cross multiple agency boundaries.
 3.    Sets fees for outfitters as follows:
              C) Fee conditions.--The fee charged by the Secretary for a permit issued under paragraph (2)(B) (that's outfitter permits) shall not exceed 3 percent of the recreational service provider's annual gross revenue for activities authorized by the permit, plus applicable revenue additions, minus applicable revenue exclusions or a similar flat per person fee. This definition should eliminate basing the fees on the total cost of the trip, including services delivered outside the Forest, for example.
 4.    Authorizes a pilot program for fee credits for trail maintenance.  
 5.    Allows outfitters to reveal the fees paid to agencies to their customers when trip prices are presented.
 6.    Requires agencies to notify Congress and give public notice of fee sites.
 7.    Every other year agencies will take input on how the fees are being used.
 8.    Any new or increased amenity and day use fees have to be approved by Congress. (This is a significant change).
 9.    Grandfathers existing permits once the law passes. They remain in effect until they expire.
10.   Authorizes the use of outfitter and guide permit fees for permit administration and to be used to streamline permitting processes.  
11.   Requires agencies to report fees by 
    a.    total recreational fee revenue collected by type;
    b.    expenditures by project from these accounts; 
    c.    a description of how expenditure benefited visitors to the unit;
    d.    any new fees established; and
    e.    any changes in existing fees.

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