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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.
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.
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.
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.
Top photo by John Fowler via flickr.
As part of any economic recovery effort, Congress must invest in conservation that puts Americans back to work
On our social media channels, we’ve shared plenty of news stories that highlight the enthusiastic use of public lands and even an uptick in fishing participation during this pandemic. But, of course, it’s not all good news.
The Outdoor Recreation Roundtable recently released results from a national survey of its members, and the findings make a compelling case for why lawmakers need to invest in conservation to put Americans back to work.
According to respondents from 20 national outdoor recreation trade associations representing businesses with nearly 2 million employees, 89 percent of businesses are experiencing difficulty with production and distribution. A troubling 79 percent of these businesses have laid off or furloughed a portion of their workforce. And 89 percent of these businesses are experiencing a decrease in sales.
And the outdoor sector isn’t the only one feeling the pinch. The leisure and hospitality industry has been hammered the hardest, with a loss of 7 million jobs between March and May. More than 2 million engineers and temporary workers in construction and professional services were sent home since COVID hit.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is posting monthly updates on these numbers, and even with new gains in June, these statistics are deeply concerning as businesses struggle to stay afloat and families grapple with how to pay their bills. That’s why we are calling on Congress to pass economic recovery legislation that invests in shovel-ready conservation projects and modern-day conservation jobs that put our economy back on track AND improve habitat for fish and wildlife.
These jobs will help to paint a brighter economic picture than what we are seeing today. Imagine people in hardhats building highway crossings for wildlife, engineers and technical experts designing resilient and efficient water systems for the Colorado River and Mississippi River Basins, loggers helping to actively manage our forests, and heavy equipment operators preparing the ground for wetland restoration.
When Congress pivots to drafting economic recovery legislation, we want to put Americans back to work restoring our wetlands and forests, improving our coasts and waterways, and rebuilding the crumbling pieces of our outdoor recreation infrastructure.
As hunters and anglers, we need these investments in conservation so we can continue to enjoy our outdoor activities. As Americans, we need these investments because we need to put our nation back to work.
Help us show that sportsmen and women are ready to help Congress take the next step. Take action and tell lawmakers that Conservation Works for America.
Here is what we pledge to you as we keep you informed on all the ways to be a conservation advocate
As you get to know us, we hope you’ll find that the TRCP is a go-to resource on the complex world of conservation. Yes, we’re nerdy for policy, habitat, and wildlife management, but we also have three simple beliefs when it comes to communicating with you about it:
Check out what’s trending on our blog to get a better idea of how we talk about conservation.
Top photo by Kyle Mlynar.
Take up our rallying cry for sportsmen and women who step up and speak out about the things that matter most
If you’ve ever set up on a turkey roost in pitch darkness or stalked into a remote treestand before daylight, you’ve felt it: The woods coming alive with the first hopeful rays of sun and your own awareness starting to prickle.
It happens on the water, too—all is calm as your lure drifts, and suddenly there’s the faintest nudge, a slight tension, and you’re compelled to react. Or you’re scanning the open ocean, bobbing along peacefully, until you spot dozens of gulls diving at fish and you kick your engine into high gear.
The time we spend in the outdoors is split between contemplative, watchful moments and decisive periods of action—and it’s this second part that is the spirit of the TRCP’s #WakeTheWoods movement. Because there are times when it pays to be silent and stealthy, but when it comes to conservation, there are some things worth making noise about. We have to act, as sure as we do when we set the hook or squeeze the trigger.
Today, being an advocate for habitat, clean water, sportsmen’s access, and the outdoor recreation economy means doing more, digging in further, and speaking our minds. No one is going to come find you on the sidelines and ask for your perspective on conservation funding or how to combat chronic wasting disease and mismanagement of public lands.
Having seen what you’ve seen in the outdoors—closer to our lands, waters, and wildlife than many Americans ever hope to be—who could say it better than you?
Sure, we all have busy lives. That’s why we choose to slow down and seek out the natural world the same way that hunters and anglers have been doing for generations. If you can take the time to watch the forest wake up, to wait for a long-legged critter to step into shooting range, or perhaps to attempt that drift for the 25th time… you can take the time to make sure the future of these traditions is secure.
That’s why TRCP makes communicating with key decision-makers far easier than calling in a gobbler or trading bugles with a ghost of a bull elk. On our website, sending a meaningful targeted message about a legislative priority that could affect habitat, access, or funding probably takes less time and fewer steps than renewing your hunting or fishing license.
And, while we take conservation very seriously, we tell you how legislative and public processes work in language that you can understand.
We hope you’ll trust that you can get the facts from us, but we are asking sportsmen and women to band together, whether you are a TRCP member or not. Because we know you’re not content to sit idly by. We know you have something to say. We know that, united, we can spark change and an awakening in the dimmest corners of our policymaking system. After all, as Theodore Roosevelt said, “The wildlife and its habitat cannot speak, so we must and we will.” Let’s get loud about the things that matter most.
That’s what it means to #WakeTheWoods.
Top photo by Neal Wellons via flickr. This was originally posted June 18, 2019 and has been updated.
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