Randall Williams

March 20, 2020

MAPLand Act: The Basics

Landmark new legislation in Congress promises to bring public land access into the 21st century

Digital mapping and GPS technologies have revolutionized the ways in which sportsmen and women navigate public lands. By pinpointing a user’s real-time location on the landscape, handheld GPS units and smartphone applications allow hunters and anglers to know exactly where they stand relative to property boundaries and other key landmarks.

Unfortunately, when it comes to public lands, incomplete and inconsistent mapping data prevents hunters and anglers as well as land management agencies—including the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, and Army Corps of Engineers—from utilizing the full benefit of these technologies. 

But a bipartisan bill recently introduced into both chambers of Congress promises to bring our public land mapping records into the 21st century. Here’s how the Modernizing Access to our Public Land (MAPLand) Act would do that.

Photo: Rick Hutton
Restoring lost recreation opportunities

Most recreational opportunities on public lands are identified in agency management plans and appear on agency-produced paper maps that show, for instance, roads and trails open to different types of motorized and non-motorized vehicles. Sometimes alongside a national forest road you’ll see a sign marking a zone where hunting or recreation shooting is, such as near a campground or forest service ranger station. Other times you’ll pull up to a mountain lake parking lot and a sign is posted that specifies horsepower restrictions for boats. 

While some of this information might, in certain places, be available in a GPS-compatible format, in most places it is not. As a result, it is difficult for the general public to find specific information about available recreation opportunities on their public lands without spending considerable time exploring public lands to ground-truth areas or poring over volumes of agency documents. Sometimes, a person might avoid hunting in an area altogether simply because they can’t tell by looking at a sign where the shooting boundary starts and ends. Many members of the public might also avoid driving on an open road because the existing sign long ago went missing and they don’t want to inadvertently break the rules. 

A lack of modern information about recreational access opportunities on public lands is resulting in lost days afield, and in the 21st century, sportsmen and women should be able to reference their handheld GPS or other mapping units so that they can instantly know the rules for recreation and where the boundaries of restricted areas are located within a matter of feet. Such measures would not only help busy Americans discover new recreation opportunities and give them confidence to enjoy the outdoors, but it would also reduce conflicts and the likelihood that outdoor enthusiasts will break the rules. 

This need for better information is what the MAPLand Act is designed to address by providing funding and guidance to our land management agencies to digitize mapping information about outdoor recreation. This includes, among other things, seasonal allowances and restrictions for vehicle use on public roads and trails; boundaries of areas where hunting or recreational shooting is regulated or closed; and portions of rivers and lakes on federal land that are closed to entry, closed to watercraft, or have horsepower limitations for watercraft.

Photo: Rick Hutton
Shining a Light on Access Opportunities and Challenges

Millions of acres of federal public lands across the country have restricted access, particularly in areas with mixed public and private landownership. In the West alone, more than 9.52 million acres of federal public lands have no permanent legal means of access and permission to access to public lands across private property can be difficult to obtain.    

In many places where public land trail and road access exists across private land, it was established by a legal agreement known as an easement, in which an agency such as the BLM or Forest Service formally acquired the permanent right for the public to travel a designated route (such as a road or trail) across private land. 

Many of the agencies’ records of access easements across private lands are still held on paper files at local offices and cannot be easily accessed or reviewed. The Forest Service alone has an estimated 37,000 recorded easements, but only 5,000 have been digitized and uploaded into an electronic database.

Currently, the federal land management agencies lack the resources and capacity to digitize and standardize these records. Because of this, it is difficult for hunters and anglers to understand the full extent of access opportunities. And when they are not used, public rights-of-way can be forgotten by the public and the agency alike. 

MAPLand would require our public land agencies to digitize records of easements or rights-of-way across private lands, making it possible for the public to understand where public access has been formally secured in legal records. Doing so would both help expand public access opportunities and reduce conflict with landowners, because everyone would have factual information about access allowances and restrictions.    

In addition, by giving land managers a comprehensive picture of all available access points, they can fulfill their mission to identify public lands with limited or nonexistent public access, and take proactive steps in cooperation with private landowners to open those lands to the public. Conservation groups and land trusts that have been working on access issues will be able to use this data to identify priority areas and work more efficiently to expanding opportunities on our public lands. 

Take Action

Elected officials need to know how much MAPLand would mean to hunters and anglers. Write your lawmakers today and ask them to support public land access! 

 

Top photo: Rick Hutton

4 Responses to “MAPLand Act: The Basics”

  1. The forest service is now cutting access to public land to people like me and others with disabilities here in Arizona. Roads that have been open for generations are now only accessible to people who can walk ride a bike or horse. Trying to call and get answers and never hear back. I was given a name and number form their Facebook page and he never responded. Why is this happening.

  2. Larry Callister

    Since hearing about my state of Idaho’s Rep. Fulcher’s involvement in the bill to digitize and make available all the road access information my brain has been stewing on it. I smell a rat. I can’t imagine him doing something to help the public get better access. So what is he really up to?

    What he no doubt really wants is for there to be no public access anywhere, and to make all lands and roads private property. But right now that is too big of a reach. So all I can come up with is that he figures his road bill is a first step. At this point he will concede some roads and some public access, but only those roads for which there is bombproof legal public deed or right of way on paper. But everything else will be declared private. Thus any roads that have been public by common use for generations will be declared private, and public access taken taken will be away.

    Now to make it a conspiracy theory I also wonder if ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) is somehow involved in this. It seems like something the Wilks brothers would be happy to fund through them in some sort of dark money operation. Perhaps we will see a bunch of such bills introduced in local and state governments. Then we’ll know. So while this Bill seems like a good idea, I think public lands users should be wary.

