GILLETTE, Wyo. – Bipartisan legislation introduced in Washington D.C. this week could clear the way for shooting ranges on federal forests, modernized campgrounds, and improved access to public lands if passed.
The legislation, America’s Outdoor Recreation Act of 2023 introduced by U.S. Sens. John Barrasso, R-WY, and Joe Manchin, D-WV, is intended to expand outdoor recreation opportunities nationwide while improving infrastructure and driving economic growth in rural communities.
“Wyoming is home to some of the most incredible national parks and public lands in the country,” Barrasso said in a statement, adding that the act will benefit everyone who enjoys the outdoors in Wyoming and across the nation.
The act directs agencies to target issues on federal lands like establishing long-distance bike trails, designating target shooting ranges, installing broadband internet on developed recreation sites, reducing season closures, and issuing climbing guidance for designated wilderness areas, among other things.
It also directs the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S., Forest Service to collaborate with state and local agencies to identify needs and economic impacts in gateway communities, or those areas adjacent to recreation destinations, to support tourism opportunities.
The act has drawn support from Governor Mark Gordon, state leaders, and other associations across Wyoming.
“Wyoming is proud of the world-class outdoor recreation opportunities we have for our citizens and visitors- they improve the quality of life in our state and enhance the economy,” Gordon said in a statement. “We applaud the work being done to expand and enhance outdoor recreation through increased collaboration between state, local, and federal land managers.”
Darin Westby, director of the Wyoming Department of State Parks and Cultural Resources, agreed, saying that the state has endless opportunities to recreate outdoors.
“With increased coordination between the federal government and our state, we can leverage Wyoming’s natural resources and stunning beauty to deliver unforgettable experiences for visitors while providing lasting benefits for our communities,” Westby said.
Westby, however, said that the added use on Wyoming’s public lands will require them all to work collaboratively to educate recreationists on ways to reduce their impact, disperse them away from the busiest corners of the state, and concentrate them into areas that can withstand increased visitation.
There are more than seven million visitors to Wyoming each year, each of them coming to experience the high-quality recreation offered through the state’s public lands, according to Wyoming Office of Tourism Director Diane Shober.
“We support his legislation as it continues to promote accessibility and destination development throughout Wyoming,” Shober said in a statement.
Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation Chief Conservation Officer Blake Henning said federal lands are an important resource for outdoor recreation, including hunting and target shooting, but an array of red tape and fees can limit people’s recreational opportunities and access.
“(The act) brings common-sense solutions to the regulatory and informational barriers that many of our members have experienced,” Henning said in a statement, adding that the act will be a benefit for all outdoors enthusiasts.