Why everyone should agree to support recreation, not red tape

Reposted from The Hill–original article.

By Frank Hugelmeyer, Opinion Contributor — 07/02/18 09:25 AM EDT

Bipartisan bills are rare on Capitol Hill these days, but there’s nothing like outdoor recreation to bring people together, especially as the Fourth of July approaches and Americans plan their holiday celebrations.

The Recreation Not Red Tape Act, shorthanded by its sponsors as RNR, is one legislative effort that has been bipartisan from the beginning. That is because it is a commonsense bicameral plan for improving and enhancing outdoor recreation on our public lands.

With Senate co-sponsors Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), and House co-sponsors Reps. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) and Don Beyer (D-Va.), and with the support of my organization – the RV Industry Association – as well as a host of other recreation groups, the RNR Act aims to identify, protect and appropriately manage key places for outdoor recreation. The result: improved access, a better experience for recreationists and growth of the outdoor recreation economy.

You may have a simple question: Why is the RNR Act needed? I have a simple answer: the special use permitting process is outdated and antiquated for 21 century recreation users. The proposed legislation takes an important first step in simplifying the process for the agencies, companies and organizations providing Americans and international tourists safe and enjoyable experiences on our public lands.

Aiming to streamline access for all forms of recreation, the RNR Act will provide support for boating, hiking, camping, fishing, biking, hunting, paddling, snowmobiling, climbing, ATVing, skiing and other motorized and non-motorized recreation use.

The RNR Act fills a much- needed gap for managing public lands close to urban areas and population centers. Employing the old-fashioned value of common sense, the bill prioritizes recreation for its health and economic benefits. The bill also improves how places are managed to ensure the greatest potential for collaboration with local communities and local economies.

And believe it or not, this bill also deals with the NRA. No, not that NRA. I am referring to National Recreation Areas (NRAs), the stepchildren of the land management planning process. They are beautiful, but stepchildren nonetheless. The RNR Act creates a special designation for NRAs. This is necessary because NRAs are not currently identified in the land management planning process. Federal agency plans are not adequately accounting for places that should be managed for outdoor recreation, including special acknowledgement of their jobs and economic benefits.

Probably only a few policy geeks like me recognize that while National Monuments, National Wilderness Areas and National Wild and Scenic Rivers have benefited from previous legislation that rewards their particular designations, NRAs have lagged behind.

The RNR Act would manage NRAs and all of nation’s treasured places for the benefit of present and future generations of recreationists and for the sustainability of the local economy in areas that depend on recreation as a source of income and livelihoods. Indeed, NRAs offer protection for close-to-town, so-called “front country” areas, which can be critically important for recreation access to millions of Americans and can be subject to inappropriate management that doesn’t appeal to recreationists.

The NRA clause of the RNR Act tasks the agencies with proactively looking for potential designations for areas of recreational significance during the land management planning processes and allows Congress to decide whether to designate these areas.

The NRA proposal would not negatively impact other multiple uses and allows Congress to provide better direction to land management agencies which will alleviate multiple use conflicts through more flexible management plans than other types of protective designations.

Outdoor recreation has become a major economic driver nationwide, especially in rural areas. Outdoor recreation, including visits to national parks, forests, wilderness areas, wildlife refuges and national heritage sites, has an annual economic output of $673 billion and support more than 4.3 million jobs annually, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

But recreation opportunities aren’t always easily accessible. Getting outdoors often requires permits, parking passes and camping fees that are important to help maintain public lands, but too often involve confusing, complicated and lengthy processes. The RNR Act removes barriers to outdoor recreation, making it easier for more Americans to get outdoors–enjoying its benefits and generating jobs. Recreation – not red tape – is something everyone should get behind.

Frank Hugelmeyer leads The RV Industry Association, which represents the $50 billion RV industry.  Hugelmeyer is also vice chair of the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable, the nation’s premier coalition of outdoor recreation trade associations.