The outdoor recreation, public lands, and conservation policy space has a lot of issues to monitor on the horizon. While the 2024 election (now less than 430 days away) is likely to heavily impact the legislative agenda for the rest of the 118th Congress, outdoor recreation policy may be the exception despite the hyper-partisan atmosphere in DC. For the remainder of 2023 and into the fall, here are five issues to watch in the outdoor policy space:
America’s Outdoor Recreation Act (AORA): There is no bigger priority for the outdoor recreation community than this historic package of bipartisan bills that will increase access to the outdoors, streamline an antiquated permitting process, and create more opportunities for people to recreate. The bill is likely to pass in the Senate soon and the House Natural Resources Committee is working on a very similar bill. With motivated champions on Capitol Hill (from both sides of the political aisle) and a strongly supportive community of stakeholders, this package has a really good chance to reach the President’s desk.
FY 2024 Appropriations: Like all sectors, the uncertainty around federal funding is driving some anxiety around the funding levels for key programs, including land management agencies where differences between the House and Senate are significant. Throw in the potential of a government shutdown (and the impact it could have on public lands and outdoor recreation) and the federal funding process is quickly moving up the list of issues to closely watch.
BLM Public Lands Rule: The BLM has closed the comment period on a new proposed rule seeking to “protect healthy public lands, promote habitat conservation and restoration, and further thoughtful development.” The rule – among other things – would effectively create conservation leases that would allow for restoration efforts. This has brought a divided response, including some entities that see value in creating parity between conservation and other existing land uses and other entities that have concerns about potential limitations around usage of these lands. Republicans have attempted to prevent the rule legislatively, but have been unsuccessful thus far. Everyone will be watching for the Final Rule to see how this new policy would be enforced.
Wildfire Policy: Over the last several years, wildfire policy has increasingly become a priority for policymakers. The recent tragic wildfire in Hawaii will further increase the focus when policymakers return to DC. The frequency and intensity of wildfires in the West have spurred a broad conversation around mitigation, prescribed fire, and response. With both sides of the Capitol interested in legislative solutions, this remains an issue to watch into next year.
Trade Policy: While the outdoor sector is not unique in their focus on trade, parts of the industry remain very focused on the direction of key trade policies, including Section 301 tariffs on products imported from China, the Generalized Systems of Preferences (GSP), and Miscellaneous Tariffs Benefits (MTB). With a September 30th expiration of existing 301 tariffs exclusions and broader geopolitical issues around China, most are focused on the near-term deadline, but the other trade tissues remain a big priority for every industry, including outdoor product manufacturers, suppliers, and retailers.
Outdoor recreation policy is unique in its broad support on Capitol Hill and its economic impact on virtually every congressional district in the country. It will be interesting to watch how these key issues play out for the remainder of the year and into early 2024.