October 8, 2019

Finding Landlocked Parcels is the First Step to Creating New Access

While the extent of the challenge is huge, we can’t tackle it unless we face it head-on 

While passionate sportsmen and women have rallied around the issue of landlocked public lands since the release of our initial report last year, we’ve noticed that there have been some who wonder about the possibility of this work backfiring on our community.  

The risk, so the thinking goes, is that land transfer advocates could characterize our data as evidence in support of the idea that there is already too much public land in the West. Or, it could be argued, that these landlocked lands aren’t doing much good currently and that the public would be better served by the revenue they could generate if they were sold to private interests. Here’s why these concerns—although well-intentioned—shouldn’t keep hunters and anglers up at night. 


Q: Will identifying landlocked lands help politicians justify disposing of them? 

A: Although some might misrepresent the take-away of our findingsthere are programs and policies currently in place to ensure that this information is put to the right use by decision makers. 

For one thingrecent mandates from federal agency leads and Congress alike direct our public land management agencies to focus their efforts on creating new access to landlocked public lands. 

In 2017, then-Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke signed S.O. 3356, which—among other things—directed the BLM to identify inaccessible or difficultto-access public lands as well as opportunities to make them accessible to the public.  

The TRCP and onX are actually working to help the BLM with this effort right now. 

Also, Section 4105 in the John Dingell Act (S. 47)which was signed into law in March 2019, requires the federal land management agencies to identify landlocked lands and opportunities to make them accessible. Specifically, the law requires that the government evaluate the potential for recreational use, the likelihood of resolving the existing obstacles to public access, and whether access could be created through an easement, right-of-way, or land acquisition. Priority opportunities must be submitted for the consideration of Congress, along with a report on the options available to secure access. 

Meanwhile, at the state level, the information from our report is helping to drive proactive work like Montana’s Public Access to LandActMT Plan, and Unlocking Public Lands. Idaho’s “Access Yes” and New Mexico’s “Open Gate” programs are also great examples of this work. Not only does the data allow agency personnel to identify access opportunities more effectively, the overall findings make clear the importance of this work—further strengthening public and institutional support for it. 

Given all we’ve heard from the land transfer crowd in the past, it’d be no surprise if they tried to spin the landlocked issue into an attack on our public lands. Thankfully, however, sportsmen and women have not only public opinion, but also public policy on our side.  

And the fact of the matter is that we can’t begin to solve this issue unless we shine a light on it, even if that means we hear some bad-faith arguments from the anti-public lands crowd. They’re not going away any time soon, so we can’t be afraid to take up this issue if we hope to expand public land access in a meaningful way. 


Photo: Bob Wick/BLM via Flickr

9 Responses to “Finding Landlocked Parcels is the First Step to Creating New Access”

  1. harvey nyberg

    This is a bogus argument. Just because a parcel is landlocked today does not mean it will stay that way. Almost every public land agency and state has one or more programs aimed at opening public, included land-locked, lands. In addition, there are numerous non-governmental conservation groups that work with willing and interested landowners to develop conservation easements or other mechanism that effectively make those otherwise land-locked parcels available to the public for various uses. All of these programs allow landowners to exercise their private property rights to protect the conservation values of the lands.

  2. dennis deibert

    why cant we use the excuse of public domain as a reason to gain right of way to these lands. It would be in the best interest of the public. LIke any other land takeaway for the betterment of the public. Either they give access or it is taken for easement.

      • VictorSam

        Joe, misinformation. Leo Sheep v. US was about the government blading a road across the checkerboard without following the legal process. The government did not attempt negotiating an easement and simply went forth and created a road which was also on the adjoining private parcels. This was judged to be a taking private property without compensation. However, had the government followed the eminent domain process – there would be a public road.

  3. Why not have the government do a condemn and take of approximately 30 feet of land from a road to the public land? If they want a building they just condemn it and take it. That would solve the problem of entrance to the public land. But of course hey would have to designate part of that public land for parking.

  4. Lew Proudfoot

    England has a very long tradition of public land access. One of the facets of that law is that a landowner must provide a style (stile) to cross fences if he is unwilling to provide a fence. So for the ‘checkerboard’ pattern that we see so often, we could erect a stile at the ‘four corners’ to allow foot access from one parcel to another. The landowners of the ‘checkerboard’ properties would have to provide an easement of two or three feet – above the ground, not on the ground, and at least foot traffic would be regained. That would go a long way here in Arizona.

  5. There is legitimate reason for concern only in the sense that it might make it easier to quantify/identify these parcels if “privatization” ever becomes a reality but the privatizers don’t care about some random 40 acre parcel in Hill County, Montana. These guys are only interested in the millions of acres that represent the totality of Public Land.

