Randall Williams

August 29, 2018

New Study Shows 9.52 Million Acres of Western Public Lands Are Landlocked

Results of the most sophisticated analysis of inaccessible public lands reveals a staggering challenge that the Land and Water Conservation Fund could help solve

This week, onX and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership revealed the stunning results of a collaboration to quantify how many acres of America’s public lands are entirely surrounded by private land and, therefore, sit inaccessible to hunters, anglers, and other outdoor recreationists.

The Findings

More than 9.5 million acres across thirteen states in the American West were identified as landlocked by private lands in a study using today’s leading mapping technologies. The findings are now available in a new report, “Off Limits, But Within Reach: Unlocking the West’s Inaccessible Public Lands,” which unpacks the issue in unprecedented detail.

“At 9.52 million acres, the massive scale of the landlocked problem represents a major impediment to public access and the growth of the $887-billion outdoor recreation economy,” says Joel Webster, Western lands director with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “These are lands that all Americans own, and yet public access is not readily available or guaranteed.”

Up until now, little has been done to make a comprehensive and detailed assessment of this frequently discussed issue. This new report breaks down the 9.52 million acres landlocked across the West into totals for each of the thirteen states, highlighting the largest landlocked parcel within each state and how many landlocked acres each federal land management agency oversees.

Photo credit: Tom Fowlks

More than 93.2 percent of landlocked public lands in the West are managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Wyoming holds the most inaccessible public lands with 3.05 million acres—or almost a third of the total landlocked acreage across the region.

onX was founded on helping people access the outdoors and public lands, and our partnership in this project is an extension of that,” says onX founder Eric Siegfried. “In additions to creating technology that enables people to make memories in the field or on the water, we strongly support efforts that either improve current access points or open up new opportunities for our customers. Why not start with the public lands that we rightfully own?”

A Solution in Jeopardy

The report also highlights the most powerful tool for opening landlocked lands to the public—the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which, among other things, pays for voluntary easement and acquisition agreements with private landowners. This joint effort between onX and TRCP arrives at a critical time for the fund, which is set to expire on September 30, 2018, unless Congress acts to reauthorize the LWCF.

“Our report offers a clear and accurate picture of a major access obstacle facing public land users, and the Land and Water Conservation Fund is the single most important mechanism for addressing this challenge,” says TRCP’s Webster. “Many lawmakers talk about their commitment to public access, and the clearest way for them to demonstrate their support would be to reauthorize this critical program by September 30.”

“Many public land parcels without guaranteed public access range from five to 30 square miles in size—we aren’t just talking about postage stamp sections,” adds Siegfried. “Understanding this, lawmakers have a very real opportunity to make a positive difference by expanding public access for the American people, and we hope they do.”

Landlocked Acres by State

Arizona: 243,000 acres
California: 492,000 acres
Colorado: 269,000 acres
Idaho: 208,000 acres
Montana: 1,523,000 acres
Nevada: 2,054,000 acres
New Mexico: 554,000 acres
North Dakota: 107,000 acres
Oregon: 443,000 acres
South Dakota: 196,000 acres
Utah: 264,000 acres
Washington: 121,000 acres
Wyoming: 3,046,000 acres

 

Learn more and download the full report at unlockingpubliclands.org.

 

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5 Responses to “New Study Shows 9.52 Million Acres of Western Public Lands Are Landlocked”

  1. Blake house

    I think the public should have access the these lands we pay for and only the private land owners can use there should be an easement through the private land with no hunting signs if they want until the public land is reached I understand that a lot of people don’t follow the rules and screw it up for every one else but those are few the law abiding people should have access to these lands

  2. Charles Roche

    Why can’t access be guaranteed through the use of eminent domain? We take private property to allow private businesses to build on, so it’s time to use it to carve out access to our property and make such access permanent.

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Joel Webster

August 24, 2018

Why the National Parks Are Great Neighbors to Public Land Hunters and Anglers

While not all national parks are open to hunting and fishing, these iconic landscapes are responsible for growing some of the critters that wind up in our favorite spots come opening day

On August 25, our country celebrates the anniversary of the National Park Service. And with stunning and iconic landscapes in places like Glacier, Grand Teton, and Yosemite, it’s easy to see why there is so much to commemorate. But as a sportsman who loves to hunt and fish, I celebrate the parks for a slightly different reason.

