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Recreation bill aims to foster biking, target shooting on public lands

Measure also addresses park overcrowding, affordable housing for staff

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Ark., left, and ranking member Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz.
House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Ark., left, and ranking member Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Leaders of the House Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday unveiled a bipartisan bill intended to support the outdoor recreation movement that has boomed since the pandemic.

Chairman Bruce Westerman, R-Ark., introduced the bill with ranking member Raúl M. Grijalva, D-Ariz., as a co-sponsor. It includes portions of 15 proposals from Republicans and Democrats. A hearing is set for Thursday in the Subcommittee on Federal Lands.

“While we might disagree on many things, we’re united in the fact that expanding access to outdoor lands and improving the experience for outdoor recreation on federal lands and waters is something worth fighting for,” Westerman said. “This bill is not just something to feel good about, it also delivers real solutions to problems faced by outdoorsmen and women across the country.”

The bill includes a range of provisions to support outdoor recreation, including by creating new adaptive trails for disabled people and requiring agencies to identify opportunities for activities such as target shooting, mountain biking and rock climbing.

It seeks to address overcrowding by creating a pilot program for real-time visitation data for the most-used areas, and would support public-private partnerships to construct affordable housing for staff in “gateway communities” near park entrances. Public land agencies have identified these issues as particular concerns in recent years.

It would also modernize the process for obtaining permits to access federal lands and declare that it is the policy of the federal government “to foster and encourage recreation on federal recreational lands and waters.”

Westerman said he hopes the full committee will mark up the bill next week and that it gets a floor vote by the end of the year.

“This is not just something that happened this Congress. A lot of these policies have been debated for years,” Westerman said.

Westerman said the House bill “comes together very nicely” with a bill Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., introduced this year with ranking member John Barrasso, R-Wyo., as a co-sponsor. That committee approved the bill in July by voice vote.

While not identical, the two bills overlap significantly and both have the support of advocacy and industry groups, such as the Outdoor Alliance and the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable.

According to data released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis earlier this month, the value added by the outdoor recreation economy last year accounted for 2.2 percent of the national gross domestic product. The industry’s growth was also double overall GDP growth, and supported 5 million jobs across the country.

Supporters of the bill said it is needed to support the growing interest in public lands and maximize their economic potential.

“The federal government can and should work better for business, tribal stakeholders, and communities who rely on recreation and the American people who enjoy them,” said Ambreen Tariq, senior program manager for Outdoor Recreation Roundtable. 

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