Joel Webster

September 20, 2018

Here’s Another Side to the Landlocked Public Lands Story

Only recently has LWCF funding been specifically purposed with unlocking our inaccessible public lands, meaning that we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us when it comes to establishing access to isolated parcels

When the TRCP and onX began the research for our recent inaccessible public lands report, “Off Limits, But Within Reach,” the primary goal was to produce the most accurate calculation of landlocked public lands possible. But in addition to determining that the thirteen Western states contain more than 9.52 million acres of landlocked federal public lands, we also uncovered another startling finding: the work to open access to these inaccessible public lands has largely just begun.

As part of the report, we wanted to highlight successful examples of acquisition projects that provided public access to the two different types of landlocked public lands: checkerboard and isolated parcels. Checkerboard lands are remnants of a bygone era when the federal government gave railroad companies alternating sections of land that met corner-to-corner, whereas isolated parcels are tracts of public land entirely enclosed by surrounding private holdings.

Checkerboard BLM lands in Oregon. Red striping indicates landlocked parcels.

Searching for these real-world examples, we called every expert we could imagine within the land trust community and the federal land management agencies. There was no shortage of great LWCF-funded checkerboard consolidation projects, but we were shocked by how difficult it was to find an example of a LWCF-funded project that opened access to an isolated parcel. In fact, our research turned up only one isolated parcel access success story nationwide: Western Rivers Conservancy’s Thirtymile Project along the John Day River in eastern Oregon.

As we came to realize, isolated parcels haven’t been prioritized for access acquisition in the past because of the way that LWCF projects were traditionally “scored” by the federal agencies when being considered for funding.

While the Land and Water Conservation Fund has been around since 1965—using revenue from offshore oil and gas development to fund outdoor recreation projects—the Fund has primarily been used by the federal agencies to benefit public lands by conserving resources like wildlife habitat, clean water, and special places. Acquisition projects that consolidate checkerboard lands not only improve or establish new access to public lands, they also prevent habitat fragmentation and the future development of intact landscapes, and thus often check the necessary boxes to score highly under the traditional rating system.

An isolated parcel of USFS land in Idaho. Red striping indicates landlocked parcels.

While the long-term use of LWCF dollars has benefited millions of Americans and advanced countless projects that were worth their weight in gold—including many that benefitted access— it wasn’t until 2012 that Congress mandated an annual portion of the Fund be used exclusively to address the issue of limited or nonexistent access to public lands. The timing of that change made sense, given that private land access issues weren’t a major concern when the fund was originally created—in decades past, most sportsmen and women could obtain landowner permission without too much difficulty. And so acquisition projects to unlock isolated parcels of public land for hunters and anglers only very recently became a priority for LWCF funding.

As a result, our research found that in places like the BLM Miles City Field Office of eastern Montana, nearly one million acres of federally managed public lands sit entirely inaccessible to the public, yet not a single LWCF project has been completed in the area to fund public access. The story is much the same in other areas with a similarly high concentration of landlocked lands, such as the BLM Buffalo Field Office in eastern Wyoming.

Sportsmen and women should not see this situation as a failure, but rather as a sign that this important work is now just getting started and that we still have much to do. In fact, many lawmakers appear to recognize the need to fund access acquisition and on September 13, the House Natural Resources Committee passed HR 502, a bipartisan and well-reasoned LWCF-reauthorization bill that includes up to $27 million annually for access acquisition—twice the amount that has been previously available.

While last week’s development represents an encouraging opportunity, the House committee’s actions on LWCF were just one of many needed steps to save this vital program before its scheduled expiration on September 30. With no clear resolution in sight, there’s a very real risk that sportsmen and women will lose the best available tool to open access to landlocked public lands across the West when we need it most.

Take action today to encourage your lawmakers to permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund with full, dedicated annual funding before it expires on September 30. Your future ability to access more than 9.52 million additional acres of our public lands depends on it.

Photo courtesy of BLM Wyoming

 

18 Responses to “Here’s Another Side to the Landlocked Public Lands Story”

  1. Curt Nizzoli

    I believe that RMEF also completed a couple checkerboard consolidation projects, and John Day area was one. Their land acquisition people out in the field likely have many more that they feel can be done quickly and easily. Reach out to them and ask for their input and support; you’ll find a willing and able partner!