  3. Timothy Davis

    Could the Federal Agencies outsource to onXmaps to help them complete much of this work?
    It would seem that they have taken ahold of this challenge across the country and turned it into a successful business model.

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Randall Williams

March 13, 2020

Our Call to Modernize Public Lands Data

Here’s why MAPLand could be a game-changer for unlocking inaccessible public lands

When onX and TRCP teamed up in 2018 to study the issue of landlocked federally managed public lands in the West, we highlighted several priorities that needed to be addressed by agencies and lawmakers in order to work on opening access to the 9.52 million acres of public lands in the West where it currently does not exist.

Here’s what we had to say about the need for digitized, standardized easement data, which helps explain why the MAPLand Act is such a critical piece of legislation.

DOWNLOAD THE REPORT

“As much as these findings identify a clear need for expanded access to public lands and waters, they also highlight the need for federal land management agencies to develop standardized datasets for easements, rights-of-way, and established corridors across private land to which the public has binding and legal public access. Many of these access rights were secured decades ago, and they remain housed locally at land management agency offices in paper and electronic files.
While this report’s analysis is based on the most comprehensive road inventory currently available, the lack of readily obtainable data on easements and rights-of-way makes it all but impossible for anyone – including the agencies themselves – to have a complete understanding of where legal public access exists, or does not exist, across private lands.
Compiling these data and converting them into consistent datasets would enable private and public entities to create maps that provide sportsmen and women with greater certainty about where public access is guaranteed by law. This information would also help the federal agencies and land trusts prioritize acquisition projects that would open landlocked public lands.”
Off-Limits, But Within Reach: Unlocking the West’s Inaccessible Public Lands, p. 8

Randall Williams

March 10, 2020

MAPLand Act Simplifies Access to Hunting and Fishing Opportunities

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.

Adam Bowman

January 8, 2020

Podcast: Increasing Public Land Access in the West

Joel Webster, Director of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s Center for Western Lands joins Dave and Nephi on Your Mountain Podcast to talk about public land access. Specifically, they discuss TRCP’s work with OnX to identify and map the 6.35 million acres of public lands in the West that have no permanent, public access. Topics include: the history of TRCP; the importance of access to the future of hunting; corner crossing; successful existing access partnerships with landowners; ideas for increasing access; Joel’s mountain; and so much more. 

 

Randall Williams

November 22, 2019

Six Things We’re Grateful for This Thanksgiving

Rather than focus on what we need as hunters and anglers, let’s take a minute to appreciate what we have 

Every year around this time, we pause from the everyday distractions of the modern world to acknowledge those things in our lives for which we’re truly thankful. From family and friends to health and security, many indispensable parts of our lives can be easy to take for granted. 

It’s no secret that hunters and anglers face our share of challenges. No one knows this better than those “in the arena,” as T.R. would say, fighting against the unsustainable exploitation of our resources, unprecedented threats to our hunting traditions, and the rollback of our bedrock conservation laws. This is why we do our best to keep you informed on the issues that matter most. 

But in the spirit of next week’s holiday, we thought we’d take a moment to express our gratitude to things and people—in no particular order—that make our lives as hunters and anglers, and our work as conservationists, so rewarding. Sportsmen and women have a lot to be thankful for in this country and it’s worth remembering what makes this way of life possible.

Photo: Tim Donovan

 

Access in Abundance, Both Public and Private 

Whether it’s through the generosity of a landowner or the wealth of public lands owned by all, Americans enjoy a tremendous variety of opportunities to get outside and participate in our sporting traditions. We’re fortunate that our nation’s history saw the creation of both a vast public estate as well as a rich tradition of stewardship on family farms and ranches. 

A Shared Mission Among Strong Partners 

When new challenges emerge or opportunities arise in the world of conservation, bold leadership from our policy council and partner organizations ensure that we’ll know what’s going on, what’s at stake, and how to respond. On the issues that matter most to sportsmen and women, there is a robust community working tirelessly towards solutions that will secure a bright future for our fish and wildlife. Collaboration, consensus, and coordinated action allow us to present a united front and strengthen the voices of hunters and anglers. 

Photo: Les Anderson
Smart Policy and Dedicated Decisionmakers 

This year, we have seen a lot of good ideas and top priorities gain traction in Congress, like full funding for the LWCF and paying down the maintenance backlog on public lands. For all that we hear about dysfunction in Washington, D.C., there are lawmakers and public officials who take seriously the interests of our community and advance legislation and policy to benefit fish, wildlife, and access to our nation’s best hunting and fishing. 

A “Most Glorious Heritage”

As Americans, we benefit from a unique legacy of fish and wildlife stewardship, forged over more than a century by our predecessors in the sporting community. Every day on the water and trip afield, like every fish on the line or deer in the freezer, would not be possible without the hard work and problem-solving of earlier generations who took up the cause of conservation. These gifts are a powerful reminder that we must do our part if we hope to pass them on. 

Photo: Stephanie Raine
Businesses that See the Big Picture

Our work is made possible by the generosity of amazing corporate partners, such as SITKA GEAR’s pledge to match all new and increased donations to TRCP through December 31. We’re proud—and thankful—to have the support of industry-leading brands that recognize the critical role played by clean water, healthy habitat, and outdoor access in the economic futures of American businesses and communities. 

Everyday Advocates 

Of course, we owe everything to the hunters and anglers who comprise our membership and those of our partner organizations. It should never be forgotten that countless individuals dedicate their own time and money so that future ranks of sportsmen and women will inherit a strong outdoor tradition. As this season of harvest culminates in one major meal next week, we’ll be raising a glass to YOU, the lifeblood of conservation. Thank you for all your support of our work and America’s hunting and fishing traditions. 

 

Top photo: @kylemlynar on Instagram

HOW YOU CAN HELP

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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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