2021 Camp Washington Goes Virtual

During the week of February 22, 42 outfitters from across the country joined 51 virtual meetings to lobby for needed changes for the outdoor industry. Joined by AO staff and lobbying partners from the Bennett Group and Van Ness Feldman, the team advocated for industry interests on several fronts:

  • Passing the Simplifying Outdoor Access for Recreation

  • Supporting the daily-wage and trip-wage standard commonly utilized by outfitters

  • Allowing state regulations to prevail for 9-15 passenger vans running short-haul trips

  • Encouraging flexibility in how the federal mask mandate is implemented on federal lands

  • Asking that the federal Environmental Justice initiative provide incentives for implementation

  • Maintaining the exemption for outfitters and guides from a $15 minimum wage

While many conversations were effective and moved the ball forward on these fronts, a few stood out:

  • With Senator Manchin (D-WV), chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, six separate staff participated and expressed a clear priority to work on outdoor recreation issues.

  • With Congressman Westerman (R, AR-4), ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, a strong desire to ensure outdoor recreation initiatives prioritize access, especially to new designations, was clear.

  • With the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, and the Bureau of Land Management, there was acknowledgement that a strict interpretation of the federal mask mandate did not make sense for facilitated outdoor recreation experiences, though it is unclear precisely how the agencies will interpret the Executive Order.

  • With Congressman Moore(R, UT-1), an enthusiasm for the interests of America Outdoors led to his desire to support an effort on sustaining the daily wage standard for outfitters.

Issues in Detail

America Outdoors members conducted themselves professionally during the meetings and were concise, affable, and convincing. The personal stories members told of how federal requirements poorly suited to the outfitting industry were persuasive, and the follow-up we anticipate from many offices was promising. With so many participating for the first time in these conversations, we have high hopes for the prospects of our priorities as the work of the 117th Congress unfolds.

Here is a more detailed rundown of the issues we presented:

Simplifying Outdoor Access for Recreation Act (SOAR)

America Outdoors is enthusiastic about the prospects of the Simplifying Outdoor Access for Recreation Act in this session of Congress. The SOAR Act includes many provisions that will improve the permitting process for outdoor recreation providers and for permit administrators at federal land management agencies. A few key provisions:

The SOAR Act will reauthorize outfitter and guide permitting authority for the Forest Service, the BLM, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Reclamation under the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA) so those agencies can keep permit fees;

  • The SOAR Act will authorize, but not require, one permit to be issued when a trip crosses multiple agency boundaries;

  • The SOAR Act will authorize the use of permit fees for permit administration and streamlining processes as well as for related recreation infrastructure and other purposes consistent with FLREA; 

  • The SOAR Act clarifies that unused capacity may be temporarily assigned for use by current permit holders and other groups, which would not have an effect on use available to private groups.

Sustaining a Daily Wage Structure for Outfitting and Guiding

Many across the outfitting industry pay guides and instructors a daily wage or a per-trip wage. Having familiarity with the Fair Labor Standards Act, many presume they are exempt from overtime requirements as a seasonal recreation establishment. Unfortunately, the Department of Labor has been inconsistent in how they interpret this act in its application to outfitting businesses. By incorporating a definition into Section 13(b) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (29 U.S.C. 213(b)) seasonal outdoor recreational outfitting or guiding services, the Department of Labor will have clarity on how operators are meant to be regulated under the law. Section 13(b) applies to maximum hour requirements.

Allowing State Regulations to Govern 9-15 Passenger Vans Used in Facilitated Recreation

Many outfitters and guides based out of one state but who may cross state lines in 9-15 passenger vans are in compliance with their state-based regulations, but sometimes come under the scrutiny of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. The FMCSA, which may require operators to obtain and maintain interstate operating authority (i.e., an MC number) in addition to U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) registration are enforcing a regulatory structure that does not fit seasonal outfitting operations. Among the requirements, outfitters are being asked to:

  • maintain year-round auto insurance on vehicles that are only used on a seasonal basis;

  • comply with hours-of-service requirements, which prevent a driver from operating a vehicle if they have been on-duty (essentially, performing work of any kind) for 15 hours.  Once a driver has been on-duty for 15 hours, the driver cannot do any more driving until they have taken another 8 consecutive hours off;

  • maintain electronic log books.

These regulations make sense for year-round, long-haul interstate transportation services, but not for outfitters where guides are often driving clients to the destination, facilitating the experience, and then returning clients to their point of origin. We propose that outfitters be subject to state regulatory authorities if they are operating within 150-mile radius of their base of operations.

The Federal Face Mask and Physical Distancing Mandate

Federal land management agencies are developing policies to implement the Executive Order on Protecting the Federal Workforce and Requiring Mask-Wearing signed on January 20, 2021, which requires that “Federal contractors, and other individuals in Federal buildings and on Federal lands should all wear masks, maintain physical distance, and adhere to other public health measures, as provided in CDC guidelines.” AO encourages the agency to consider reasonable exceptions to face mask and physical distance mandates for employees and clients engaged in facilitated outdoor recreation experiences when clients can complete a quarantine, when contained in self-isolated groups, when physical distancing can be maintained during the activity, or when otherwise justified based on health and safety considerations. Guides and outdoor instructors are trained to exercise continual situational judgement at risk mitigation, and practice adaptive management when working with clientele.

Federal Environmental Justice Initiative

President Biden’s nominee for Secretary of the Interior, Congresswoman Haaland, introduced a bill in November 2020 directing the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture to conduct a three-year study to assess the extent to which outfitters and guides provide experiences to environmental justice communities, and to recommend regulatory changes based upon the study. We recognize that environmental justice is a key priority for the new Biden Administration. The Executive Order On Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government directs every agency to “assess whether, and to what extent, its programs and policies perpetuate systemic barriers to opportunities and benefits for people of color and other underserved groups.” AO supports awarding opportunities, such as grants, for operations that seek to serve environmental justice communities, rather than punitive measures that could affect the integrity of outfitter permits.


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Matt Moses
Erwin, TN
3/4/2021 04:25 PM

  Thanks to you all for your efforts and the recap for the rest of us! Much appreciated!