  2. Bob Tomlinson

    Its great that folks are recognizing the significant value in acquiring access to our public lands. Many changes have occurred in the last couple of decades with respect to landowners willingness to voluntarily allow access across their lands to land locked public parcels. Also, many large industrial tracts are being sold off to numerous smaller land owners which will make it even more difficult in the future to ensure public access to those public lands not now accessible. I do feel it is an appropriate use of LWCF funding to begin an accelerated effort to secure access to public lands. But, we should also be considering land exchanges, selling lower value lands in order to buy higher value lands, and, especially, access easements as opposed to always looking for fee title to ensure access.

    Thanks for all you are doing to enhance access to our federal public lands for me and future generations.

  3. Seathl Ollgaard

    We need to keep the LWCF going! On-X Hunt has done a great job with their maps and efforts to open access to previously inaccessible land. You guys need to make a notify your representative article just like this, so everyone can send a pre-established letter to their state reps and senators with the click of a button!

  4. Michael W Henry

    I live in Cheyenne WY, am an avid outdoors person, mostly hunting. One of my favorite area is Laramie Peak where there are many acres of BLM land which are landlocked by private land. The owners have posted signs everywhere keeping people from accessing the BLM land. They use the land for their own use, lease it out to outfitters who charge “mega-bucks” to clients for hunting purposes. We, as WY residents, should be able to access the BLM land as long as we do not disturb any private land while traveling to BLM land to enjoy as some others do. They are making thousands of dollars using BLM land for their gain while keeping others, you and me, from pursuing our interests. Some have posted BLM land claiming it to be private and my GPS states differently, not fair or right. They are able to have their own “private preserves” at our expense and I would like to see that change soon.

  5. Judy Blaisdell

    It seems reasonable that the public should have access to public lands. We and two neighbors share a property line with a land-locked 40-acre parcel. We do not allow the public (read “hunters) to cross our property to this land-locked parcel. Maybe we are wrong, but if hunters were allowed there, it would endanger our lives. We think of this small acreage as a refuge for wildlife. It also is an area that seems to have been used extensively by indigenous cultures. To us, it feels like a sacred place, and we respect it as such. That goes against the idea of public access for all public lands, but we will continue to do what we can to keep this area protected.

  6. I had an opportunity to hunt public land in Colorado with the name “Red Canyon” where a friend in Colorado had hunted for years. The trail leading to it crossed through a small corner of private land and the year I was able to go, the owner cut off all access and obtained thousands of acres as his private hunting club.

  7. Public access is not just for hunting! Private land owners claim that by allowing access, that it will endanger their lives. I’m calling BS on that. There are weapons restrictions on small chunks of land and within certain distance from houses. What about all of the people who don’t hunt? Maybe people just want to be able to see the beautiful landscape by hiking, biking, fishing etc. People are greedy to keep things all for themselves and there need to be better laws for the public!

  8. I get both sides of the fence. I have worked as a cowboy on several ranches that have a checkerboard land ownership. It makes things confusing for all parties. But from a ranchers’ perspective they would rather have the opportunity to buy it from the government. This article fails to address any of the cecerns that the private land owners have, most of whom are ranchers trying to make a living. Yes, they pay small grazing fees, but it comes with a ton of restrictions and uncertainty. Dozens and dozens of ranchers have been forced out of business by the govt buying their land cheap after strong-arming them into submission and then changing their grazing policy on them. So just keep in mind, where some are concerned about a good spot to go climbing or hunting, others are concerned about keeping the family business alive.

  9. The first politician to run on requiring all public land to be accessible to the public, via eminent domain if necessary, gets my vote. If your private land eliminates access, sell, donate a ROW, or take what you get. Time for land reform just like in those banana republics. The North American Model calls for equality of opportunity to harvest game, it’s time to keep that promise.

  10. Access to public lands should be allowed. A private landowner has access rights to the private property, so we, the public, should have the same rights of access to “our” property. How did landowners manage to own a thin strip of land connecting his two sections, effectively blocking even more accesses. Seems like some “good ol’ boys” behind the doors scheming to me.

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Geoff Mullins

September 16, 2018

This American Holiday is All About Your Right to Enjoy the Outdoors

National Hunting and Fishing Day is like Christmas, Independence Day, and Thanksgiving for sportsmen and women—so go enjoy the many gifts of the outdoors, cherish our American traditions, and give thanks

God put us in charge. At least, that’s what the Good Book says. Our human connection to nature and wildlife is so special, because we are at once a part of it, yet differentiated from it. The experiences we have with wildlife and wild places are vital to our existence, because they help us affirm our own uniqueness and value in life.

