Joel Webster

July 10, 2020

The MAPLand Act Would Make a Fully Funded LWCF Even More Powerful

Legislation that requires federal agencies to digitize their public land access data would help us spend Land and Water Conservation Fund dollars more efficiently

Hunters and anglers are celebrating the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act in the House—and with good reason. Once it is signed by the president, the bill becomes law with major benefits for public land users and habitat.

In addition to providing $1.9 billion annually from 2021 to 2025 for much-needed public land maintenance projects, the Great American Outdoors Act will also secure $900 million annually for the most powerful tool we have to improve public lands habitat and access: the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

In a time of political tension and turmoil, it’s impressive that hunters and anglers are accomplishing so much to benefit our outdoor recreation opportunities. It shows that our issues resonate across party lines and with a broad spectrum of Americans. What would make the LWCF victory even sweeter, however, would be the subsequent passage of the bipartisan Modernizing Access to our Public Land, or MAPLand, Act later this year.

Here is why this legislation effectively super-charges the impacts of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

More Than the Minimum for Access

Utilizing receipts from offshore oil and gas development, the Land and Water Conservation Fund is designed to support conservation and outdoor recreation. In 2019, the fund was permanently reauthorized with the passage of S.47—the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act. A provision was included in that legislation requiring that three percent of the total, or a minimum of $15 million, be used each year to establish or improve access to public lands.

With passage of the Great American Outdoors Act, the public access provision increases to $27 million annually.

This access money is being made available because members of Congress realize that many public lands are landlocked and completely inaccessible or difficult to access. You may recall that over the last three years the TRCP has teamed up with onX to study and address this very problem. So far, we’ve found that 15.86 million acres of state and federal lands are landlocked across 13 Western states.

Landlocked public lands can be found in other regions of the U.S., as well. (More on that from us very soon!)

Having resources available through LWCF will be critical in addressing access challenges across the nation in the coming decades. Right now, there are commendable access projects being completed by land trusts and the federal agencies each year, however, these access dollars could be used even more strategically if everyone had a precise understanding of where public access routes exist and where they do not.

This is where the MAPLand Act comes in.

Photo by Raka Rahmadani.
Welcome to the Digital Age

Over the past century, federal land management agencies—including the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management—have actively acquired access easements and established public roads and trails across private lands to unlock inaccessible public lands. These easements or “rights of way” constitute a permanent access right that is controlled by these federal agencies.

However, many of the agencies’ access easement records are still held on paper files at local offices and cannot be integrated into digital mapping systems that allow hunters and anglers to see where public access has been secured.

The U.S. Forest Service alone has an estimated 37,000 recorded easements, but only 5,000 have been digitized and uploaded into its electronic database.

If federal land management agencies are going to make the most of the $27 million in annual access dollars they will receive through a fully funded Land and Water Conservation Fund, they must digitize their access easements. Otherwise, they will not be able to efficiently see where they hold access across private lands or effectively prioritize future access acquisitions.

Truly Creating Access for All

Fortunately, the MAPLand Act would fix this challenge by providing resources and direction so that federal land management agencies can digitize their access easements within a three-year period and make that information available to the public.

When completed, everyone will easily be able to see where permanent public access has already been secured and where it has not, informing future land acquisition projects. This will also help the recreating public to understand where they have a legal right to use a road or trail and where they need to secure permission from a private landowner.

In addition, the MAPLand Act would require that rules related to recreational access on our public lands and waters is standardized and made available digitally. This would mean that smartphone applications and digital mapping systems, like onX Hunt, could reliably point to 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.

Now that Congress has passed the Great American Outdoors Act and permanently committed to the maximum funding LWCF was meant to have, sportsmen and women need one more thing: Swift passage of the MAPLand Act to ensure that available access dollars can be used as effectively as possible to help you access your public lands.

Take action today to get your lawmakers on board.

 

Top photo by John Fowler via flickr.

