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Bill seeking to improve public lands access is introduced in House with bipartisan support

FILE - Old growth Douglas fir trees stand along the Salmon river Trail on the Mt. Hood National Forest outside Zigzag, Ore.
Rick Bowmer
FILE - Old growth Douglas fir trees stand along the Salmon river Trail on the Mt. Hood National Forest outside Zigzag, Ore.

Legislation to improve access to public lands and address issues related to rising usage has been introduced in the U.S. House.

The EXPLORE Act is sponsored by Arkansas Republican Bruce Westerman, chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, and its cosponsors are pretty evenly divided between the two parties. It addresses problems like overcrowding, a lack of affordable housing in communities near public lands and aging infrastructure.

Jessica Turner, president of the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable, highlighted its provisions for making trails and other facilities easier to use by veterans and those with disabilities.

“We can open up as many public lands as possible, we can protect public lands, but if people can't get there, or people with disabilities or veterans don't feel that those places are for them or people from urban areas, you know, are we really doing our job?” she said.

The bill also would streamline permitting for guides and outfitters, allow for online purchase of park passes and incentivize the building of long-distance bike trails, among many other measures.

Congress has been frequently dysfunctional in recent months, including a weeks-long stretch when the House didn’t have a speaker. But Turner said the bill’s substantial bipartisan support makes her hopeful that it will pass in a timely fashion.

A companion Senate bill easily made it out of committee over the summer.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, KUNC in Colorado and KANW in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

As Boise State Public Radio's Mountain West News Bureau reporter, I try to leverage my past experience as a wildland firefighter to provide listeners with informed coverage of a number of key issues in wildland fire. I’m especially interested in efforts to improve the famously challenging and dangerous working conditions on the fireline.

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