onX and TRCP release a groundbreaking analysis of state land access across 11 Western states
This week, onX and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership revealed the stunning results of a collaboration to quantify how many acres of state lands across the West are entirely landlocked by private land and, therefore, inaccessible to hunters, anglers, and other outdoor recreationists.
This is the anticipated follow-up to last year’s study of federally managed public lands, which showed that more than 9.52 million federal acres have no permanent legal access because they are isolated by private lands.
The Findings on State Land
Using today’s leading mapping technologies, more than 6.35 million acres of state lands across 11 states in the American West were identified as landlocked by private lands. The detailed findings are now available in a new report, “Inaccessible State Lands in the West: The Extent of the Landlocked Problem and the Tools to Fix It,” which also unpacks how this problem is rooted in the history of the region.
“Based on the success of last year’s landlocked report, we decided to turn our attention to the West’s 49 million acres of state lands, which are important to sportsmen and women just like national forests, refuges, and BLM lands,” says Joel Webster, Western lands director with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “State trust lands, parks, and wildlife management areas often provide excellent hunting and fishing, yet 6.35 million acres of them are currently landlocked and inaccessible to the public. Together with our previous findings, the TRCP and onX have produced the most comprehensive picture of this access challenge across the West.”
The new report and companion website break down landlocked acre totals for each of 11 states. Montana, Arizona, New Mexico, and Wyoming each have more than one million acres of landlocked state lands, creating existing barriers and future opportunities for public access.
“Handheld GPS technologies have revolutionized how the recreating public finds and uses state and federal lands, making millions of acres of small tracts of public lands easy to discover and explore, both safely and legally” says onX founder Eric Siegfried. “GPS technologies have also helped the recreating public become personally aware that inaccessible public lands are scattered across the Western landscape, and onX is eager to help identify the extent of the landlocked challenge and showcase the collaborative tools to fix it.”
Landlocked Acres by State
• Arizona: 1,310,000 acres
• California: 38,000 acres
• Colorado: 435,000 acres
• Idaho: 71,000 acres
• Montana: 1,560,000 acres
• Nevada: < 1,000 acres
• New Mexico: 1,350,000 acres
• Oregon: 47,000 acres
• Utah: 116,000 acres
• Washington: 316,000 acres
• Wyoming: 1,110,000 acres
While the analysis looked at various types of state-administered land, such as state parks and wildlife management areas, the vast majority—about 95 percent—of the landlocked areas identified are state trust lands. Trust lands were long ago granted by the federal government to individual states and are generally open to public recreation in all Western states except Colorado.
“Each year, hunters and anglers across the West enjoy some of their best days outdoors utilizing state land access,” adds Siegfried. “If we can work together to unlock state lands for the public, many more sportsmen and women will have those experiences in the years ahead.”
The report also highlights the various ways in which states are and can be addressing this issue, so that effective solutions can be more widely adopted across the West. Several states have made significant progress with dedicated staff and programs for improving access, and by utilizing walk-in private land hunting access programs to open up state land. Additionally, state-side grants made possible by the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which was permanently reauthorized earlier this year, offer another promising tool to address the landlocked problem.
“Many states have embraced the opportunity to open these lands to recreational access, and it is our hope that this report will help decision-makers find ways to tackle the challenge more completely,” says TRCP’s Webster. “This includes Congress doing its part by passing legislation that would establish full and dedicated annual funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which must direct 40 percent of all dollars towards state and local projects.”
The TRCP is encouraging hunters and anglers to support full, permanent funding of the LWCF through its online action tools here.
Learn more and download the full report at unlockingpubliclands.org.
11 Responses to “New Study Reveals 6.35 Million Acres of Western State Lands Are Landlocked”
James Watt was hated but he formulated a broad plan that was trading landlocked public lands for private and landlocked private for public. Net result was dramatically lowered admin. costs. Lands were traded like for like.
Great work! The next report needs to dig into those elusive easements. I have discovered that thousands of acres of landlocked state land in Washington actually have road easements on them with a purpose of “providing access to and from state land”. These roads are being blocked by fee-charging timber companies that want to monopolize recreation access. The state is digging into their old records right now. The big timber companies that profit from state and federal land it trapped in their fee systems are complaining that those easements were for administration only. They sure don’t want the public to access public lands for free when they can charge hundreds for accessing those same acres.
If it’s public state or federal land there needs to be public access
Please leave the Public Lands alone! I’m sick of Trump Administration for last time in the future!
Invoke “Public Domaine Laws” on ALL areas surrounding Public areas. Also, No Longer allow access to Public Lands to Lumber companies, Cattle companies, etc. until they comply to allowing Public Access to Public Lands. Easy solutions. Just DO IT! Please.
Landlocked land is bullshit. Private land owners should be required by law to make an access point.
Great info, got our work cut out for us.
We are making a beautiful mountain bike area here north of Three Forks Montana. Copper City Trails
Access to state lands is very important for recreation, especially hunting and fishing, in Montana. But the access picture is pretty complex. and certainly more complex than simply whether or not a public road touches the section. The statistics in this article paint a pretty bad picture for Montana.
But, there are several reasons why more State Trust Lands in my state of Montana appear to be landlocked than in other states. First, Montana is the fourth largest state in the union and so has more state land that all but 3 states.
Montana has not sold off most of its’ state lands like some other states have. The fewer acres of state lands, the fewer that can be landlocked.
Montana also has less prime farmland which often results in smaller agricultural properties which leads to more section line roads which provide access to more state land sections.
About 66% of Montana is pasture and rangeland. Commercial ranches in Montana tend to be quite large and pastures tend to be quite large and the terrain is generally highly variable. Therefore, there are fewer public roads which means fewer public roads leading to fewer state sections.
Montana has a very important hunter access program called Block Management. About 1200 landowners participate in the program (2019) which provides access to many acres of state lands that might at first glance appear to be landlocked. Now, granted this is not permanent access, but it is current access. Many landowners who are not in Block management do allow access for recreation on their lands including state lands.
Much commercial timberland in Western Montana includes State sections and most of those landowners allow public access.
So, the issue is a lot more complicated than simply “landlocked”. That does not diminish the importance of providing permanent access to state lands, but it must be considered in a complete picture of the acmes issue.
Possible solutions to address some of these land locked acres are sales and trades. In Wyoming, the Office of State Lands and Investments has successfully brokered several such situations. Recently, near Sheridan, several small parcels of inaccessable state land were traded for a single large tract near Buffalo. This was a win for the landowner and outdoor users. These exchanges must be monitored closely however to insure the state isn’t trading riparian land for a rock pile. Sportsmen have stopped several proposals that were unacceptable. I personally would pay a reasonable fee to hunt state lands as long as the money collected was used to facilitate exchanges or purchase lands or easements to create access to inaccessable state land. Forced access through private land will be fought at all costs.
In today’s BLM and state lands world my concern is that our elected officials will use this report to trade, sell, and otherwise reduce public access to OUR public lands. I agree with Harvey from Lewsitown that State Lands in Montana are complicated. Here in Idaho the situation is similarly complicated. But will our politician’s use the complicated nature of the state lands situation to “get rid” of our lands? Call me paranoid, but the recent slection of the new Chief for BLM doesn’t make me less so.
We must have access to the public land, the rancher are using public land, such as BML land for pennies on the dollar to feed there cattle using it as there own land, keeping the public off of it, even posting it as private, I saw it with my own eyes.