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Randall Williams

June 25, 2020

How to Report Public Access Challenges and Opportunities

New digital reporting tool created by onX helps users share information to improve public land and water access

Ever since we teamed up with onX to produce our first report on inaccessible public lands in the West, sportsmen and women from around the country have reached out to share stories of hard-to-reach or landlocked hunting and fishing opportunities that they’ve encountered while scouting or in the field. Almost every time, these stories end with a question: How can these situations be resolved?

This week, onX released a new digital tool to report on-the-ground obstacles to public land and water access. Launched in partnership with TRCP as well as Backcountry Hunters & Anglers and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, onX’s Report a Land Access Opportunity platform will allow sportsmen and women to pinpoint areas where access for outdoor recreation is limited or non-existent and to share information that can be used to help improve the situation.

Examples of the types of situations that could be reported include:

  • A property currently for sale that could secure new public access to public lands
  • Public land parcels that have no legal access routes
  • Out-of-place roadblocks, gates or signs that restrict travel to public lands
  • Public waters that are difficult or impossible to reach

In addition, private landowners can use the platform to share routes across their property that they allow the public to use to access public lands, or flag areas where they commonly encounter issues with trespassers trying to reach public lands.

The tool found at onX’s website guides you step-by-step through the reporting process.

 

Detailed instructions for the submitting an access challenge or opportunity can be found at onX’s website.

No onX membership is required to submit a location. If you use the onX App, you can submit locations directly through the App using the Waypoint Sharing feature. Non-members can sign up for a free App trial or submit locations through the reporting form found here.

When you submit a location, the team at onX will add the location to a database, ensure that the description matches the location, categorize the access situation, and follow up with you if there are any questions. onX will also assess patterns in the data, such as a cluster of reports from a single area, to determine whether there are underlying or systemic causes in a particular region that impede public access. At that point, onX will share the information with the partner organization that best aligns with each project.

“One thing we’ve noted over many years of access work is that there is a mountain of work to do to secure access to many beautiful places and public lands, to open new recreation opportunities near cities and, surprisingly, to secure access to places we already enjoy,” noted onX Founder Eric Siegfried. “We believe the only scalable way to do all this work is to empower people within their community to have a voice and to take action. We thought a good first step was to give people a place where they can easily report an access concern or opportunity, then get connected with the appropriate organization who could help. With that in mind, we’ve created this first iteration of Report a Land Access Opportunity. It’s another small step to achieving this vision, and all of us at onX are excited to see what we can do next with our incredible access partners and you.”

The first round of submissions will be open through December 2020.

 

Top photo by Kyle Mlynar.

Cory Deal

June 22, 2020

Five Things Your Fishing License Does for Conservation While You Catch Fish

These are your license dollars at work for fish habitat, water quality, and the next generation of anglers

When you buy or renew your fishing license, you’re probably only thinking about the possibility of the new season or a great day on the water. But are you aware of just how hard your license dollars are working on behalf of fish habitat and fishing access?

Here are five examples of how the a portion of the dollars spent on your fishing licenses, boat registrations, fishing gear, and boat fuel purchases go back to conservation and public access. You might be surprised—as much as $1.1 billion annually creates a sizeable down payment on the future of fishing in America.

Improving Fishing and Boating Access

First, funds from license sales go toward fishing and boating access projects. One example is the Ramps & Pier Program in Mississippi, which helps pay for repairs to existing access points and the construction of four to six new boat ramps each year. The state of Oregon also has an excellent model of involving state and federal agencies in adding and upgrading new boating facilities.

Enhancing Water Quality

Boat registration funds help implement clean water projects that benefit fish habitat and improve the experience of anglers and boaters. The Clean Vessel Act program in Hawaii, for example, helped use these funds to construct a new sewage pump-out station and three new floating restrooms at the Haleiwa Small Boat Harbor—all in an effort to protect the sparkling turquoise waters of Hawaii for future generations.