  6. John Gill

    Maybe the government should make it less expensive and an easier process to do land swaps to block up public land and help remove the controversy/conflict between public and private ownership. I just talked to the BLM yesterday about doing a land swap with property I own and was told it could take 5-10 years and multiple costly studies in the 10s of thousands of dollars with cost share on both sides supposedly. I would be happy to swap to avoid the publics desire to cross my land to get to these parcels. I think many private land holders would like to have a reasonable and cost effective solution to this issue.

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October 4, 2019

Project to Restore Everglades Headwaters Habitat Also Opens Access

Unique conservation partnerships have helped to restore habitat and provide new public hunting and fishing access on nearly 4,000 acres in south-central Florida

Sportsmen and women love a great access success story, but when newly opened hunting and fishing lands also provide a win-win for habitat conservation, that should be breaking news across everyone’s social feeds.

This is one of those stories. It has the grit and tenacity of passionate volunteers and tireless collaborators. And their years of effort are already making a big difference for fish and wildlife in the Everglades, where water mismanagement has created a conservation and infrastructure crisis.

Here’s what you need to know about a project that will establish the first state Wildlife Management Area in Okeechobee County and provide hunting opportunities and recreational access on almost 4,000 acres of formerly private land.

Photo by USFWS.
The Triple Diamond Ranch Project

In 2012, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service established the Everglades Headwaters Conservation Partnership Area, a relatively new model of land conservation where the objective was to conserve 150,000 acres of fish and wildlife habitat in the headwaters of the Everglades ecosystem.

Conservation in an area of this size could never be accomplished by one organization alone. Just look at the scope of the project: The partnership area extends from just north of Lake Okeechobee to the outskirts of Kissimmee just outside Orlando. This kind of conservation requires partnerships on a scale that is rarely encountered, but a unique coalition can already count one big win in the partnership area.

We’re talking about acquisition and restoration of the Triple Diamond Ranch, which lies adjacent to the Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park and east of the Kissimmee River. This well-managed private ranch supports wet and dry prairie, which is otherwise globally imperiled. In addition to protecting this rare habitat, planned conservation work on the ranch will provide hydrological benefits as water flows south through the Everglades, restoring wetlands that can hold water and naturally filter out nutrients as flows are gradually released.

Photo by Carlton Ward courtesy of Open Space Institute.

The ecological benefits of this project are clear. However, just as significant was the formation of unique alliances, which have paved the way for the property to be purchased, managed well, and eventually opened to the public for outdoor recreation. No single governmental entity was able to purchase the property on its own, so this had to be a team effort. Two nonprofit organizations, the Open Space Institute and the Wyss Foundation, made the initial purchase of the property, and it is now owned and managed collaboratively between the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

In the end, almost 4,000 acres are now in permanent conservation status, with major assists from TRCP partners like the National Wildlife Refuge Association and Ducks Unlimited, as well as local advocates at Audubon of Florida, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Florida Division of State Lands, and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

And collaboration continues—these lands will be co-managed by the Florida Forest Service and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in coordination with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Eventually, the property will be managed as the first state Wildlife Management Area in Okeechobee County, providing hunting opportunities and recreational access on almost 4,000 acres of formerly private land.

This is not just a win for fish and wildlife habitat, sportsmen’s access, and clean water. It’s a model for using conservation partnerships to make measurable progress on Everglades restoration. After all, we’re better together.


Jon Andrew is the Florida outreach coordinator for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. He is recently retired from a 35-year career as a biologist and refuge manager with the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, where he eventually became responsible for management of all refuge lands in the southeastern U.S. and Caribbean. In his spare time, he enjoys saltwater flyfishing and poling his skiff in the shallow waters along the southwest Florida coast in search of snook.

Top photo by Andy Wraithmell/Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

September 27, 2019

Happy National Public Lands Day from the TRCP!

Get outside and enjoy our outdoor heritage this weekend—then give something back

Your ongoing support helps us to improve public lands access and create solutions for better multiple-use management. Becoming a monthly donor is the perfect way to give back.

September 16, 2019

Unlocking Inaccessible Public Lands Doesn’t Require Landowners to Give Up Their Property Rights

When it comes to improving access to landlocked public lands, we should work with—not against—private landowners

Since we first started our work with onX on the issue of landlocked public lands, we’ve heard many variations on the same question—from the comments section of our blogs to discussions with partners and decision-makers. The answer will not only set minds at ease, but it will also help lessen any harsh divide between the sportsmen and women who need better public lands access and the Americans fortunate enough to own land that borders public land.

Q: Would unlocking these inaccessible public lands require private landowners to give up their property?

A: The simple answer is no.

There are a wide variety of strategies for opening up landlocked lands that rely on the cooperation of willing landowners and pose no threat to the property rights of others. But because this is a sensitive subject, and there’s potential for misunderstanding, let’s dive a bit deeper into these solutions.

