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Legislation invests in digitized, integrated mapping resources for outdoor recreation
The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership is hailing landmark legislation that will enhance outdoor recreation on public lands by investing in modern technology that allows sportsmen and women to know exactly which lands and waters they can access.
U.S. Senators Martha McSally (R-Ariz) and Angus King (I-Maine) and U.S. Representatives Derek Kilmer (D-Wash) and Russ Fulcher (R-Idaho) today introduced the Modernizing Access to Our Public Land (MAPLand) Act to digitize recreational access information and make those resources available to the public.
Currently, many of the easement records that identify legal means of access onto national forests or BLM-managed lands are stored at the local level in paper files, which makes it difficult for hunters, anglers, and even the agencies to identify public access opportunities. Of 37,000 existing easements held by the U.S. Forest Service, only 5,000 have been converted into digital files.
The MAPLand Act would direct federal land management agencies to consolidate, digitize, and make publicly available recreational access information as GIS files. These records would include information about legal easements and rights-of-way across private land; year-round or seasonal closures on roads and trails, as well as restrictions on vehicle-type; boundaries of areas where special rules or prohibitions apply to hunting and shooting; and areas of public waters that are closed to watercraft or have horsepower restrictions.
“GPS technology has become an essential part of the public-land user’s toolkit,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “This bill will allow sportsmen and women to take full advantage of the world-class opportunities on our public lands, make it easier to follow the rules while recreating outside, and reduce access conflicts. Quite simply, this is a common-sense investment in the future of hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation. We want to thank Senators McSally and King and Representatives Fulcher and Kilmer for taking the lead on this important legislation.”
In addition to improving the public’s ability to access public lands, the bill would help land management agencies — in cooperation with private landowners — prioritize projects to acquire new public land access or improve existing access. According to a 2018 report by the TRCP and onX, a digital-mapping company, more than 9.52 million acres of federally managed public lands in the West lack permanent legal public access because they are surrounded entirely by private lands. Digitizing easement records would be the first step towards addressing this challenge systematically.
What Others Are Saying:
“Public land recreation has been revolutionized by handheld GPS technology in smartphones and other devices, allowing users of all types and experience levels to know where they stand in the outdoors. After spending over a decade gathering recreation information for our customers and making it easily discoverable, we continue to find valuable recreation information that exists only on paper. The data need to be complete, easy to find, and easy to use for the public to fully understand the recreation opportunities available to them. The MAPLand Act is a much-needed investment in the outdoor recreation industry and in the future of empowering the public to get outside and experience our public lands.”
— Eric Siegfried, Founder, onX
“The Mule Deer Foundation commends Senators McSally and King and Representatives Fulcher and Kirby on the introduction of the Modernizing Access to Our Public Land Act. This important legislation will do a great deal to assist sportsmen and women in identifying places where they can hunt and fish on the public lands that they as taxpayers own. All told, this is a common-sense and long-overdue idea that will benefit sportsmen and women, as well as the communities all across our country with economies driven by outdoor-recreation spending.”
— Miles Moretti, President/CEO, The Mule Deer Foundation
“Quality hunting and fishing opportunities have two requirements: healthy habitat and access. This bill makes sure that information about public land access and areas open for hunting and fishing is kept current and readily available for sportsmen and women. We want to ensure that all Americans can enjoy the world-class sporting opportunities found on public lands and this legislation will help to ensure just that.”
— Steve Kandell, Director, Trout Unlimited’s Sportsmen’s Conservation Project
“Access is one of the most important aspects for a thriving outdoor recreation economy. Yet, it isn’t just access to land and water, it’s also access to information about the very lands we recreate on, where they are, when and how they are accessible and oftentimes this data is antiquated or even inaccurate. In order for us to continue to grow this important sector that makes up 2.2% of the national GDP and employs 5.2 million Americans, we need to know where we can get outside on public and private lands and when and how to best protect them. Modernizing Access to our Public Land Act will help us do just that and improve the information we have to safely enjoy all that outdoor recreation has to offer. ORR is proud to support this legislation.”
— Jessica Wahl, Executive Director, Outdoor Recreation Roundtable
Image courtesy of National Parks.
Former wildlife agency leaders, scientists, and other natural resource experts line out the requirements for successful policy on this conservation challenge
In a letter to New Mexico Governor Michelle Luhan Grisham, 14 wildlife and natural resources professionals thanked the governor for the state’s leadership on the issue of migration corridor conservation and urged the state to continue its efforts on this critical issue.