Maintaining Fish Habitat

The excise taxes on your fishing gear go toward fisheries maintenance projects that help manage our state sport fisheries. For example, in New York State, biologists collect data through creel surveys and work to restore fish habitat for native brookies, American shad, river herring, and striped bass largely thanks to the taxes paid by the manufacturers of your fishing rods, reels, lures, baits, and flies. In Massachusetts, these funds are used to map fish habitat with GPS technology, sonar, and underwater vehicles through the state’s Fisheries Habitat Program. The more these experts learn, the better prepared they are to spot habitat issues and plan for improvements.

Salmon migrating upstream in the Bonneville Dam fish ladder. Photo by Tony Grover.
Teaching and Recruiting New Anglers

Fishing license funds also go to work for educational and recruitment programs that introduce new anglers to the sport. As more people take up fishing, there is a greater need for education on topics like species identification, conservation, regulations, and proper catch-and-release techniques. The state of Texas offers free workshops for first-timers or anyone who wants a refresher on the basics, and the saltwater angler education programs hosted by the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries have been so successful that they hope to extend courses to all coastal areas of the state.

Planning for Long-Term Conservation

With an eye toward investing in our marine and freshwater resources, as well as the next generation of anglers, fishing license fees support long-term conservation plans for our rivers and streams. This robust funding, which has nothing to do with the federal balance sheet, is critical to ensuring an adequate quantity and quality of water to maintain the natural balance of aquatic ecosystems. Texas has used this money to fund its River Studies Program that addresses long-term water development, water planning, and water quality issues.

Photo courtesy of Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters.

Whether state agencies are studying rainbow trout populations or repairing boat ramps, your license fees are put to excellent use. Want to get started on your next fishing trip and give back to conservation?  Buy or renew your license here.

Sportsmen and women have a long history of giving back to conservation through our purchases. Read about the federal program responsible for that funding model and the hunters in one Western state who supported raising license fees to do even more for fish and wildlife.

TakeMeFishing.org contributor Debbie Hanson is an outdoor writer and avid angler who has written articles on fishing and boating for publications such as USA Today Hunt & Fish and Game & Fish Magazine. She is a member of the Florida Outdoor Writers Association. Read her blogs at takemefishing.org/blog and visit her personal blog at shefishes2.com.

 

Photos courtesy of Canstock Photo. This blog was originally posted August 14, 2017 and has been updated.

Marnee Banks

June 4, 2020

The Great American Outdoors Act Gains Steam on Capitol Hill

Bipartisan public lands legislation introduced in the House

U.S. Representatives Mike Simpson (R-ID) and Joe Cunningham (D-SC) introduced bipartisan legislation in the House of Representatives to permanently and fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund and address the crippling maintenance backlog on federal public lands.

The Great American Outdoors Act fully funds LWCF at $900 million annually and addresses crumbling roads, trails, buildings, and water systems on National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and National Wildlife Refuge lands. The Congressional Research Service calculates that these four agencies have a combined deferred maintenance backlog totaling more than $19 billion.

“The Great American Outdoors Act is smart conservation that is long overdue,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “This bipartisan bill will improve our trails and recreation sites making it easier for hunters and anglers to access natural resources. It also makes lasting investments in our outdoor recreation economy at a time when we need to get Americans back to work. We want to thank Representatives Simpson and Cunningham and all the co-sponsors for working across the aisle and introducing this legislation.”

The bill is also co-sponsored by Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ), Congressman John Katko (R-NY), Congressman T.J. Cox (D-CA), Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-NY), Congresswoman Xochitl Torres Small (D-NM), Congressman Steve Stivers (R-OH), Congresswoman Kendra Horn (D-OK), Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), and Congressman Jared Golden (D-ME).

The Senate is expected to vote on the Great American Outdoors Act the week of June 8. Sportsmen and women can take action to support the legislation here.

 

 

Photo Credit: US Forest Service

HOW YOU CAN HELP

WHAT WILL FEWER HUNTERS MEAN FOR CONSERVATION?

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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