You see, most national parks provide safe harbor for deer and elk where they can grow into giants. Those animals become accessible to hunters when they leave park boundaries and wander onto multiple-use public lands, like BLM lands and national forests, for any number of reasons, including to reach their winter ranges. As a result, hunting units surrounding national parks often provide some of the best big game hunting available. Those are the kinds of places where I want to spend my time.

Image courtesy of Bureau of Land Management.

Most sportsmen are familiar with the famed elk migrations out of Yellowstone National Park but, while the total herd numbers aren’t what they used to be, the public lands adjacent to the park are still known as great places to hunt trophy bulls. Great Basin National Park in Nevada has a reputation for producing big mule deer that wander into neighboring multiple-use public lands during the hunting season, and quality mule deer depend on the habitat in and around Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. Experienced sportsmen know that units located adjacent to many of the national parks are simply great places to find big bucks and bulls.

The same goes for great fishing. While national parks are generally open to fishing, the protected mountains within many parks provide cool, clean headwaters for many of the nation’s best trout streams flowing outside of the parks. The South Fork of the Snake River in Wyoming and eastern Idaho offers some of the best trout fishing anywhere, thanks to the abundant snowpack and pristine headwaters within Grand Teton National Park. The North Fork of the Flathead River in northwest Montana is an amazing place to catch a cutthroat on a dry fly, in part due to the protected landscapes of Glacier National Park. And let’s not forget the mighty Yellowstone and Madison Rivers, two great trout streams with seemingly endless miles of fishable water, both born within Yellowstone National Park.

So, if you’re a sportsman who appreciates quality habitat and public hunting and fishing, give thanks for America’s national parks this weekend or the next time you shoulder your rifle or tie on a fly. These lands make great neighbors by supporting our sporting heritage in a unique way.

And that’s worth celebrating.

 

Editor’s Note: This story was originally posted August 23, 2016 and has been updated.

Ed Arnett

August 3, 2018

This Policy Change Means Habitat Lost to Development Stays Lost

With public-land agencies weakening their stance on habitat mitigation, sportsmen and women may see unnecessary loss of habitat and opportunity

We accept that energy development is a necessary activity that, quite literally, powers our lives. But the conversation about where it should occur becomes more complicated when there could be a risk to fish and wildlife resources that power our hunting and fishing opportunities.

For years, there has been a kind of regulatory backstop to ensure that unnecessary impacts to habitat are avoided or compensated for. This is called mitigation, and the Department of the Interior just made changes that would weaken this foundational conservation tool.

If you’re familiar with our favorite metaphor for how mitigation works, the DOI just spilled your beer and walked away without a second thought.

The Beer Metaphor That Explains Mitigation

Here’s what we mean: Imagine I spill half your beer. Would you feel better about this loss if I bought you half a drink? How about if I soaked up your spilled beer with a napkin and squeezed it back into your glass? Truly mitigating the impact I had on your evening would, at the very least, mean buying you a new drink and possibly even the next round.

Now, imagine that the precious resource lost was not your favorite IPA, but fish and wildlife habitat. Mitigation calls for a hierarchy of steps to avoid, minimize, or compensate for habitat damage by providing for conservation on site or elsewhere.

But in recent weeks, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rescinded its compensatory and Service-wide mitigation policies, and the Bureau of Land Management issued instructions to its offices that essentially halt the agency’s use of compensatory mitigation on BLM public lands.

What Does This Mean for Habitat?

Quite simply, from this point forward, if a development project can’t avoid damage to habitat on public land through early planning, or minimize its impacts during construction, then there will be no requirement to compensate for those damages. On the ground, this means loss of habitat or its quality—plain and simple.

Photo credit: BLM Nevada

Spilled beer can’t be un-spilled, just like some habitat can’t be unspoiled. But, now, the BLM won’t hold developers accountable to even try to make up for the hunting and fishing opportunities they may have cost you on your public lands. We can never hope for a net positive, or net zero, for fish and wildlife if this is the way that DOI does its math. We will always be losing ground where impacts occur and are not mitigated.

Greater Threat to Some Species

Conservationists have long viewed compensatory mitigation as a common sense approach to balancing development with fish, wildlife, and habitat values. It is a fundamental component of land-use management, habitat conservation, and recovery of endangered or threatened populations.

