By: Aaron Bannon
With participants representing states from Maryland to Alaska and points in between, these industry leaders volunteered two days of their time to visit 45 offices representing 15 states, as well as two federal land agencies.
On February 11 & 12, a party of outfitters camped out in Washington, DC, appealing to both houses of congress for a better regulatory environment for the outfitting industry and building connections with the agency personnel who govern our members’ special recreation permits and concessions. 18 AO members and staff from Alaska to Maryland visited 45 offices representing 13 states, the US Forest Service, and the National Park Service. The group was also visited by Ryan Hambleton, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish Wildlife and Parks at the Department of Interior, Emy Lesofski, Chief Clerk for the Senate Appropriations Interior and Environment Subcommittee, and Parrish Braden, Republican Staff Director for the House Committee on Natural Resources.
It was an impressive 2 ½ day sprint and participants did an admirable job of representing the needs of the industry to their members.
America Outdoors made headway on three fronts:
1. Pushing for passage of the Simplifying Outdoor Access for Recreation Act
SOAR (S.1665 & HR 3879) would empower public land management agencies to reauthorize permits by streamlining and simplifying the process for line officers in the field. The bill is next in line at the Energy and Natural Resource Committee once they have completed work on the energy bill, and is a priority for the committee leadership. Their staff are hopeful that we will see final passage before the year is out.
2. Preserving the daily wage outfitter-guide agreement
Retaining the daily-wage agreement between outfitters and guides has been a priority at America Outdoors for close to six years. And the concept went from draft legislation to dropped bill, HR 5835, the night before outfitters hit the hill. Introduced by Congressman O’Halleran of Arizona (D,AZ-1), with Congressman Stewart of Utah (R,UT-2), HR 5835 would classify outfitters as similar to ski areas and seasonal recreation establishments operating within forest boundaries in the application of overtime rules.
Like other operations in the outdoor industry, outdoor recreation outfitters and guiding services need legislation to preserve the daily wage system and accessibility of guided experiences to the public.
As guides typically are paid a daily rate, and work several days in a row, structuring pay for guides and outdoor educators around a 40-hour work week model is a poor fit for the industry.
Outfitters are at a competitive disadvantage, too, as many other industries in the sector are specifically provided an overtime exception.
The resources required to meet overtime requirements, especially for multi-day trips, would put these experiences out of reach for middle-class America.
Should the bill pass intact, an outdoor recreation outfitter or guiding service seeking the exemption has to meet the following seasonality criteria:
‘‘(A) does not operate for more than seven months in any calendar year; or
‘‘(B) had average receipts for any six months of the preceding calendar year that were not more than 33 1⁄3 per centum of its average receipts for the other six months of such year; or’’.
With a bill in hand, Camp Washington participants were able to seek strategic co-sponsors, to continue demonstrating bi-partisan support for consistency in regulation across the outdoor industry.
3. Amending the Transportation Infrastructure bill to include an allowance for short-haul trips
This bill ensures that near-to-home trips run by outfitters to be regulated by their home state. AO has developed language to amend a to amend a provision within the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration authority excluding 9-15 passenger vehicle (or an under-26,000 lb. truck & trailer) used for recreation activities within 150 air-miles of their business from federal jurisdiction by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Some outfitters have faced obstacles on this front in recent years as the federal agency has sometimes exempted, and sometimes not, outfitter operators.
Together, success on these free fronts will create substantial relief for a wide array of recreation providers.
Thank you to our members who joined us this year!