Joel Webster

April 24, 2018

GPS Technology Creates New Public Land Opportunities for Sportsmen and Policymakers

Using the industry-leading mapping software, TRCP and onX team up to make the case for a broader approach to public lands access acquisition

For Western hunters who depend on public lands, software from onX combined with a smartphone or a handheld GPS unit has changed the game. Showing a user’s real-time location in relation to tangled property boundaries, this technology allows sportsmen and women to hunt unmarked and isolated tracts of public land along rivers and roads without the risk of trespassing on private land.

Recognizing how transformative their mapping software has been, we’ve partnered with onX to illustrate a major challenge for public land hunters across the West, and how this technology might be used to change the game for public land policy as well. Here’s how.

In this image, a landlocked tract of BLM and state-owned lands in eastern Montana sits only a few hundred yards from the nearest publicly accessible road.

Still Locked Out of Our Public Lands

In many Western states, millions of acres of public lands remain “landlocked”—meaning they are rendered completely inaccessible by surrounding private lands. Historically, establishing legal access to these often small and remote parcels through easements, right-of-ways, or land acquisitions would not have been particularly useful, given the difficulties involved in identifying them and discerning their boundaries.

The modern GPS-equipped sportsman, however, can confidently make good use of small tracts of public land that might sit only a few hundred yards from a public road, if provided with a means of legal access across private tracts.

Officials in Washington, D.C., currently have at their disposal a powerful tool to do just that. Enacted in 1965, the Land and Water Conservation Fund is the primary source of federal revenue for acquiring new public lands and a critical program for expanding hunting and fishing access to Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service land and water resources. It is incredibly popular among hunters and anglers, and it enjoys bipartisan support on Capitol Hill.

While in the past, LWCF acquisition funds have generally been used to consolidate blocks of checker-boarded public lands, the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service have utilized LWCF funds in recent years to work also toward establishing legal recreational access to currently landlocked parcels of public land. The current state of technology means that we now have more sophisticated means for doing so with tremendous opportunities for the average sportsman.

Photo courtesy of Tom Fowlks 

What’s more, the current administration has committed to improving sportsmen’s access. In September 2017, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke directed the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to produce plans for expanding hunting and fishing opportunities on public lands. The agencies were also specifically charged with identifying lands where access is currently limited or impossible via public roads or trails.

This is great news for public land hunters and anglers. But DOI’s focus on access is at odds with the precarious position of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Despite its many existing and potential benefits, the program will expire on September 30, unless reauthorized by Congress. We believe that the new opportunities to expand technologically assisted access to our public lands should inspire Congress and the administration to move LWCF reauthorization across the finish line as soon as possible.

Breaking Through

The TRCP and onX are convinced that securing public access to inaccessible public lands should be a priority among policymakers. That’s why we have partnered up to educate legislators and agency personnel on exactly how mobile technologies are changing the way people access our public lands.

As part of this effort, onX founder and CEO Eric Siegfried traveled to Washington, D.C., where he joined TRCP staff in meetings with officials at the Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as staff at the White House Council on Environmental Quality and Office of Management and Budget.

Together, we impressed upon the agencies and decision makers how modern GPS technologies that enable the public to pinpoint the exact location of property boundaries have created new opportunities for both sportsmen as well as policymakers looking to expand public access. Using onX software to show how public land is locked up back home, we also explained the importance of LWCF to the ability of the federal government to continue opening inaccessible lands to the public.

We now require your help to convince the administration and your congressional delegation of the need to reauthorize LWCF as soon as possible. Without this critical program, most public land access and acquisition projects would not occur—and time is running out.

Take action here.

10 Responses to “GPS Technology Creates New Public Land Opportunities for Sportsmen and Policymakers”

  1. Daniel Updike

    A lot of land in northeast Wyoming is landlocked and ranchers will not allow access or charge access fees too high to be reasonable. We should be allowed to hunt ALL public lands.