Our work on the landlocked issue has always been guided by two fundamental premises. First, we know that the future of hunting and fishing, conservation funding, and our $887-billion outdoor recreation economy depends on there being suitable public land access. At the same time, we know that private property rights—some of our nation’s most fundamental—are sacred, and landowners have always been some of the strongest allies for not only sportsmen and women but also fish and wildlife.

In bringing attention to the scope of the landlocked public lands challenge across the West, we have never suggested that solutions for public-land users should conflict with the rights of landowners. In fact, the best-available tools with which land trusts, conservation groups, and state and federal agencies can tackle this challenge depend on engaging with private property owners who are willing to work towards a solution.

After all, many Western landowners are hunters themselves and care about the future of our outdoor heritage. Many western landowners have also played important roles in opening public lands through creative voluntary efforts, including access easements, enrolling their lands into block management programs or similar access programs administered by the states, or simply saying “yes” if someone asks to access his or her property.

Though many landlocked public lands could be accessed with permission from surrounding landowners, we don’t believe that this should be all on them. Property owners shouldn’t be expected to provide access, though many generously do.

Even though the vast majority of sportsmen are ethical and conscientious, it’s important to recognize that allowing the public to hunt on or cross one’s land can result—because of the actions of an irresponsible minority—in property damage, disruptions to farm or ranch operations, and all sorts of complicated and time-consuming situations. That’s why, when we unveiled our first landlocked report at the 2018 TRCP Western Media Summit, we invited a local rancher and landowner from southwest Montana to speak about their experiences and give attendees a window into the reality of these challenges.

On the other hand, strategic land acquisitions from willing sellers, mutually beneficial land exchanges, easements of various types, walk-in access programs, and other incentive-based initiatives led by fish and wildlife agencies—all solutions featured in our state and federal landlocked report—either eliminate these challenges or help landowners manage access in a way that works best for them, without trammeling on their rights or diminishing the value of their property.

At the end of the day, even those landowners who are not themselves sportsmen and women share many of our values: clean air, clean water, healthy land, abundant fish and wildlife and the importance of getting the next generation outside. So, while it can be tempting when presented with a difficult challenge to lay blame or point fingers, we would insist that all champions of public land focus on collaborative, cooperative solutions that respect private property rights.


Photo: Nicholas Putz

September 6, 2019

Landlocked Hotspots: Where Big Access Wins Are Possible in the West

A closer look at areas with high concentrations of inaccessible state and federal parcels that could be unlocked to dramatically improve sportsmen’s opportunities

By now we know that more than 9.5 million acres of federal public lands—those overseen by the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, for example—are entirely surrounded by private land and therefore inaccessible to sportsmen and women. An additional 6.35 million acres of state lands are similarly landlocked.

As much as it helps to have this data—which was not available before our first-of-its-kind collaboration with onX over the past two years—the problem can seem overwhelming until you look at specific examples of these landlocked parcels, how they got this way, and what can be done to unlock them.

If you missed our history lesson on shifting land ownership patterns across the West, get caught up here. But if you’re looking for examples of places where tackling access challenges head-on could make a huge difference for hunters and anglers, read on.

Closed by State Policy in Colorado

Colorado stands apart from other mountain states when it comes to access to its trust lands. State rules currently do not allow the public to use or cross 2.22 million of the state’s 2.78 million acres of trust lands for any activity, including hunting and fishing.

In cooperation with the State Land Board, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has made a commendable effort to improve the access situation by leasing 558,000 acres of state trust lands for sportsmen’s access, and an additional 77,000 acres were just opened last week for the 2019 hunting season.

Colorado has perhaps the single-greatest opportunity to expand public access to outdoor recreation, and in doing so could help fulfill its obligations to generate revenue from trust lands. Colorado could begin by opening the 1.78 million acres of trust lands that are accessible but closed to activities like hunting and fishing and continue this work by establishing new access to the state’s 435,000 acres of landlocked trust lands. In accomplishing this, Colorado would create new possibilities for outstanding outdoor recreation and unleash the full potential of its economy


So Much Potential in Southeast Montana

Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Region 7 is a mule deer hunter’s paradise—but it also contains a disproportionately high percentage of landlocked lands. From the shores of Fort Peck Lake to the Tongue and Powder Rivers, more than 898,000 acres of public land within Region 7 are inaccessible without permission from an adjacent private landowner.

Other sub-regions throughout the West, including eastern Wyoming and northern Nevada, contain similarly high concentrations of landlocked lands. Unlocking landlocked parcels in these areas would both expand hunting opportunities and benefit small-town economies.

A potential solution is ready-made in the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which must include at least $15 million annually for the purpose of expanding recreational access.

While the scale of the problem can seem overwhelming, progess on this issue is possible. A monumental access project we highlighted last year in Oregon has already been completed with LWCF funds.

Help us support more access wins across the West. Take action and urge Congress to fully fund the LWCF now!



Top photo: Nick Venture of Become 1



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