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Wyden says bill would ease access

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden stumped for a bill creating easier recreational access to federal lands during a swing through Medford Thursday.

The Portland Democrat, backed by local recreation and tourism leaders at Northwest Outdoor Store in the Bear Creek Plaza shopping center, told a media gathering his legislation would allow agencies to issue permits more quickly.

"This is a go-to strength for us," he said. "We've heard all kinds of stories from guides about what amounts to sort of bureaucratic water torture. We've heard in this area about guides who have to stand in line at 6 a.m. every day just to get on a waiting list in order to get a permit to raft the Rogue River. That's what this is all about."

Wyden said the recreation and tourism sector employs enough people to fill both the Oregon and Oregon State football stadiums. One outcome of his legislation would be to lengthen commercial activities over longer periods, allowing more users, and keeping seasonal workers employed longer.

"The season in recreation in too many parts of the country, and certainly in this area, sort of ends abruptly," he said. "A lot of the recreation businesses said, 'Let's find some way to stretch it.' "

The senior senator's Recreation Not Red-Tape Act proposes rules that management agencies can apply to National Recreation Area lands with high recreation value, mandating the expediting of recreation permits. It also would simplify and streamline confusing language for hunters, fishers, bikers and other recreation users.

"Any paperwork that is needed for a permit has to be concise, understandable and available online," Wyden said.

The bill would designate recreation a priority for agencies such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Bureau of Reclamation. It also would send revenue from ski area permits on federal lands to fund recreation projects on the same lands.

"We would cut through this jurisdictional issue," he said. "Where, in effect, now you have multiple permits needed, this legislation will ensure only one simple permit is needed."

Too often it was hard to get permits online, and the jurisdiction of the natural resource agencies was conflicting.

"They don't get up in the morning and say, 'Let's really be rotten to all the people who enjoy the Northwest Outdoor Store,' " Wyden said. "They've got a lot of things on their plate, and too often for the natural resource agencies, recreation has not been up at the top of the priority lists. This is a big part of Oregon's future, the West's future, and we are in a position once more of having Oregon leading the way."

He said agency heads in Washington, D.C., may have lost sight of the impact rules designed for regulating extraction had on recreational use.

"Oregonians are the experts on outdoors recreation, it's practically in our DNA," he said. "My sense is some of the folks back there just didn't really see the on-the-ground potential there is here. That message is beginning to sink in. My hope is that we will look back at this period and people will say this is a natural for Oregon's future. Every part of the country is seeking to play to its strengths, this is ours."

Carolyn Hill, CEO of Travel Southern Oregon, said enactment of the bill would contribute to the growing tourism activity in rural Oregon, where visitor spending topped $506 million in Jackson County during 2014, with $122 million going to payrolls and another $20 million in taxes.

"These numbers matter and these jobs matter a lot in rural Oregon," she said.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31

Carolyn Hill, CEO of Travel Southern Oregon, and U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden talk about the benefits of Wyden's bill that would help streamline recreational access to federal lands. Mail Tribune / Greg Stiles