These decisions to scale back on mitigation are not only harmful for listed species, but also for species that are most at risk of being listed in the future.

In states like Colorado and Nevada, which rely heavily on mitigation for impacts to the sagebrush ecosystem for their conservation strategies, these policy changes also undermine collaborative work to restore sage grouse populations and habitat across the West.

Chipping Away at Conservation Bedrock

At the center of DOI’s argument for these changes is that the department and its agencies have no legal authority to require mitigation. That may be true in a purely legal context, but the BLM most certainly has the authority and ample discretion to require developers to avoid, minimize, and even compensate for habitat impacts under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, the National Environmental Protection Act (better known as NEPA), and other statutes governing federal land management and development on these lands.

Application of the full mitigation hierarchy is critical for the BLM to achieve its multiple-use and land health standards mandated by federal policy and statute. And if the agency would like to avoid pushing developers for compensation after damage occurs, there’s a real incentive to do better up-front planning to avoid impacts in the first place—which is what we all want.

Taking away the last line of defense for fish and wildlife only creates a wildly uneven playing field: Inevitably there will still be developers who want to do the right thing and mitigate for damages, but the door will be open for bad actors to simply ignore the costs of doing business on our public lands.

The DOI has stated that the policy changes won’t affect state mitigation policies, but most states do not require mitigation. Perhaps it’s time for state legislatures and Congress to consider codifying legal requirements for mitigation, as political swings and varying interpretations of policy and law have clearly taken us many steps backward in balancing our management of public lands and energy development.

What Sportsmen Can Do

Ultimately, we are disappointed to see DOI take steps to weaken a fundamental management tool and potentially create huge setbacks for conservation of a species like sage grouse and the quality of our public land experiences as hunters and anglers. These decisions do not reflect balance nor adherence to bedrock conservation laws, like NEPA and FLPMA, which protect habitat and guide us toward a careful balance.

The TRCP will continue working with our partners and a wide range of stakeholders—including conservation and sportsmen’s groups but also landowners and businesses—to speak up for habitat mitigation, especially in this new era of expanded development on public lands.

And you can help. Visit sportsmenscountry.org to send a message to lawmakers that they need to do more than keep our public lands public—they need to support policies that keep our public lands well-managed for all the ways we use them. Show them we are paying attention.

 

Photos courtesy of Tom Koerner/USFWS. 

Anna Grubb

July 19, 2018

Featured Podcast: Shortlisting the Most Critical Conservation Issues We Face Today

No matter where you call home, these are the conservation issues you need to know about right now—get caught up in less than 60 minutes

TRCP’s visionary founder Jim Range recognized that conservation won’t work well if we only fight for what we see outside our own windows every day. It can’t be about Western lands and Eastern lands when it comes to America’s public lands. We can’t afford to stand on opposite sides of a dividing line between saltwater and freshwater fishing or big game and small game hunting.

In short, we can’t win on generation-defining conservation battles if we’re not working together.

On a recent episode of the East to West Hunting Podcast, our president and CEO Whit Fosburgh urges sportsmen and women across the country to recognize our greatest challenges and unite to take action. From conservation programs in the Farm Bill, the looming expiration of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and a fresh legislative attack on ownership of America’s public lands to invasive species, forage fish management, and the future of deer hunting, there is so much opportunity to find common ground.

Give it a listen below!

“We can talk about whether you want wilderness or managed public lands, that debate is a luxury. As long as we still have those public lands, we can have those debates” 

 

 

Learn more about the East to West Hunting Podcast here.

Whit Fosburgh

July 5, 2018

Utah Senator Compares America’s Public Lands to Elite Playgrounds and We’re Not Having It

Looking out on an impressive public lands vista may make you feel like a king, but the argument that America’s public lands are akin to England’s “royal forests” is completely ridiculous

On June 29, Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) addressed a conservative public policy think tank with an impassioned speech about the tyranny of the federal government and three pieces of legislation aimed at selling off and developing America’s public lands.

In this monologue, Lee equated modern-day public lands in America to feudal England’s “royal forests,” which provided game and amusement for the landed gentry while the peasants starved. In Lee’s mind, eastern elites are today’s landed gentry and the peasants are those living in states with abundant public land.