These professionals—each with between 20 to 50 years of experience in wildlife and natural resources management, research, and conservation—came together to request that decision-makers in New Mexico build upon the bipartisan support demonstrated by the passage of the Wildlife Corridors Act in 2019, the first-of-its-kind legislation in the country. They emphasized the need for adequate funding and a long-term, holistic view of migration corridor and habitat conservation if the state hoped to succeed in its efforts.
“As a longtime wildlife professional and New Mexico resident, I appreciated Governor Lujan Grisham and the New Mexico Legislature passing the Wildlife Corridors Act,” said Dr. Bill Dunn, a 40-year veteran wildlife biologist and environmental consultant. “This bill is the first of its kind in America and should benefit conservation of migration corridors vital to our wildlife populations.”
In recent years, big game migration has become a priority for conservationists. “We’ve long known the importance of migration to and from seasonal habitats, but new technology has made the importance of these habitats for mule deer, pronghorn and other animals even clearer,” said Dr. Ed Arnett, chief scientist for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.
The letter asks that funding for migration corridor conservation extend beyond coordination and planning for transportation-related issues such as wildlife-vehicle collisions and crossing structures. Currently, the state has only set aside funding under the Corridors Act for such
projects. “It is important,” the signers noted, “for policy- and decision-makers and the public to remember that wildlife corridors may not necessarily intersect highways and roads.”
The breadth of the issue will require the state to utilize funds other than those set aside specifically for game protection, noted the letter, and it “encourage[d] New Mexico legislators to work closely with NMDGF and the New Mexico State Game Commission to ensure adequate funding is made available to support implementation…while maintaining funding for other agency priorities.”
Another challenge highlighted by the letter is coordinating the management of the full suite of habitats required by big game animals as they move across the landscape, including summer and winter range, migration corridors, and stopover habitats. To do this effectively, the state will need to conduct extensive research that could take years to complete. In the meantime, the letter urged state agencies to “develop interim guidance and recommendations while data are being gathered to ensure appropriate management and protection of potentially unmapped corridors.”
Additionally, the letter encouraged the BLM to work proactively with the New Mexico Department of Fish and Game to ensure that energy development on public lands does not disrupt wildlife migrations, as research has shown the impacts to be significant and long-lasting.
“Even though data are still being collected in New Mexico, the weight of existing evidence is clear that development does impact migratory movements and habitat use,” said Arnett. “We should anticipate potential conflicts with wildlife migrations that interface with all forms of energy development and other disturbance.” The signers noted that “Ensuring migration movement and functionality may require the state wildlife agency request leasing deferrals…or implementation of special management recommendations.”
The letter concluded by emphasizing that “the state and federal departments and agencies, and private landowners all must have long-term, institutionalized support for corridor conservation” and encouraged the state “to pursue all avenues that secure long-term support for conservation that will transcend multiple Administrations at both the state and federal levels.
“Healthy populations of mule deer, elk and other big game are a key economic driver for New Mexico’s economy,” says Dr. Ben Brown, a New Mexico resident and retired wildlife biologist with 48 years’ experience in wildlife conservation. “Conservation is a long-term endeavor. Both the state and federal governments need to ensure the functionality of habitat and migratory movements with long-term, institutionalized policy and funding for these efforts.”
Read the letter from 14 wildlife and habitat experts here.
Recreational fishing and boating groups applaud new bipartisan law
Following vocal support from recreational fishermen, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam signed a bipartisan bill improving menhaden management in the Atlantic.
The legislation transfers management authority of Atlantic menhaden—a small oily baitfish that feeds sportfish like striped bass—to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, which oversees every other saltwater fishery in the Commonwealth. Now that the bill has been signed into law, the legislation puts Virginia on a path toward compliance with the regional fishery management plan, which Omega Protein violated last year.
“This new law will pave the way for stronger management of the Atlantic menhaden recognizing its critical role in the entire marine ecosystem and its benefits to the recreational fishing economy,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We want to thank Governor Northam, the bill sponsors, Natural Resources Secretary Matt Strickler, and the recreational fishing sector for working together on this legislation.”
“There is a growing need for more robust conservation practices in our fisheries – including menhaden and all forage fish – this law is an important step towards better recognizing and correcting the harmful impacts overfishing can have on our communities,” said Nicole Vasilaros, senior vice president of government and legal affairs for the National Marine Manufacturers Association. “Protecting forage fish and sportfish stocks is essential for recreational activities in the Chesapeake Bay and across the country and we thank Governor Northam for taking action to that ensure our marine ecosystems remain healthy for generations to come.”
“Thanks to the signature of Governor Northam, menhaden will now be managed by fisheries experts at the Virginia Marine Resources Commission,” said Mike Leonard, vice president of government affairs for the American Sportfishing Association. “Adequate menhaden populations are key to striped bass and other sportfish that support Virginia’s $583,806,000 saltwater recreational fishing economy. This important shift in management authority will help ensure a future of science-based management of menhaden that accounts for their important role in the ecosystem.”