  2. Dean Krohn

    I totally agree. I think all public land should be assessable and a land owner should have to be made to provide an easement to the public land. In the State of Michigan it is illegal to keep someone land locked out of private or public land. Our current Administration and Congress should work together and open up these western lands for the public. Instead of being used a private land by the surrounding land owners
    Thank you.

  3. Steve Fry

    Lots of talk about the West. Have any east coasters used the software? We don’t have much of the landlock issue here in Virginia, but there are lots of small private chunks of land entangled into our public land.

  4. Great idea, I pioneered GPS mapping in CA with a military surplus unit after Desert Storm. We donated to CDFG and they sent out an intern, who over a period of 2 yrs mapped all man-made developed water sources for wildlife. This information was gathered only for CDFG/BLM/USFS use, not available to the public. Used for maintenance purposes and to provide game warden’s unfamiliar with our ecosystems to be able to monitor for poaching, etc. The big problem today in the west besides, public access is POACHING, nite vision scopes and use of drones. Liberal judges not punishing commercial poachers. We are seeing a big decline in all huntable large and small game….Fishing with gill nets, just cleaning out whole sections of river ecosystems.

  5. Matthew Ross

    Great article! Public land that doesn’t allow for public access just doesn’t make any sense. Living in Washington and Oregon there are a number of instances this occurs.

    It would be great to see easements and other agreements to help sportsman.

  6. Philip Evans

    All public lands should be made accessible by reasonable means. Corner crossings should be legal in all states which would open up thousands of acres of public land. It is bad policy that corner crossings are illegal.

  7. CHARLES WHITLEY

    We used this technology for our public land/landowner permit hunt in Montana a few years ago. It was great at keeping us where be belonged.

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Kristyn Brady

April 2, 2018

Featured Podcast: Why Hunters Should Care About the Farm Bill

Whit Fosburgh talks to Mark Kenyon at Wired to Hunt about Farm Bill basics and what’s at stake for habitat conservation and hunting access on private lands

We’re so grateful that podcasters like Wired to Hunt‘s Mark Kenyon are willing to geek out with us about conservation policy when it really matters. Even though we’d all rather be talking about what was on the trail cam yesterday, complex legislation like the Farm Bill will chart a course for the habitat and access projects of tomorrow.

Here are the basics on why it matters and what you need to know as lawmakers write and debate this bill.

 

Listen for more conservation news and deer hunting stories over at Wired to Hunt.

Kristyn Brady

March 21, 2018

Spending Bill with Wildfire Funding Fix Is a Defining Conservation Achievement

Hunters and anglers have much to celebrate as lawmakers include a long-awaited fix for “fire borrowing” and many other wins for conservation in their must-pass spending bill

[This post has been updated.]

On March 21, Congress introduced its fiscal year 2018 spending bill with plenty for sportsmen and women to celebrate, including robust funding levels for conservation, a comprehensive fire borrowing fix, positive forest management reforms, and reauthorization of the Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act (FLTFA). The House and Senate passed the bill Thursday and it was signed by the president on Friday.

“We are thrilled and relieved to see bipartisan support for many provisions in this spending bill that will benefit fish and wildlife habitat, clean water, sportsmen’s access, and the outdoor recreation economy, but hunters and anglers especially have reason to cheer for the wildfire funding fix, which will ensure that the Forest Service can get back to the business of maintaining healthy habitat and excellent facilities,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

“This kind of deal doesn’t get done without the hard work of many people, including conservation groups, sportsmen, industry stakeholders, and all levels of government—from appropriators and authorizers to leadership. The hunting and fishing community should be proud of what our decision makers have accomplished in finding consensus,” says Fosburgh.

The Fire Fix We’ve Been Waiting For

Provisions in the spending bill will finally help us shift away from the current model of funding for wildfire suppression and recovery, where the U.S. Forest Service is forced to dip into other accounts after running out of appropriated funds during catastrophic fire seasons.