Perhaps Senator Lee should study the evolution of and philosophy behind America’s public lands system, which was created to be the exact opposite of England’s.

Theodore Roosevelt felt that all Americans should have the chance to prove themselves in the wild—as he had done after the death of his wife and his mother—and enjoy the resources that the forests, rivers, mountains, and prairies could provide. The North American Model of Wildlife Conservation comes from Roosevelt’s vision and continues to govern wildlife management by several key tenets, with the most fundamental being that our fish and wildlife belong to all Americans—not governments, private landowners, or corporations—and they must be managed in a way that sustains fish and wildlife populations in perpetuity.

Each citizen has an opportunity, under the law, to hunt and fish in the United States, and we have more than 600 million acres of public lands, open to everyone, to do just that. Yet, Senator Lee laments that public lands have somehow become the play areas for a select few.

The facts offer a different story.

Chart with data from Utah DNR by Leia Larsen of the Standard-Examiner.

In Utah last year, more than 200,000 residents bought hunting licenses and the overwhelming majority of those people hunted on public lands in the state. Only about 30,000 non-resident hunting licenses were sold.

It hardly seems that Utahans are being kept from enjoying the public lands in Utah.

To the contrary, multiple studies across the West (here’s one) have shown that communities located close to public lands are more prosperous than those without public land access. Almost 75 percent of hunting in the West takes place on public lands. And, obviously, public lands are available to Americans for more than just hunting and fishing.

This is why our public lands support and are managed for multiple uses—from hunting, fishing, and other outdoor recreation opportunities to logging, energy development, and grazing. Some areas are managed as wilderness or monuments, while others are best suited for development.

This is what was intended by Roosevelt, Pinchot, and other conservation luminaries, and it is a system that has worked well. Yes, we can have debates about the management of certain parcels, but that debate is a luxury, one that does not occur in England or in U.S. states without extensive public lands.

The three bills that Sen. Lee outlined are all designed to transfer, sell off, and/or industrialize the nation’s public lands, and as usual, the argument is cloaked in the rhetoric of “states’ rights” and “economic opportunity.”

Will some people get rich if Utah’s public lands are developed? Absolutely. But at what cost?

Yes, we can have debates about the management of certain parcels of public land, but that debate is a luxury, one that does not occur in England or in U.S. states without extensive public lands.

If Lee were to succeed, the public lands that all Americans enjoy today for hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, off-road vehicle riding, and myriad other uses will certainly be off-limits. Those who were once able to challenge themselves, find restorative solitude, or make lifelong memories with family and friends in what Lee calls “land that is just sitting there, unused” will be greeted by industrial development or locked gates.

Senator Lee is correct that there are times when public lands in or near urban areas are best used for other purposes, such as affordable housing or schools. But federal law expressly permits those types of properties to be sold off with the proceeds benefiting conservation and access elsewhere. In fact, this is fresh in the minds of lawmakers, who reauthorized the Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act in the omnibus spending bill in March 2018.

America’s hunters, anglers, and outdoor enthusiasts remember well when former Rep. Jason Chaffetz introduced HR 621, which would have disposed of 3.3 million acres of public lands to help balance the budget, in 2017. Our community’s outcry against this provision was so strong that Rep. Chaffetz took to Instagram dressed in camo to announce that he was withdrawing his bill—and then he withdrew from Congress.

Photo by Bob Wick

Perhaps Senator Lee needs to be reminded how much all Americans care about their public lands. He should certainly experience them firsthand and discover for himself what Theodore Roosevelt found out more than a century ago—that the privilege of access for all to wide open spaces is actually fundamental to what it is to be an American.

We are not “greedy kings” for wanting to keep our public lands public.

Send that message to your lawmakers now: Sign the petition at sportsmensaccess.org.

Then send the link to a friend who relies on public land for his or her hunting or fishing access. We have been here before and, united for public lands, we won.

Have fun picking apart Senator Lee’s full speech to the Sutherland Institute here.

 

Top photo by Bob Wick via flickr.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

WHAT WILL FEWER HUNTERS MEAN FOR CONSERVATION?

The precipitous drop in hunter participation should be a call to action for all sportsmen and women, because it will have a significant ripple effect on key conservation funding models.

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