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Op-Eds and Speeches

Bishop and Wyden: Public Lands Should Be for the Public to Enjoy

Winter is finally winding down, and people are heading outside to enjoy the great outdoors.

Enjoying and protecting our outdoor places has helped define what’s exceptional about our country. Millions of Americans enjoy hiking, biking, hunting, camping, boating, fishing and numerous other outdoor activities that improve our health and quality of life, while contributing to our nation’s economic growth, especially in rural areas. In February 2018, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reported that recreation activities account for almost $400 billion in economic productivity in the U.S. The growing outdoor recreation economy presents a win-win for us all.

However, when we head back home and talk to Utahns and Oregonians, we hear from outdoor recreation enthusiasts in every corner of our states about the bureaucratic red tape they encounter when they try to get outdoors.

While outdoor recreation continues to grow in popularity and economic impact, some barriers still exist. Well-intentioned but overly burdensome federal rules often stymie access to recreation on public lands while not providing any additional protections to our natural resources.

Thankfully, there are members of Congress in both parties who are serious about increasing access to public lands. Our Recreation Not Red Tape Act is evidence of a true bipartisan solution to this problem.

This bill untangles the web of regulations and permitting hurdles that hinder access to public lands. While permits are often necessary for orderly use of land and to ensure public safety, many times they simply thwart access. What’s worse, the multiple land management agencies that issue recreation permits often fail to coordinate or miss critical deadlines, which threatens the livelihoods of small business owners and their employees.

Federal agencies should be able to overcome communication difficulties and resolve jurisdictional quandaries quickly. Too many Americans are turned away by permitting processes that are convoluted, confusing, and time-consuming. Streamlining this process is long overdue. We’re all on the same team, it is time to start acting like it.

In Washington, politicians on both sides of the aisle often talk a big game, but fall short on real solutions. Yet holding our government accountable is essential. The Recreation Not Red Tape Act creates benchmarks that measure the effectiveness of federal land managers to ensure that they are truly serving the American people. The Recreation Not Red Tape Act also holds land managers accountable for expanding access to new and existing recreational opportunities.

While some may argue it is not possible to promote activities such as recreation without imperiling other uses of federal lands, or the multiple-use mandate of our public lands, we believe this is a false dichotomy. The solutions this bill puts forward don’t amount to a choice between one or the other. Instead, our bill reinforces the basic principle that many uses of federal lands can and should coexist.

Keeping recreation alive and thriving for the American people isn’t something that divides us. We all know we should put down our electronic devices every once in a while and go outside. Recreational activities provide an outlet for more physical activity, a healthier citizenry and a greater appreciation for our natural resources. Our economy ultimately benefits from this.

Democrats and Republicans can’t seem to agree on much these days, but we do agree about the importance of increasing and enhancing access to outdoor recreation. The Recreation Not Red Tape Act is an opportunity to seize on this moment of bipartisanship, proving that working together is good for the American people and the public lands they are eager to access.

Democrat Ron Wyden is the senior U.S. senator for Oregon. Republican Rob Bishop is a U.S. representative from Utah