There are two components to the fix: It freezes the ten-year average cost of fire suppression upon which appropriated funds are based and permits funding costs above that ten-year average using natural disaster funding. This ends the need for ever-increasing appropriations for fire and halts the steady erosion of funds for non-fire activities at the Forest Service, which currently spends more than half of its budget on fire suppression activities.

The language is equivalent to provisions supported by the TRCP and our partners in the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act (S. 1842 and H.R. 2862).

There is also bipartisan support for provisions that will help the Forest Service expedite active management of forest habitat. Combined with the fire funding fix, the agency will not only have more tools to work on habitat restoration, they’ll have the funding to accomplish it.

Big Bonus for Conservation Coffers

The spending bill is a windfall for conservation funding, with Congress rejecting many of the steep cuts in the president’s budget proposal and giving most agencies a sizable boost, including:

  • $3 billion over FY17 levels at the Department of the Interior
  • $1.332 billion for the Bureau of Land Management, which is $79 million more than the 2017 enacted level, with $50 million to address the maintenance backlog on federal lands
  • $1.595 billion for the Fish and Wildlife Service, which is $75 million more than the 2017 enacted level, with $53 million to address the maintenance backlog at wildlife refuges and fish hatcheries
  • $425 million for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is $25 million more than the 2017 enacted level
  • $40 million for the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, which is $1.85 million more than the 2017 enacted level
Access Value from Public Lands Sales

Finally, the spending bill would permanently reauthorize FLTFA, a critical conservation tool for Western lands that ensures revenues from the sale of small or low-value parcels of BLM land are used to buy new public lands with hunting and fishing access or high-value habitat. Right now, proceeds from surplus sales simply go to the general treasury. The TRCP has been supportive of thoughtful FLTFA reauthorization bills introduced this session by Rep. Rob Bishop, Sen. Martin Heinrich, and Sen. Dean Heller.

Whit Fosburgh

March 6, 2018

Outdoor Recreation Jobs and Spending Shouldn’t Be Overlooked

The Department of Commerce released the first-ever official data on outdoor recreation’s outsize impact on the American economy, and these numbers don’t lie

For the first time ever, the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis has released data on the financial clout of outdoor recreation in America. Thanks to a 2016 law, the agency is now charged with tracking this sector as it does other parts of the U.S. economy.

The new BEA data quantifies what many of us already knew: Outdoor recreation is big business, accounting for $637 billion, or more than 2 percent, of the nation’s gross domestic product.

This doesn’t even consider trips of less than 50 miles—about two-thirds of all outdoor recreation trips are of the close-to-home variety—nor the sale of imported goods. Those numbers are included in the Outdoor Industry Association’s five-year report, the most recent of which showed that the outdoor recreation economy is worth $887 billion.

What is also striking about the BEA numbers is the growth rate of the industry. While the U.S. economy as a whole grew by 2.8 percent in 2016, the outdoor recreation economy grew by 3.8 percent—nearly 36 percent faster than the national economy.

It’s an extraordinary step forward to be able to quantify exactly how much America’s hunters, anglers, boaters, hikers, bikers, skiers, wildlife watchers, and other outdoor enthusiasts are contributing to a healthy economy and job market. When you consider that there are also many unquantifiable benefits of getting outside, including fostering healthy bodies and minds, you would think that growing this sector would be a top priority for our national decision makers.

This is not always the case. Right now, the same agencies charged with managing the 640 million acres of public lands that provide a foundation for outdoor recreation are being targeted for budget cuts. And the dilapidated infrastructure of our public lands facilities—from roads and visitor centers to trails and campgrounds—is an afterthought, at best, in the president’s recent infrastructure proposal, which is largely contingent on expanding the industrialization of our public lands.

According to the BEA’s findings, boating and fishing are key drivers of the outdoor recreation economy, accounting for almost $40 billion annually, but the president’s recent budget proposal shortchanges the federal agencies responsible for keeping our water clean and our recreational fishing sector thriving.

The EPA budget is slated for a 23 percent cut, and two U.S. Department of Agriculture programs aimed at incentivizing private landowners to improve land management practices and reduce polluted runoff would be eliminated. Meanwhile, massive dead zones caused by nutrient runoff in the Gulf of Mexico, the Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay, and South Florida directly impact fisheries and tourism.

