Opinion: Obama and USFS Take Important Step With Permit Reform

Helping more people get outside means happier, healthier communities.

June 20, 2016

This op-ed was cowritten by OIA members Ashley Korneblat and Brian Merril and appeared on June 18, 2016 in the Salt Lake Tribune.

People from all across the country and around the world come to Utah and the Mountain West to experience our incredible public lands. They explore our rivers, our mountains, our trails, and our national parks. In fact, this weekend President Obama will visit two national parks in California with his family. We know the Father’s Day trip will be a memory he and his family will treasure forever, and we hope that news of their visit will inspire all Americans to come see their national parks and other shared public lands in Utah and throughout the West.

In tandem with the president’s visit, the Obama administration and the United States Forest Service (USFS) is announcing an effort that will make it easier for visitors to explore our natural playgrounds under the capable and expert supervision of professional guides and outfitters.

With the powerful growth of the recreation economy in gateway communities near public lands, the process of securing outfitter permits has become cumbersome and inconsistent. Recognizing that guides, outfitters and other recreation service providers not only enhance visitors’ experiences on public lands, but also foster important economic growth, the USFS is aiming to modernize the Special Use Permit. In doing so, they’ll make it easier for guides and outfitters to provide safe, first-class experiences in the outdoors to more people, and create additional business opportunities for both new and existing outfitters in Utah communities.

When visitors come on trips to Utah, they patronize our local retail shops and restaurants, they spend money on transportation and lodging (all to the tune of $120 billion). They support 122,000 jobs, including the guides’ and outfitters’, and they deliver $856 million in local and state tax revenue that helps support our cities and counties.

Most important, visits to our public lands create lifetime memories. With more Americans living in dense urban areas and young Americans becoming increasingly disconnected from nature, guides and outfitters have unique opportunities to heal and inspire people in the outdoors.

We applaud the innovative thinking and the work of USFS employees around the country who work, day in and day out, with local businesses, and we thank President Obama for understanding that outdoor recreation isn’t just a nice-to-have, it’s a need-to-have.  There is, of course, more work to do to continue to meet the needs of visitors and fully seize the opportunities our public lands can bring to people and communities, and we will be calling on Congress and the next administration to continue this work, because policies like this not only recognize the importance and impact of outdoor recreation on local communities, they create a future of healthier, happier people in Utah and in all states lucky enough to have public lands.

Ashley Korenblat is the CEO of Western Spirit Cycling and Brian Merrill is the CEO of Western River Expeditions, both OIA members based in Utah.