Event Recap: Travel Oregon 2018 Special Use Permits Workshop

by Mona McPhee

Last week, I attended, presented, and moderated a panel at the Travel Oregon 2018 Special Use Permits Workshop co-sponsored by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) at the World Forestry Center in Portland, Oregon.

The workshop brought together land managers, tour operators, guides, outfitters, and related organizations to delve into the current and potential future state of permitted access, permits, and stewardship of public lands.

In addition to presenting on “Public Land, Compliance, and Legal Risk Management,” I learned quite a bit, including:

  • The majority of the USFS revenue comes from Special Use Permits (SUP), but 80% of the SUP work is assigned as a collateral or secondary duty for agents.
  • Of the 80,000 SUP nation-wide, about 35,000 are recreation based.
  • The outdoor recreation industry is growing nearly 2% faster than the general economy and it contributes $637,000,000,000 to the US GDP.
  • Some Pacific Northwest forests are finding ways to move one-year SUPs to ten-year SUPs to decrease the administrative burden on applicants and authorizing agents.
  • The Bureau of Land Management managed land in Oregon is vast—16 million acres with over 11 million visitors.
  • In some situations, no permit is required for commercial businesses to operate within Oregon State Parks.
  • While insurance requirements differ between the USFS, Oregon State Marine Board Outfitters & Guides Program, and the Oregon Parks & Recreation Department, each agency is open to communicate with private industry about these issues.

The key lesson of the day was that cultural norms that have separated regulating government agencies and tour operators, outfitters, and guides are based on beliefs that are no longer valid. Both groups share the values of conservation, educated and caring use of public land, and a desire to provide the public with managed access. Communication and innovative solutions can change what have been antagonistic and frustrating relationships into successful partnerships.

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