It is time for the administration and Congress to take the outdoor recreation economy seriously and invest in this sector, and perhaps the BEA statistics will help this process. The availability of this new data should be celebrated, and Americans should demand that these numbers are recognized in every debate about the future of our country’s public lands, waters, and conservation incentive programs.

We can have strong energy, agricultural, and industrial sectors without directly harming the lands and waters that sustain the hunting, fishing, hiking, boating, birding, and biking industries—or the clean air, clean water, and open spaces that all Americans need.

But this will require a different mindset, one that rejects the notion that industrial jobs are somehow worth more than outdoor recreation jobs.

Kim Jensen

March 5, 2018

A Possible Conservation Funding Fix Makes This State One to Watch

Georgia lawmakers are set to vote on a bill that will help create more funding for conservation, but it could also inspire solutions on the national level

It’s no secret that we’re headed for a conservation funding shortfall in America. Even as sportsmen and women willingly raise our own hunting and fishing license fees, the decline in participation in our sports has real consequences for federal funding models and the state-level agencies that depend on federal dollars to manage wildlife. Federal land managers tasked with maintaining public access and improving habitat could soon see substantial budget cuts, as well.

Many conservation champions are working on new and alternative sources of funding, and some state initiatives may serve as inspiration. In fact, a positive model for the nation is moving through the Georgia state legislature right now.

Where the Outdoors Mean Big Business

Though you may not have experienced its trout streams and pine stands, Georgia is an east-coast sportsmen’s paradise, with opportunities to land brookies or trophy-size largemouth bass in the depths of the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest or just a few miles outside downtown Atlanta. In fact, a Georgian is more likely than the average American to be an angler. The state is also home to whitetail deer and some of the best remaining bobwhite quail habitat.

Photo courtesy of Mary Ellen Urbanski/USFWS

Hunting and fishing are not just a way of life here, they’re also an economic engine in the state—more jobs are supported by Georgia’s outdoor recreation businesses than by the state’s powerful automotive industry. And outdoor recreation, including hunting and fishing, generates almost four times as much consumer spending in Georgia as in the outdoor mecca of Montana.

But, like the rest of the country, there are costly challenges for the state fish and wildlife managers who are charged with carrying out conservation and supporting the region’s sportsmen and women. Balancing the needs of wildlife with development and restoring waterways polluted by agricultural and stormwater runoff requires reliable funding—something that keeps local conservation agency leaders up at night.

So lawmakers are putting one solution to a vote.

Greenlighting GOSA

The Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act (GOSA) is legislation being considered by the Georgia General Assembly that would dedicate a portion of the current sales tax on outdoor recreation equipment to land conservation. Part of the goal of the legislation is to improve water quality, restore wildlife habitat, and increase public access to hunting and fishing. This dedicated source of funding would mean roughly $20 million in additional funding each year would go toward conservation efforts in the state.

The TRCP is supportive of this effort because it will provide stable, long-term funding for conservation in Georgia, ensuring that fish and wildlife habitat is conserved and sportsmen and women have access to quality places to hunt and fish.

Fly fishing in the Chattahoochee River. Photo courtesy of Ken Cook.

GOSA recently passed the Georgia House of Representatives by an overwhelming majority and is now being debated in the State Senate. But lawmakers have less than 10 days to pass the bill before the end of the legislative session on March 29. At that point, the governor would have to sign the bill so it can appear on the Georgia state ballot in November.

Right now, Georgia residents can contact their State Senator and urge them to support GOSA. Similarly, if your State Representative voted to advance the bill, you should reach out to express your thanks. We’ll be watching hopefully from Washington, where GOSA could serve as a model for the rest of the country. Sportsmen and women will need this kind of thoughtful legislating and creative funding to sustain our hunting and fishing traditions for generations to come.

 

Top photo courtesy of Jack Kennard.

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