“This commonsense legislation will help fisheries in not just Virginia, but along the entire Atlantic Coast,” said Chris Edmonstron, vice president of government affairs for Boat US. “Anglers and boaters should all applaud this long overdue change in fisheries management and encourage more science-based management practices be developed and implemented. BoatU.S., along with our 28,000 Virginia members, applaud the passage of this legislation.”
“This decision by Governor Northam and the Virginia General Assembly, which was decades in the making, recognizes the importance of science-backed conservation efforts in maintaining the health of our nation’s fisheries,” said Adam Fortier-Brown, government relations manager for the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas. “Having menhaden fisheries managed by the Virginia Marine Resource Commission, like all other fisheries in the state, will make significant steps towards creating a healthier Chesapeake Bay. We thank the assembly, and Governor Northam for their leadership on this legislation, which will be felt by boaters and anglers all along the Atlantic coast for years to come.”
“On behalf of the Virginia Saltwater Sportsman’s Association and striped bass fishermen everywhere, I would like to thank Governor Northam and his administration, especially Natural Resources Secretary Matt Strickler, for leading the fight to conserve menhaden,” said John Bello, chairman of the Virginia Saltwater Sportfishing Association Government Relations Committee. “Menhaden are far too valuable to the ecosystem and to the recreational fishing economy to allow one foreign company to continue sucking up hundreds of millions of forage fish per year. Thank you, Governor.”
For more information about menhaden conservation click HERE.
Changes to a bedrock conservation law threaten to put blinders on federal decision-makers
As sportsmen and women know, big game animals migrate through landscapes that stretch across many boundaries. Rivers cross both state lines and international borders. Fish swim not only in large navigable waters, but in their tributaries, including ones that are small, intermittent or even ephemeral; some fish, in early life stages, live in wetlands. And the North American flyways send ducks and other waterfowl across our whole country and into Canada every year.
Our world is interconnected, which means we must look holistically at the impacts that human development has on land, water, wildlife, and fish.
Unfortunately, the Administration’s recently proposed changes to the National Environmental Policy Act would significantly inhibit federal agencies’ ability to measure these impacts.
President Richard Nixon signed NEPA into law in 1970 directing federal agencies to take actions that “restore and enhance [and also] avoid or minimize any possible adverse effects of their actions upon the quality of the human environment.”
NEPA requires every federal agency to consider the effects of its decisions on the environment; to look at a range of alternatives before acting; and to seek public comment on various aspects of a given project, from its scope and positive or negative effects to possible alternatives and mitigation.
The rules guiding this process have not been updated since the 1980s, but earlier this year the Administration proposed a major set of changes: some of which threaten to undermine its effectiveness and others that are welcome improvements.
For example, because so much of our communication is now conducted online, agencies should use web-based tools to announce proposed decisions and collect public comments. This is a welcome improvement.
There are also changes to streamline the process, in an effort to address widespread complaints that NEPA documents are too lengthy and take too long to develop. TRCP supports these changes, in part because they do not impose rigid or arbitrary limits. We just hope the agencies are given the resources to accomplish these goals.
As noted above, however, other changes are cause for concern. The purpose of NEPA has never been to require a specific outcome, but instead to ensure that federal decision making is well-informed by an awareness of and concern for any potential environmental impacts.
Perhaps the most dramatic proposed change would eliminate an agency having to consider the cumulative impacts of its actions and look only at the immediate action’s direct effects on nearby lands and waters. These changes so limit NEPA’s directive to consider reasonably foreseeable effects that it would force agencies to consider an action in a vacuum. The TRCP strongly opposes this change because we live in a world both that is both connected and ever-changing.
It is hard to imagine how an agency considers acting on a proposal without looking both at what is already there –roads and dams, cities and farm fields – and also what is expected in the near future – other new coastal developments, oil wells, timber sales or dams. Under the administration’s proposed rules, for example, agencies will not consider how multiple energy development proposals proposed across the same corridor would have a cumulative impact on a mule deer migration. Nor would agencies be required to study how a project that diverts water would add to a larger problem, such as serious drought conditions on a river system that already has multiple diversions.
So, please think about your future as sportsmen and women and exercise your public right to have a voice in this decision. Click here to learn more and submit a public comment by March 10.
Photo: Bob Wick, BLM via Flickr
In the last two years, policymakers have committed to significant investments in conservation, infrastructure, and reversing climate change. Hunters and anglers continue to be vocal about the opportunity to create conservation jobs, restore habitat, and boost fish and wildlife populations. Support solutions now.Learn More