For the first time since the pandemic, Outfitters headed to DC for in-person meetings with members of congress, their staff, and key players in our public lands agencies. One of the finer aspects of our American democracy is the fact that any citizen who can pass through a metal detector screening may enter the U.S. House and Senate office buildings, connect with their representative in Congress, and engage on the issues at hand. As busy as they are, someone will find time to connect with you and hear you out. Beginning with the pandemic, however, and not really ending until this new Congress was sworn in, that access was lost. It is heartening to see that it has returned and that a new generation of outfitters is discovering the power they have as citizens to affect change.
Outfitters from Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, Wyoming, Arizona, Utah, Idaho, and Oregon, fanning out in small teams across the House and Senate office buildings, sat down to talk about improving the permitting process, establishing an overtime exemption for seasonal operators, and rolling back problematic new Entry Level Driver Requirements for passenger bus drivers.
Overtime Exemption for Seasonal Recreation Providers from the Fair Labor Standards Act
America’s outfitters seek a bipartisan, bicameral bill that will sustain employment and maintain opportunities for outdoor recreation by providing relief from the maximum hour requirements for seasonal outdoor recreational outfitting services. The proposed bill has no effect on minimum wage.
Outfitters face many logistical and management challenges in striving to comply with generally applicable employment policies that are poorly suited to the industry.
Overtime requirements based on a 40-hour workweek present significant management challenges for outfitters and threaten the affordability of outfitted trips for the general public. Unlike other industries, outfitters, especially those running overnight and multiday trips, have few options to limit their overtime costs.
Entry Level Driver Training (ELDT) Requirement Presents Challenges for Operators
Outfitters, like so many sectors across the country, are struggling to comply with new CDL type-B training requirements by the Department of Transportation. To continue to provide access to recreation experiences at an affordable rate, outfitters ask that congress delay implementation of the ELDT requirements until a viable system can be worked out.
The rules, implemented in February 2022, make it cost- and time- prohibitive for new drivers to receive the required training. Courses require three weeks of instruction and cost $6,000 or more.
Alternative solutions with more flexibility can be as safe or safer than the newly imposed regulatory regime, which is a “one-size-fits-all” solution that does not anticipate unique situations of small business sectors such as seasonal outdoor recreation providers.
America’s Outdoor Recreation Act
Hundreds of outdoor recreation organizations, outdoor recreation providers, conservation organizations, hunting and fishing operations, and more have lined up to ask for passage of America’s Outdoor Recreation Act. Many components of AORA, such as the Simplifying Outdoor Access for Recreation Act, have long enjoyed bipartisan, bicameral co-sponsorship. In both the House Natural Resources and the Senate Energy and Natural Resources, the bill has passed with unanimous support.
Outdoor recreation providers have been struggling under a draconian permitting system for over a decade. We ask to swiftly reintroduce and pass AORA, either as a package or through its components.
Among other features, The AORA Act (and its components):
Makes the permit authorization permanent.
Ensures fees collected are spent on recreation and outfitter administration at the site.
Allows one permit for one trip traveling over many agencies.
Sets the fee collected by the federal government at 3% of gross revenues or less.
Reduces the cost and streamlines the application process to outfitters for new uses or for permit amendments for similar uses.
Authorizes the issuance of a multijurisdictional permit to be issued when a trip crosses multiple agency boundaries.
Currently, new and established operators are constrained in all these capacities.
Notably, many outfitters leverage this opportunity to try and get their Congress members’ support for challenges, in public works for example, that have serious impacts on their operations. Some of the issues include:
A temporary road closure in Virginia for maintenance and improvements due to rock fall, scheduled to last for several months, will cut off our Virginia outfitter’s access for over half of his season.
A takeout ramp in Utah, that has been in disrepair for 19 years and has not been maintained or prioritized by Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is making the takeout for Cataract Canyon difficult. Even though the state has set aside money and the NRA has indicated that they will repair the ramp, there has been zero action to take the steps necessary to actual repair the access point.
In these cases, a member of Congress can be helpful. Public servants and federal employees will be responsive to a U.S. Senator or a member of the U.S. House of Representatives when a citizen registering a concern or complaint gets very little traction.
It is inspiring to see the commitment and dedication the America Outdoors Camp Washington crew brings to this annual event. Outfitters volunteer their time, energy, and funds, all to support facilitated outdoor recreation.
Our work is just beginning. AO will continue to have a presence in DC. At the same time, there is work to be done where you live, in these members’ home districts, when members are interested and available to connect with constituents on their home turf.
Key members of Congress at this early stage include:
Sen. Angus King, I-ME
Rep. Marie Glusencamp Perez, D, WA-3
Rep. Mary Peltola, D-AK
Rep. Bruce Westerman, R, AR-4
If you want to help AO members strike a solid blow for industry from the comfort of your own state, let us know! Reach out to Caryn Short at firstname.lastname@example.org.
America Outdoors would like to thank John Dillon, Steve & Eva Hatch, Lindsay Winter, Emma Tejada, Jason Harding, Zach Collier, Courtney Sweeny, Anne, Ken & Isabel Long, Greg McFadden, Aaron Pruzan, Noah Pruzan, Lucas Turner, Dave McGlashan, Steven Foy, Jeff Kelble, Greg & Holly Hefner, and John Gonano Our advocates: Tim Stewart, Ken Lee, David Brown, Steve Peterson, Jon Simon, Sylvester Giuliano, Tara Tanner, our scheduler and problem solver extraordinaire, and the America Outdoors Team. You all made Camp Washington 2023 a week to remember.