No one understands and appreciates this relationship more than American sportsmen and women. When a hunter or angler fairly and ethically pursues wildlife or fish, he is connecting with nature at a primal level—life and death are at stake. And with a respectful harvest of that animal, he is celebrating and appreciating what it has provided and taught him.

Theodore Roosevelt spoke of the virtues of a “strenuous life.” I believe he meant that life is an accumulation of experiences, big and small. Only by pushing ourselves in this pursuit can we know our full potential. Life is all around us, and sportsmen go out to meet it! It’s in the friction of water around your legs as you step into a stream, the crunch of frosty ground under your boot, the smell of a campfire, and the sound of laughter and tales being shared.

September 22th is National Hunting and Fishing Day, and it should be celebrated and appreciated—not just by hunters and anglers, but by all Americans.

Sportsmen are the original conservationists. Our traditions and passions for wildlife support a system found nowhere else on Earth, one that benefits all. The North American Model of Wildlife Conservation prioritizes professional science-based wildlife management, provides funding mechanisms through license sales and excise taxes that pay for conservation programs and, most importantly, holds that our fish and game resources are a public resource belonging to all Americans. Inherent in this truth is our democratic tradition of public lands, which goes back to the days of Roosevelt and others.

God put us in charge, therefore we are responsible. It is up to all of us, as sportsmen and women, to be vocal advocates for conservation of fish, wildlife, habitat, America’s public lands, and the sporting traditions we hold so dear.

Yellowstone River in Montana’s Paradise Valley. Image courtesy of Dusan Smetana.

In the spirit of this day, there are two things you can do to help guarantee that future generations have quality places to hunt and fish:

1)      Go hunting or fishing. Just get out there. Live the strenuous life. Even better, take someone with you.

2)      Speak up! Contact your lawmakers and elected officials to tell them why conservation and sportsmen are so important to our blessed country. Urge them to stand with sportsmen and women in celebrating our uniquely American traditions, on Saturday and every day.

This is a great place to start: Sign the Sportsmen’s Country petition at sportsmenscountry.org. Tell lawmakers that access promises mean nothing if our public lands are not well-managed for the next generation of hunters and anglers.

 

This was originally posted September 22, 2016 and has been updated. Top photo courtesy of Northwoods Collective.

Joel Webster

September 13, 2018

House Committee Backs Public Land Access and Paying Down Maintenance Backlogs

Swift passage in the House and similar movement in the Senate would permanently secure the most critical tool for opening 9.52 million acres of landlocked public lands and address long-standing maintenance issues on public lands across the U.S.

Today, the House Natural Resources Committee took strongly bipartisan action to advance two pieces of critical public lands legislation: permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund and the Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act, a bill that would provide dedicated funding to address the maintenance backlogs in our national parks, Bureau of Land Management lands, and National Wildlife Refuge System.

“We want to thank Chairman Bishop and Ranking Member Grijalva for rolling up their sleeves and working together in bipartisan fashion for the benefit of American sportsmen and women,” says Whit Fosburgh, President and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “The Land and Water Conservation Fund is the single most important federal program for conserving habitat on and expanding access to America’s 640 million acres of public lands; and the Restore our Parks and Public Lands Act provides the funding necessary to begin to ensure those public lands are being well-managed and maintained.”

The House bill would fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund at $900 million and dedicate 3 percent of LWCF dollars specifically to increasing public access on existing public lands. (Without further action, the program’s current authorization is set to expire on September 30.)
The TRCP and leading hunting app-maker onX recently revealed the results of a new study showing 9.52 million acres across thirteen Western states are entirely landlocked by private property. The report pointed to the LWCF as the best-available tool for policymakers to open and expand access to public lands.

“Sportsmen are depending on Congress to act swiftly and see that the LWCF is permanently reauthorized with full, dedicated annual funding and that a comprehensive public lands maintenance backlog fund is established to benefit all of our land management agencies,” says Fosburgh. “We hope this commendable move by the House Natural Resources Committee is the first step toward getting these priorities passed into law.”.


Photo courtesy: The Trust For Public Lands

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.

 

In partnership with

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.

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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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